The attorneys general in 12 states filed a federal lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tuesday, claiming EPA denied records requests involving its “sue and settle” practice.
The lawyers are led by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. The lawsuit was filed in a district court in Oklahoma City. It claims that consent decrees between EPA and environmental groups have led to new regulations for states without the attorneys’ general involvement.
For example, the lawsuit notes that when the states made a FOIA request to the EPA in February concerning the agency’s dealings with environmental groups and consent decrees regarding state implementation plans for the EPA’s regional haze guidelines, the request was denied.
“The EPA is picking winners and losers, exhibiting favoritism, at the expense of due process and transparency,” Pruitt said. “They are manipulating our legal system to achieve what they cannot through our respresentative democracy. The outcomes of their actions affect every one of us by sticking states with the bill and unnecessarily raising utility rates by as much as 20 percent.”
The other attorneys general party to the lawsuit are from Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
Though the states filed the FOIA request in August 2012, EPA also denied their request for a fee waiver. With the lawsuit, the attorneys general seek to enforce FOIA guidelines for the release of records of agreements between EPA and environmental groups.
Conservative groups have alleged that EPA’s FOIA practices and lawsuits are biased against them.
According to a study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), EPA granted FOIA fee waiver requests to environmental groups 92 percent of the time, but denied similar requests to conservative groups 93 percent of the time.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) stated that EPA needed more transparency:
The numbers don’t lie. Looking at FOIA waivers, it’s clear that EPA favors far-left environmentalist groups over conservative think tanks, but today’s lawsuit is just another example demonstrating EPA’s discrimination extends toward states, as well. We recently got the EPA to agree to completely retrain their staff on FOIA practives and issue new agency-wide guidance on FOIA practices following completion of the inspector general investigation. However, their obstructionist tactics while trying to bend FOIA laws remains a problem, especially when they seek to block attorneys general who clearly are acting to advance the public interest.
Last week, EPA announced it will retrain its more than 17,000 employees on FOIA compliance and records management.