September 18, 2017 / 8:15 PM / 2 years ago

In lawsuit, Sierra Club claims U.S. EPA violates information access law

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Sierra Club sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in federal court on Monday over what it says is the regulator’s failure to respond to information and records requests under transparency laws, court papers show.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asks a judge to declare the EPA is violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a U.S. law that allows members of the public to obtain records of government proceedings through written requests. It also asks the judge to order the EPA to respond to information requests more quickly and robustly.

EPA representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The resistance, the non-responsiveness and the delays that we’re encountering now at EPA are beyond anything we’ve seen at EPA before and they’re beyond what we’re seeing at other agencies,” said Matthew Miller, a Sierra Club lawyer, in an interview.

Federal government agencies are required to respond to requests under FOIA within time frames laid out in the law, which also gives the agencies the right to withhold records under a series of exemptions.

But according to the Sierra Club’s lawsuit, the EPA is delaying responses to record requests that do not qualify for exemptions because they entail communications between EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his staff and external groups like oil industry advocates and other industrial lobby groups.

“Mr. Pruitt and other senior staff who are the subjects of Sierra Club’s FOIA requests have reached out to industry representatives for input on proposed changes without seeking commensurate input from other constituencies,” the lawsuit said, citing correspondence with representatives of the National Mining Association as an example.

The lawsuit said the EPA has not indicated whether it “intends to comply with Sierra Club’s requests or even an approximate date by which the agency would provide such determination, let alone any records responsive to Sierra Club’s requests.”

A spokesman for the NMA declined to comment.

Reporting By Emily Flitter; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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