SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The Center for Biological Diversity does not have to pay for the records it requested on the government's decision-making process in setting average fuel-economy standards for light trucks, a federal judge ruled. more
U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel granted the nonprofit's request for a fee waiver, saying the information it sought under the Freedom of Information Act would "contribute significantly to the public understanding of governmental activities."
The Office of Management & Budget, which helps the president manage and execute the federal budget, said the center's FOIA request was overly broad, and denied the fee-waiver request because most of the documents were privileged and the rest would reveal information already existing in the public domain.
But this line of argument puts "the cart before the horse," Patel wrote. "An analysis of the fee waiver issue does not and cannot involve a decision regarding whether the deliberative process privilege would apply to the documents covered by the request. The defendant office would first need to identify the requested documents and then determine which documents may be withheld."
Holding otherwise would place the burden on the petitioner to show that a FOIA exemption cannot be established - a requirement that "stands the statute and its case law on their heads," Patel said.
She agreed that releasing the requested documents will help the plaintiff and the public better understand the Bush administration's rationale and basis for setting the current Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations.
"Depending on the weight placed on the cost of greenhouse gas emissions, there is a substantial likelihood that the requested documents will shed light on this administration's policy on how climate change is impacting fuel-economy standards," Patel wrote.
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