Energy & Environment

Democrats say they’re waiting for nearly 50 requests for Trump info on science, environment

Nearly 50 different Democratic requests for documents have been unanswered by departments and agencies that oversee President Trump’s science and environment policies, lawmakers say, underscoring the brick wall the administration has put up against congressional oversight.

Democratic lawmakers are expressing anger and frustration with the administration over what they characterize as a lack of responses to requests for documents and say they are likely to subpoena for the information in the near future.

{mosads}“The Trump Administration refuses to accept that Congress is a co-equal branch of government, and its ongoing attempts to either slow-walk or ignore our legitimate oversight efforts are indefensible,” said an official for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The agencies that have failed to turn over documents include the Environmental Protection Agency, Interior Department, Department of Commerce and Department of Agriculture, according to committee staff.

Administration officials say the Democratic complaints are off base and unfounded, arguing they have provided information relevant to various requests.

House Science, Space and Technology Committee staff members say multiple agencies have failed to answer in full requests for information on issues including formaldehyde studies, 5G weather infrastructure and hurricane data collection.

Staff members on the House Energy and Commerce Committee say they have tallied 21 instances of agencies refusing to respond to or slow-walking document requests from the panel. Topics they are awaiting responses on include changes to the EPA’s environmental appeals board and details on the suppression of results of a study on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have been linked to cancer and are found in firefighting foam and nonstick pans.

The House Natural Resources Committee has 22 open requests with the administration, the highest count from a panel. The topics range from the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed headquarters move to the administration’s decision to shrink two national monuments in Utah. 

“We keep doing our job and passing legislation, but the oversight function and the accountability function in this administration, basically it’s been dismissive,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz,.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in an interview with The Hill in early October.

“I’m not out to grandstand on the damn thing. I am out to push back and push back hard, and we have to do that. That’s our job,” he added.

Grijalva told The Hill that the committee’s next step will be to demand the documents through a subpoena. 

“After a year, nobody can accuse of us of grandstanding and just trying to score points and jumping on board. After what we’ve been through and what we’ve done, that accusation doesn’t hold any water, and that’s important to me that we’re seen as serious,” Grijalva said.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, is also threatening “compulsory” measures if the Department of Health and Human Services continues its “obstruction” of oversight, he wrote in an Oct. 16 letter.

{mossecondads}Agency officials have pushed back on the characterization that they are not responding to requests, arguing that the majority of letters sent are answered and often accompanied by documents totaling thousands of pages.

“To claim that the Department of the Interior has not responded to these document requests is outrageous and completely false. This flagrantly ignores the facts for political theater,” an Interior official said in a statement to The Hill on Friday.

Democrats argue that while the agencies appear responsive, the materials provided are frequently unrelated to the original request, already publicly available or heavily redacted. Staffers have likened the technique to “padding” responses.

For example, during a hearing in September, lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee used screens in the hearing room to flash fully redacted pages, blurred images and examples where the committee was given limited versions of documents that were given to other requesters in full.

Interior Solicitor Daniel Jorjani called it a mistake at the time, telling the committee, “That’s an oversight on our part for which I apologize.” 

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), who leads the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, has also indicated she’s at her wits end in attempting to get answers from the various agencies her committee oversees. On Tuesday, the lawmaker sent a “final” letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler demanding documents related to a formaldehyde study by Nov 5.

“The committee is now prepared to issue subpoenas for the requested materials should the agency fail to meet the deadlines outlined in this letter,” Johnson wrote in her Oct. 29 letter.

“It is apparent that the productions submitted to date were provided in bad faith,” she added.

In her letter, Johnson outlined one example of what she said was an inadequate response from the EPA.

In a response to a request for information about the Trump EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System program, the agency over the course of five months provided 2,500 pages. Johnson said 30 percent were documents from before the Trump administration took office and 10 percent were scans of daily news clips. She said the majority of the remaining relevant documents were “redacted to the point of uselessness.”

An EPA official called Johnson’s claims “patently false,” pointing to various briefings agency staff have held with and offered to the committee, including providing acting EPA Science Adviser Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta to testify at a committee hearing on the IRIS program in March.

“To say that the agency has been anything other than responsive and accommodating to the House Energy & Commerce and House Science Committees is patently false. The agency has provided over 9,000 pages of responsive material through over 20 letter responses and at least 20 briefings on a variety of issues,” the official said in a statement to The Hill on Friday.

“We will continue to work in good faith with the committees on the very few issues they have actually been engaged on,” the official added. 

Tags Andrew Wheeler Donald Trump Eddie Bernice Johnson Frank Pallone Jr. Scott Pruitt

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