Anti-secrecy Lawsuits Soaring against EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency has been flooded with an immense amount of open record lawsuits since President Donald Trump took office, as shown by an analysis of data reviewed by Politico.

The lawsuits come amid the massive backlash and criticism against EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and his travels, meetings and policy decisions.

Large interest has been noticed in the sweeping changes enacted by Pruitt. The lawsuits are coming from open government groups, environmentalists, even more conservative organizations running into a wall trying to pull information from the agency.

The papers they have been looking for, contain a vast amount of decisions, from EPA’s reversals during the Obama administration, to toxic waste sites and how to deal with them – nation-wide.

Several of the cases involve requests for the administrator’s schedules and travel records, which EPA released routinely under past administrations but now refuses to make public except in response to lawsuits.

Pruitt has drawn criticism for withholding information about those matters, and for the expenses he has run up by demanding round-the-clock security, installing an eavesdropping-proof chamber in his office and flying first class to avoid potential threats from critics in the coach cabins.

EPA has seen a jump in FOIA requests under the Trump administration, especially for information specifically from Pruitt’s office. That increase, plus the agency’s new emphasis on answering years-old requests before addressing newer ones, has frustrated groups seeking the documents behind Pruitt’s rollback of environmental regulations.

From Jan. 20, 2017, to the end of last year, EPA received 11,431 FOIA requests, up about 17 percent compared with an equivalent period during former President Barack Obama’s last year in office, according to the analysis by POGO. Requests targeted at Pruitt’s office, in particular, rose fivefold to 1,181.

But Pruitt’s office has closed only about 17 percent of the requests that deal specifically with his activities. EPA has been faster to resolve requests to other offices — the agency overall has closed 79 percent of FOIA requests filed since Trump’s swearing-in, and its Washington headquarters has closed 57 percent, the POGO numbers show. Closed cases include those in which EPA either provided some or all of the requested documents or declined to provide them.

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