EPA faces record number of transparency lawsuits

EPA faces record number of transparency lawsuits
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A record number of anti-secrecy lawsuits were filed in 2017 against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittFormer EPA chief Scott Pruitt registers as lobbyist in Indiana We're not effectively protecting Americans from measles, air pollution or food poisoning The problem for Trump appointees MOREPolitico reported Monday.

Forty-six open records lawsuits were filed against the EPA in 2017, according to data from the FOIA Project at the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, with a total of 55 open records lawsuits filed against the agency since President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Trump speaks to rebel Libyan general attacking Tripoli Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction MORE took office.

The next busiest year on record was 2015, when 22 lawsuits were filed after the Obama EPA finalized major rules on wetlands protection and power plant emissions. By comparison, former President George W. Bush's EPA faced only 57 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits during his entire eight-year presidency.

Lawsuits are typically brought against agencies to force the release of data from FOIA requests, and are usually final recourse for requesters after agencies fail to release public information in a timely manner as mandated by law.

The EPA blames the FOIA backlog on requests left over from the the Obama administration, saying that, as of Monday, 60 percent of the 650 cases left over from the previous administration have been closed.
 
The agency also blames the slowdown on the increased number of requests, as well as their complexity.
 
"EPA has and continues to receive more FOIAs than it has in previous years.  FOIA requests and responses have been more complex, requiring additional time and effort; and, some require additional consultation with multiple offices and federal agencies.  Recognizing the need to address the backlog, EPA’s Strategic Plan Transformation Strategy includes: reducing the backlog and meeting statutory deadlines for responding to FOIA requests and appeals.  This is the first time the Agency has committed to eliminating the FOIA backlog in such a transparent and accountable way," EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in a statement.
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 Since Trump took office, there has been an uptick in the number of FOIA requests even as they take markedly longer for the EPA to fulfill.

Between Jan. 20, 2017, and the end of last year, 11,431 FOIA requests were filed to the EPA — an increase of about 17 percent compared to the same time period in Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFive former Obama ambassadors back Buttigieg Time for Democrats to accept reality Air Force Academy will no longer allow transgender students to enroll MORE’s last year in office, a Project on Government Oversight report released Sunday found. 

The group found that a number of the requests were related to email exchanges between Pruitt, his staff, and potential appointees. Other requesters asked for Pruitt's daily schedule, which he has opted to keep private.

A number of environmental groups and watchdogs have contributed to the lawsuits filed against the EPA. Groups including Earth Justice, the Sierra Club, Cause of Action Institute and Partnerships in Enhanced Engagement in Research have all brought complains against the agency for failing to release public data.

“The FOIA process isn’t optional,” Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Koch network launches ad campaign opposing Trump's proposed gas tax Big Dem names show little interest in Senate MORE (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in an emailed statement to Politico. “The American people are entitled to know what government officials, including Mr. Pruitt, are doing with their time and taxpayer money. Yet, from the agency’s refusal to document major environmental policy decisions, to the fictitious ‘blanket waiver’ that it tried to use to justify Mr. Pruitt’s travel expenses, this EPA is evasive when it should be working to be transparent.”