Groups sue EPA over lack of records

Groups sue EPA over lack of records
© Greg Nash

A pair of environmental groups representing public employees sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday, claiming officials failed to adequately take and maintain public records in violation of federal law.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a joint lawsuit against the EPA and Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas MORE for failing to keep records in accordance with the Federal Records Act (FRA).

The groups charge that the Trump administration operated in "secrecy" to avoid creating a paper trail of notes that would be considered public records under the FRA. Those notes would also be open to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by the public and journalists.

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"Under Scott Pruitt, the EPA has assumed a bunker mentality where paper trails are religiously avoided unless penned in invisible ink,” PEER counsel Adam Carlesco said in a statement. “By law, the American public has a right to know the basis for public health and anti-pollution decision-making that affects their lives.”

The suit also accuses David Ferriero, the federal archivist, and the National Archives and Records Administration of failing to enforce the law to take and maintain public records.

PEER sued the EPA last year for failing to respond to its FOIA requests regarding recommendations from the agency's Superfund Task Force. In December, the EPA revealed that the task force had kept no record of its deliberations for its nearly three-dozen-page report on recommendations for waste clean-up sites.

EPA additionally revealed that there was no written criteria for its selection of 107 employees to serve on the task force. 

“It appears EPA Administrator Pruitt has operated in secrecy to avoid creating an adequate record of his and the EPA’s actions,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder charged in a statement.

“We should not have to sue him to force him to follow the law and allow the public a window into what he is doing about the many critical issues before the EPA, but he has given us no other choice.”