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Sierra Club sues EPA over claim that climate change 'is 50 to 75 years out'

Sierra Club sues EPA over claim that climate change 'is 50 to 75 years out'
© Stefani Reynolds

The Sierra Club sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday after the agency refused to turn over any documents to back up Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA eases permitting for modifications to polluting facilities | Rocky Mountain National Park closed due to expanding Colorado wildfire | Trump order strips workplace protections from civil servants EPA eases permitting for modifications to polluting facilities OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA may violate courts with new rule extending life of unlined coal ash ponds | Trump reverses course, approving assistance for California wildfires | Climate change, national security among topics for final Trump-Biden debate MORE’s claim that climate change “is 50 to 75 years out.”

The Sierra Club had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in April asking the EPA to provide all records Wheeler relied on in making that statement, as well as any research from the EPA that supported his claim.

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Wheeler’s comments came in an April interview with CBS News, when he said he would be focused on pressing issues like access to clean water since “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”

The EPA denied the Sierra Club's FOIA request in June, saying the request “fails to adequately describe the records sought.”

“Your request does not seek specific records but is rather a question framed as a FOlA request,” the agency wrote in a letter to the Sierra Club.

The environmental group then appealed through the FOIA process but never heard back from EPA. The Sierra Club then filed a lawsuit Wednesday in the D.C. District Court.

“They’re essentially arguing that the public does not have a right to know what, if anything, is supporting his claims,” said Matthew Miller, an attorney for the Sierra Club.

“The EPA either needs to admit there is in fact no support for the administrator’s statement and they need to set the record straight that he was misleading and inaccurate,” Miller said. “Or they need to provide us with whatever unknown basis of support they are relying on — which is apparently none — and which would be contrary to the overwhelming scientific consensus and his own agency’s scientists' research.”

An EPA spokesman said in an email Thursday that while the agency would not comment on pending litigation, "experts from EPA and other organizations like the [United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] regularly measure climate change impacts, including the effects of regulation, in multi-decadal time frames, not year-to-year variations."

Wheeler’s April statement contradicted numerous government reports which call for a sense of urgency in battling climate change.

Almost all climate scientists have concluded that the effects of human-caused climate change are already taking place.

The FOIA process has previously been used by environmental groups to challenge EPA statements about climate change.

In August 2018, a suit forced the EPA to acknowledge that now-former Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA eases permitting for modifications to polluting facilities | Rocky Mountain National Park closed due to expanding Colorado wildfire | Trump order strips workplace protections from civil servants EPA eases permitting for modifications to polluting facilities Overnight Energy: Barrett punts on climate, oil industry recusals | Ex-EPA official claims retaliation in lawsuit | Dems seek to uphold ruling ousting Pendley MORE failed to back up his reasoning with science when he claimed humans are not the central cause of climate change.

Pruitt told CNBC’s “Squawk Box" in 2017 that humans were not a "primary contributor to the global warming that we see."

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a FOIA request, and after a lawsuit secured Pruitt’s preparation notes, none of which referenced climate change.