CEI Back to Court to Seek Answers on EPA’s Fee-Waiver Denials

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 4, 2013 — Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency unlawfully seek to impose fee barriers as a means of denying and, at minimum, delaying groups EPA deems as unhelpful to its agenda from obtaining public information, according to a lawsuit filed today by the Competitive Enterprise Institute in U.S. District Court. CEI’s lawsuit also indicates that this stands in stark contrast to EPA’s notorious collaboration with environmental pressure group allies, who are instead treated as extensions of EPA.

CEI’s lawsuit asks the court to order EPA to comply with what is known as a “simple” request under the Freedom of Information Act—which EPA nonetheless has refused to even acknowledge—seeking copies of all determinations to grant or deny FOIA fee waiver requests for approximately the past year.

Under FOIA, agencies must waive or substantially reduce fees for record requests by non-profits that broadly disseminate public information, such as CEI, when those records are “in the public interest” and “likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of operations or activities of the government.”

CEI’s success at uncovering and disseminating public information—including former Administrator Lisa Jackson’s false-identity email account in the name of “Richard Windsor”—apparently has led EPA to try and block CEI from further discoveries.

CEI’s experience of apparent retaliation also seems to be part of a new and larger pattern of EPA imposing fee barriers, generally, against groups deemed hostile to EPA’s agenda. Other organizations CEI is aware have been similarly obstructed of late include the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the National Center for Public Policy Research and the American Tradition Institute. This is despite these groups’ requests being for information of obvious public and policy interest, including EPA practices of hiding its communications from Congress and the public, and its work regarding hydraulic fracturing, source of an energy boom the Obama administration nonetheless has targeted.

CEI’s lawsuit seeks to compare this treatment with EPA’s relationship with those groups it deems to be supportive of its agenda,—typically with good reason—such as the Sierra Club and Louisiana Bucket Brigade, which enjoy close working relationships with the agency.

CEI’s suit seeks to compel revelation of just how evenly, or not, EPA has applied the law. “Under FOIA no agency may discriminate or disparately treat similarly situated requesting parties”, said Christopher C. Horner, attorney, senior fellow at CEI and author of the book “The Liberal War on Transparency,” research for which set off the investigation that led CEI to look into EPA’s record-keeping practices. “FOIA’s fee-waiver provision was created specifically to ensure non-profits do not have fee barriers placed in their way of accessing public records. The public deserves to know whether EPA is singling out groups it does not perceive as friendly for discriminatory treatment.”

>> Read CEI’s April 4 complaint here.