News | February 6, 2018

Federal judge denies EPA attempt to stonewall FOIA request from SELC

After months of delays, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will begin reviewing and producing documents in response to Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by SELC last year. It took a court order to force the agency to respond.

“The Trump administration’s unprecedented and dangerous effort to dismantle countless environmental safeguards is a topic of unquestionable public interest and concern,” said SELC attorney Kym Hunter. “It is unfortunate that it took a lawsuit and a court order to force the EPA to actually follow the law, but we’re pleased the public will finally find out more about this destructive deregulatory effort.”

SELC has been asking for documents related to the Trump administration’s unprecedented rollback of environmental regulations, filing two FOIA requests — one in April and one in August of 2017.

When months went by without response, SELC filed a complaint to compel EPA to produce the relevant documents. Attempts to negotiate a settlement out of court were unsuccessful, so SELC filed a motion asking for summary judgment.

EPA tried to delay the briefing schedule for the lawsuit until November, which would have delayed production of documents a full 18 months after the original request was made. U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe denied that request, after which EPA agreed to begin producing documents this month, and agreed to review and produce at least 1,000 documents per month through June.

SELC’s FOIA requests focus on two of President Donald Trump’s executive orders relating to deregulation. One requires federal agencies to create regulatory reform task forces and procedures for identifying “unnecessary” or burdensome regulations. The other requires agency to identify two existing regulations that could be repealed for each new regulation enacted.

The EPA has been extraordinarily secretive about the deregulatory process resulting from these executive orders and has taken numerous steps to reduce transparency at the agency. It even resisted efforts for months to make Administrator Scott Pruitt’s calendar public and spent $25,000 to build a privacy booth for Pruitt inside the agency.