Green group files FOIA lawsuit seeking details about White House EPA meetings

The Environmental Integrity Project filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit Tuesday seeking details about dozens of White House meetings with interest groups to discuss Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

The non-profit group, which advocates for the enforcement of environmental rules, filed the lawsuit after receiving no response from the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to a January FOIA request seeking more details on the meetings.

{mosads}The request focuses on 65 meetings on four EPA rules, including 51 with industry groups like Exelon and 14 with public interest and environmental groups.

“Industry lobbyists have every right to meet with the White House about EPA rules,” Environmental Integrity Project Attorney Alayne Gobeille said in a statement. “But the public ought to know what was said at these meetings and whether it influenced decisions that are supposed to protect our health and the environment.”

Gobeille added, “OIRA has clearly emerged as a major chokepoint when it comes to regulations that affect the public health,” noting that OIRA, an agency within the White House Office of Management and Budget, held 123 meetings on EPA rules in 2011.

The meetings centered on EPA regulations on mercury emissions, ozone pollution, toxins from industrial boilers and pollution that crosses state borders.

The Environmental Integrity Project said Wednesday it is particularly interested in a Dec. 16, 2011, meeting between House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darryl Issa (R-Calif.) and OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein on EPA’s mercury rule. The group also raised red flags about five meetings between Sunstein and industry groups over the mercury rule.

“It is difficult to believe that five meetings between the head of OIRA — who did not meet with environmental groups on the mercury rule — had no significant impact on the outcome of the rulemaking,” Gobeille said in a statement.

Progressive groups have long been critical of what they call the “secretive” process whereby OIRA reviews agency regulations before they are published. The groups argue the process allows industry groups to put pressure on the White House to alter key environmental and public health rules.

The liberal Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) issued a report late last year that alleges OIRA “serves as a one-way ratchet, eroding the protections that agency specialists have decided are necessary under detailed statutory mandates, following years — even decades — of work.”

The report found that 65 percent of the OIRA meetings within the last decade have included representatives from regulated industries. OIRA altered three-quarters of the regulations submitted for review during the Obama administration, the report said.

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