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Court Grants CEI Discovery of White House Science Office

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A federal court has granted CEI discovery in its FOIA lawsuit against the top White House science policy office. The court found that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) response to CEI’s FOIA request contained inconsistent and unreliable representations about the sought records, raising questions about the agency’s “good faith.’’

CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman said, “As OSTP’s course of action here demonstrates, there’s a clear pattern when it comes to this Administration: In dealing with global warming issues, agencies tend to act illegally. In short, global warming poses a risk to the rule of law.”

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed a lawsuit against the OSTP, seeking documents related to that agency’s controversial video, The Polar Vortex Explained in 2 Minutes. The video, released in January 2014, attempted to blame global warming for the unusually cold winter weather. However, it was widely criticized by scientists on both sides of the climate change debate. Despite OSTP Director John Holdren’s claim that a “growing body of evidence” supports the connection between extreme cold and global warming, a number of published peer-reviewed studies disputed the claim.

CEI petitioned OSTP to correct its claim under the federal Information Quality Act. But the agency denied the petition, claiming that Dr. Holdren’s statement was a “personal opinion” that was exempt from the law. CEI then filed a Freedom of Information Act request on June 13, 2014 for documents related to the video’s production as well as to the agency’s refusal to correct its claim, but the agency refused to disclose most of those records.

CEI subsequently filed suit in federal district court. On February 10, 2016, the court ruled partially in CEI’s favor. On March 4, OSTP released documents, admitting that it found other copies of letters that CEI had requested, prompting the court to question whether OSTP performed a proper search. In a March 23 Order to Show Cause, the court sought an explanation of OSTP’s search process, and indicated it was considering the possibility of imposing sanctions on OSTP, and granting CEI’s 2015 request for discovery. Today’s ruling grants that discovery to CEI.

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