Activists are using a district court widely believed to be the most liberal in the nation to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) into revealing how it processes public information requests.
The Sierra Club sued the EPA Thursday for not responding fast enough to a request filed last year under the Freedom of Information Act. The group’s request comes amid a deluge of requests from activists opposed to the agency’s regulatory rollback.
The lawsuit, which was filed at the 9th District Court in California, claimed the EPA failed to make public changes to policies regarding how the Trump administration processes FOIA requests. EPA received 11,493 requests last year – that’s nearly 1,000 more than in 2016.
“We’ve had complete radio silence from the EPA on this FOIA request,” said Thomas J. Cmar, an attorney for Earthjustice representing Sierra Club in the case. The Sierra Club argues the agency is required to respond to requests within 20 business days.
Activists are exacting their hunk of a flesh from the agency’s chief, Scott Pruitt, who famously sued the EPA more than a dozen times during his time as Oklahoma’s attorney general. He led a group of AGs in a lawsuit against the Obama-era EPA for failing to respond to their appeal of a FOIA fee-waiver request.
Pruitt was joined by the AGs of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. He also joined a cadre of lawmen who sued the Obama administration’s implementation of the Clean Power Plan.
Pruitt sought documents on communications between environmental groups and EPA officials regarding consent decrees from sue-and-settle lawsuits with environmental groups that directed the agency to implement regulations under the Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze program.
The states asked for EPA communications with environmental groups — including Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club — all of which engaged in sue-and-settle lawsuits to control the EPA’s enforcement of the Regional Haze program, critics say.
Sierra Club activists are relying on a district court that has an unusually high reversal rate before the U.S. Supreme Court. Eight of out of 10 cases from the 9th Circuit reviewed by the Supreme Court are overruled, according to a 2010 analysis published by the American Bar Association. The 9th Circuit, which is known for its liberal tendencies, has the second-highest reversal rate of the 13 appellate courts below the Supreme Court.
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