Nonprofit Says EPA Refuses to Release Docs on Website Changes

WASHINGTON (CN) – A nonprofit environmental advocacy group claims in court the Trump administration unilaterally removed information on climate change from government websites and refuses to produce information related to those actions.

In a federal lawsuit filed June 26 in Washington, the National Resources Defense Council says that within hours of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, several agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, purged information from their websites about climate change and other environmental issues.

“Shortly thereafter, various news outlets reported that the Trump Administration was instructing EPA to remove climate change pages from its websites,” the complaint says.

The NRDC says worrisome changes to the EPA’s website and those of other agencies and departments have continued unabated in the months since.

In a May 28 press release, the EPA acknowledged as much:

“EPA.gov, the website for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, is undergoing changes that reflect the agency’s new direction under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt,” a new release on the website says.

“The process, which involves updating language to reflect the approach of new leadership, is intended to ensure that the public can use the website to understand the agency’s current efforts. The changes will comply with agency ethics and legal guidance, including the use of proper archiving procedures,” it says.

The NRDC says it has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the EPA seeking documents related to the website changes, the chain of command in carrying them out, and the agency’s website-retention policies.

While the EPA acknowledged the request, which was filed in March, no documents were forthcoming. Then, on June 14, 2017, the complaint says, the NRDC received an email stating that its request “is not a proper request because it does not reasonably describe the records sought.”

The email also stated the nonprofit had ten days to respond or the EPA would consider the request withdrawn.

“On June 23, 2017, NRDC responded to EPA’s email by stating that the request as written reasonably describes the records sought. NRDC also declined to ‘voluntarily withdraw’ its request,” the complaint says.

Since then, the nonprofit says, it has heard nothing from the agency.

“NRDC seeks a declaration that EPA has violated FOIA by failing to provide a final determination as to whether it will comply with NRDC’s request and by failing to produce responsive records by the statutory deadline,” the complaint says. “NRDC seeks an injunction ordering EPA to disclose without further delay all non-exempt, responsive records to NRDC.”

Jared Knicley of the Natural Resources Defense Council represents the nonprofit.

A representative of the EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

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