Env't Integrity Project v. EPA, No. 14-1282, 2016 WL 1254211 (D.D.C. Mar. 29, 2016) (Boasberg, J.)
Re: Request for data from surveys designed to collect data about pollution and gain insight into plant-specific business practices
Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's motion for summary judgment
- Exemption 4: The court holds "conclude[es] that the [Clean Water Act] does not expressly preempt the agency's ability to withhold the material." "The issue before the Court is . . . a narrow one: should a court compel disclosure of documents exempt under FOIA where a separate statute, passed several years after FOIA was enacted, suggests that the agency must disclose them?" In other words, "[b]ecause Plaintiffs rely exclusively on FOIA to supply both a cause of action and a source of relief, . . . and because there is no dispute that the data is properly classified as confidential business information under Exemption 4, the only way Plaintiffs may succeed is if the CWA somehow modifies FOIA to preclude EPA's ability to invoke its exemptions." "The Court concludes that, at least as to the relevant section of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1318, [which "places certain requirements on what EPA can or must do (or refrain from doing) with that information"] the answer is no." The court finds that "[p]aintiffs cannot identify Congress's express intent to exempt the CWA from the general provisions of FOIA." Specifically, the court finds "that the 'shall be available to the public' language in § 1318(b) does not have the effect of displacing or superseding FOIA's nine exemptions." "EPA thus acted within its discretion under FOIA to withhold the data sought by Plaintiffs under 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(4)."