The Spectacle Blog

How to Get Information Out of the EPA

By on 7.30.14 | 5:18PM

In January 2012, I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Environmental Protection Agency asking for copies of correspondence between the EPA and various green groups active in the Marcellus Shale region. The request was filed on behalf of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the parent company of Watchdog.org. The FOIA asked the agency to provide us with “any discussion and correspondence with outside groups that concerns potential regulatory action that would impact the fracking process.”

This was not an open-ended request. By design, it was limited since the Marcellus Shale cuts across Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. The request was also limited to the green groups most active in the region. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Union of Concerned Scientists, EarthJustice, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, and Earthworks are among the groups named in the request. We also asked for communication between the EPA and the Park Foundation, based in Ithaca, New York, which is largely responsible for funding green activism in the region.

After going through the usual fee-waiver request, denial, and appeal process, the EPA finally said it would comply a few months later. Finally, in December 2013, Frederick No, a FOIA officer in the EPA, was kind enough to offer some material. It was very heavy on EPA research into the process of hydraulic fracturing used to extract natural gas, but very light on the actual correspondence that was requested. Still, it was at least a response, and I thank Mr. No for making the effort. Studies continue to show that the fracking process is safe and effective, but this has not dissuaded groups like the NRDC working to keep a moratorium in effect in New York, which could use the jobs that would be created with natural gas production. Meanwhile, the EPA has found a way to keep a lid on the input green groups have had in pursuing anti-energy regulations.

But there is some good news. At a time when the EPA is suffocating the American economy with regulations built on top of unsubstantiated scientific claims, a savvy team of attorneys has seized upon an “obscure, but potentially” powerful federal law that could force the agency to disclose its concealed data.

The non-profit Institute for Trade, Standards and Sustainable Development (ITSSD), based in Princeton, New Jersey, has filed a new 145-page Freedom of Information Act request with the EPA that asks the agency to release reports and records the agency has that were used to justify its 2009 greenhouse gas (GHG) endangerment finding under the Clean Air Act (CAA). Specifically, the FOIA asks the agency to detail, step-by-step, how it complied with “highest and most rigorous standards applicable to what are called highly influential scientific assessments, or HISAs, imposed by the Information Quality Act (IQA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).”

"ITSSD research findings clearly show that EPA had systematically failed to comply with the Information Quality Act's most rigorous and least discretionary peer review standards which governed how it should have validated and not merely reviewed the many highly influential science assessments that supported its controversial 2009 Clean Air Act GHG endangerment findings,” Lawrence Kogan, president and CEO of the ITSSD, said in an interview.

While Kogan’s efforts involve highly technical, legalistic maneuverings, he is making a valuable contribution to the restoration of constitutional limited government. There has been no appreciable global warming since the turn of the century, and in fact a growing body of research shows the planet may be cooling. So, it is certainly worth probing into what kind of scientific data the EPA is using to advance regulations that raise energy prices and burden consumers. Up until now, the IQA has been a largely unexploited feature of federal law. We’ll see what Kogan and his team can dig out.

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