FOIA Lawsuits Grow Against Scott Pruitt’s EPA

Some observers of the Environmental Protection Agency suggest the takeover by former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, along with the Presidency of Donald Trump has led to an increase in open records lawsuits against the EPA.

Politico’s Morning Energy Report  reported this week there’s been a surge in such lawsuits.

IF ALL ELSE FAILS, SUE: EPA has experienced a surge in open records lawsuits following the inauguration of Donald Trump, a POLITICO review found. The lawsuits show a heightened sense of secrecy in the agency tasked with protecting the environment, as outside groups question the administrator’s travels, meetings and policy decisions. Critics of the agency say the suits demonstrate just how far EPA is willing to go to flout FOIA under Scott Pruitt’s tenure.

By the numbers: The lawsuits have come from a range of open government groups, environmentalists and even conservative organizations, Emily Holden reports, after they hit a wall trying to pry information out of Pruitt’s agency. All told, plaintiffs have filed 55 public records lawsuits against EPA since Trump’s inauguration, according to a review of a database of cases compiled by The FOIA Project, an initiative run by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Forty-six of those lawsuits came in 2017 – making it the busiest calendar year by far, according to data stretching back to 1992. The second-busiest year was 2015, when plaintiffs filed 22 such suits against the agency, Emily reports. George W. Bush’s EPA faced only 57 FOIA lawsuits during his entire presidency, according to the database’s list of cases.

According to a separate data analysis that the Project on Government Oversight conducted for POLITICO, EPA has been especially slow to resolve information requests directed specifically at Pruitt’s office. The data show that EPA has not started evaluating the vast majority of requests for information on Pruitt and has closed less than one-fifth of the requests directed at the administrator’s office. From Jan. 20, 2017, to the end of last year, EPA received 11,431 FOIA requests, up about 17 percent compared with an equivalent period during Obama’s last year in office, according to the analysis by POGO.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman tells Emily the agency is focused on clearing a backlog of requests left over from previous administrations, while responding to “the large volume of incoming requests.” EPA had more than 650 requests open from previous years as of early October and has since closed 60 percent of them, Bowman said. Read the full story here.