Washington, DC, Dec. 12, 2017 – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is refusing to even search for, let alone produce, records Administrator Scott Pruitt relied upon in claiming that human activity is not a “primary contributor” to climate change, according to legal filings in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). U.S. Justice Department lawyers representing EPA contend the PEER suit is “a trap” and would require “an endless fishing expedition.”
In a March 9, 2017 interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Pruitt stated that as to carbon dioxide created by human activity “I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” He also said “there’s a tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact” of “human activity on the climate….”
The next day PEER filed a FOIA request asking to see the studies upon which Pruitt based his claim and whether there are any EPA scientific studies that find human activity is not the largest factor driving global climate change. After the agency failed to produce any records within the statutory deadline, PEER filed suit to compel production. In dueling filings the two sides are seeking a court ruling.
In its cross-filing this week, PEER notes that EPA told the court on October 10, 2017 that it was prepared to do a search for briefing materials and to propose search terms but EPA has done nothing to further its response to the FOIA request. Instead a month later, it filed a summary judgment motion claiming that it has no obligation to do anything to respond to any part of PEER’s FOIA request.
“Our lawsuit is neither a trap nor a fishing expedition but a rather straightforward attempt to get Mr. Pruitt to identify where is the alternative science he keeps citing,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein. “We presume that Administrator Pruitt must have had some factual basis for his public statements and we merely seek to see what it is.”
While refusing to search for records or ask Mr. Pruitt, EPA did produce links to large amounts of archived material that had been removed from the agency website. However, all of that material contradicted Pruitt and underscored the major role human activity plays in driving climate change. As such, it was not responsive to PEER’s request.
At the same time, Mr. Pruitt is promising to initiate a controversial “red team, blue team” review of climate science.
“If Mr. Pruitt does indeed possess facts on climate change that are different from those previously displayed on EPA webpages, he should share them with the public before spending our money to stage a debate,” Dinerstein added. “Unless he can produce some scientific basis for his assertions, Mr. Pruitt’s red team may be clad entirely in whole cloth.”
In a motion filed on November 9, 2017 on behalf of EPA, the Justice Department asked U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell to dismiss PEER’s suit as an “impermissible use of FOIA.” In its motion filed today, PEER rebuts Justice’s arguments and asks for a judgement in its favor accompanied by a court order compelling EPA to finally undertake a search and to disclose the results.