Groups sue for information about Heartland Institute’s involvement in EPA climate science decisions

environmentThe Southern Environmental Law Center and Environmental Defense Fund are suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to release information about the Heartland Institute’s efforts to attack climate science.

SELC and EDF had filed Freedom of Information Act requests for correspondence between EPA and the Heartland Institute. Officials at the Heartland Institute, which has a long history of promoting climate denial, have publicly stated that EPA requested their assistance on Administrator Scott Pruitt’s possible “red team, blue team” review of climate science.

The groups filed suit today, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, after EPA failed to comply with those FOIA requests.

“EPA’s efforts to promote climate change deniers and undermine peer-reviewed science behind closed doors is not only a failure of its mission, it is illegal,” said Kym Hunter, Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The public has a clear and protected right to know what the EPA is doing and with whom they are communicating, including those pushing a climate-denier agenda.”

“Even as Americans face growing risks from climate change, Scott Pruitt continues to stonewall common-sense solutions and deny decades of mounting scientific evidence that the problem is real and serious,” said Ben Levitan, Attorney for Environmental Defense Fund. “Americans have a right to know who is influencing Pruitt’s decisions, and who is shaping the agenda at the agency in charge of protecting our health and safety.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has repeatedly pushed for what he refers to as a “red team, blue team” review of climate science in which rival “teams” selected by EPA would debate the scientific consensus on climate change. Scientists have said such an exercise would circumvent the rigorous, time-tested process of peer review that is used to ensure the integrity of scientific information used by EPA and other federal agencies.

Pruitt’s proposal also ignores the voluminous, peer-reviewed climate science assessments by thousands of scientists from the U.S. and around the world – including two assessments prepared by the Trump Administration – showing that human-caused climate change is a real and urgent threat. EPA itself issued a science-based determination in 2009, following an extensive public comment process, that climate pollutants pose a clear threat to human health and welfare. That finding was upheld by a federal appeals court in 2012.

News reports indicate White House Chief of Staff John Kelly nixed Pruitt’s plan after deciding it was ill-conceived, but just this week Pruitt indicated that the idea remains under consideration.

After releasing an “Action Plan for President Trump,” the Heartland Institute confirmed in July of 2017 that officials at EPA had reached out for help identifying experts for a “red team” interrogation of climate science. In response, EDF and SELC filed FOIA requests for communications between EPA and the Heartland Institute in August and October of 2017, respectively.

After initially acknowledging and clarifying these requests, EPA has stopped communicating with SELC and only offered vague responses with little information on timing or progress to EDF.

Coincidentally, SELC and EDF have filed their lawsuit during Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of access to public information. FOIA requests are available on request.

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