EPA Progresses Through HUNDREDS Of FOIA Requests Left Unanswered Under Obama

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials are making progress on responding to the hundreds of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests left unanswered by former President Barack Obama’s administration.

EPA FOIA officers had responded as of October, to 70 percent of the 652 requests left open at the beginning of 2017, according to an agency release. Some requests had been open since 2008.

That doesn’t include the 34 pre-2017 FOIA requests submitted to EPA’s Office of the Inspector General, according to an agency release.

“We are committed to transparency,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement.

“EPA staff have quickly responded to the challenge to clear the backlog of FOIAs that built up from the previous administration, all while continuing to respond to the large volume of incoming requests,” Pruitt said.

It’s a big commitment since the agency has been hit with a surge of FOIAs from environmentalists and news outlets, all looking to find out about the inner workings of President Donald Trump’s administration.

EPA received 11,493 FOIA requests in fiscal year 2017, that is the most they’ve gotten since 2007 when outside groups filed 11,820 records requests. EPA got 995 more FOIAs this year than in 2016.

The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard noted in September several FOIAs wanted “all emails that include ‘climate change’ in them, a list in the millions and will be costly in money and hours to retrieve.”

Bedard pointed to another FOIA from “New York Times reporter Eric Lipton seeking emails that include his name.” Lipton has been a thorn in the side of EPA officials and has been digging into Pruitt’s political activity for years.

Conservative groups have been some of the most vocal critics of EPA’s handling of FOIAs. Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) senior fellow Chris Horner accused EPA of sitting on FOIA’s submitted by conservative groups.

EPA’s inspector general investigated and found no evidence of political interference in FOIA requests, but Horner contested the findings, arguing it was the process, not political appointees, that hampered conservative requests.

Horner said he’d been stonewalled in FOIA requests for former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s emails. Horner eventually sued EPA and got access to Jackson’s emails, that were masked using a fake alias.

CEI also sued EPA in 2015 over the agency’s extremely slow handling of a FOIA request for emails from Jackson’s alias account “Richard Windsor.”

EPA said it would release the 120,000 records associated with CEI’s request at a pace of 100 per month — meaning the FOIA request will be fully processed in about 100 years.

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