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Public Emps. for Envtl. Responsibility v. EPA, No. 17-652, 2018 WL 2464463 (D.D.C. June 1, 2018) (Howell, C. J.)


Public Emps. for Envtl. Responsibility v. EPA, No. 17-652, 2018 WL 2464463 (D.D.C. June 1, 2018) (Howell, C. J.)

Re:  Request for records "'relied upon by Administrator Pruitt in making [certain] statements and any EPA documents that support the conclusions that human activity is not the largest factor driving global climate change'"

Disposition:  Granting plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment; denying defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests:  The court holds that, "[p]roperly construed, and contrary to EPA's objection, the plaintiff's FOIA request fully satisfies the statutory requirement of 'reasonably describ[ing]' the records sought."  The court explains that "the FOIA request appropriately targets for disclosure agency records that EPA's Administrator relied on, whether or not those records reflected his personal beliefs or the conclusions he publicly articulated . . . about the causes of climate change."  "More significantly for purposes of this litigation, EPA is construing the second part of the FOIA request far more broadly than the text supports in a thinly veiled effort to make the request more complex and burdensome than it is."  The court explains that "the FOIA request targets agency records that reach 'conclusions on the causes of climate change, and specifically conclu[de] that humans are not the largest factor,' with 'no need for the FOIA staff to conduct scientific research or make judgment calls.'"  The court finds that "[w]hen the head of an agency makes a public statement that appears to contradict 'the published research and conclusions of' that agency, . . . the FOIA provides a valuable tool for citizens to demand agency records providing any support, scientific or otherwise, for the pronouncement, and to oblige agencies to search for and produce any non-exempt responsive records."
  • Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records:  The court holds that "EPA's affidavit . . . provides no details to substantiate a claim of undue burden in complying with the plaintiff's FOIA request and therefore the agency has failed to carry its burden on summary judgment."  "EPA's bare assertion that the FOIA request at issue would not 'allow professional staff with a familiarity with the subject matter to process the FOIA request,' . . . resembles agency affidavits that have been found wanting[.]"
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Procedural Requirements, Proper FOIA Requests
Procedural Requirements, Searching for Responsive Records
Updated December 2, 2021