EDF Sues Trump Administration to Compel Release of Documents Related to Attacks on Climate Science

Environmental Defense Fund has filed a lawsuit in federal district court seeking to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to release unlawfully redacted information that the agency failed to provide in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

EDF filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today for documents related to a planned “red team/blue team” exercise that was intended to undermine EPA’s long-established use of rigorous, peer-reviewed climate science.

“Climate change is a danger to the health and safety of all Americans, and we have a right to know what our government is doing about it,” said EDF Attorney Ben Levitan. “The Trump administration’s attacks on climate science are a threat to us and our families. They should not be able to hide their actions from the public.”

The FOIA request at issue in the filing began in 2017, with reports that EPA was considering a “red team/blue team” exercise to reevaluate the overwhelming scientific consensus that greenhouse gas pollution is causing destructive changes in our climate. The exercise would have set up a debate between a team assigned to refute established climate science and a team to defend it. EDF was concerned that EPA was planning the exercise without public input, and planning to use it to undermine the scientific integrity of agency actions on climate change. We submitted a FOIA request to EPA on August 1, 2017 to increase public information about the issue.

EPA released some heavily redacted documents that related to the proposed “red team/blue team” exercise. The redacted documents include correspondence between EPA staff and two outside parties who were not employed by the federal government at the time – Dr. William Happer, co-founder of an organization that touts the purported benefits of carbon dioxide pollution, and Dr. Steven Koonin, an early promoter of the idea of a “red team/blue team exercise” for climate science.

FOIA clearly requires federal agencies to publicly release such communications on request. Yet EPA has failed to release the documents nearly two years after our FOIA request was filed, even though they could bear directly on how EPA interacted with outside stakeholders on the critical question of whether to reconsider climate science.

EDF has been forced to go to court repeatedly after FOIA requests to the Trump administration were not fulfilled, including two other times when the administration failed to release documents relating to its attacks on climate science:

  • In October, 2017, EDF sued after the administration failed to respond to three FOIA requests, including one pertaining to interference with scientific research and communications at EPA.
  • In August, 2018, EDF sued when EPA failed to release documents related to a proposed rule that would bar the agency from using key public health studies when making decisions about vital protections for human health and the environment.

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