Monday, December 18, 2017

Interior takes tighter control of FOIA requests

"The Trump administration’s top environmental policymakers are engaged in a new war with their adversaries — over how much information to release to the media and outside groups, who are often perceived as enemies, as part of a heavy stream of Freedom of Information Act requests," The Washington Post reports.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior are becoming particularly slow to respond to FOIA requests, since such requests have uncovered information that links those departments' officials with players in the industries they're regulating, Dino Grandoni and Juliet Eilperin write.

In response to the flood of FOIA requests about the recent review of national monuments, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke instructed all agencies responsible for the review to forward FOIA requests directly to his office. Both Interior and EPA have seen an increase in FOIA requests since President Trump was elected; between October 2016 and September 2017, Interior received a total of 8,014 FOIA requests and the EPA got 11,493. The previous fiscal year, Interior got 6,438 FOIA requests and EPA got 10,498.

"The desire to consolidate duplicative FOIAs isn’t in itself a sign of something untoward," David Pozen, a professor at Columbia Law School and expert on information law, told the Post. “But the consolidation of the FOIA requests in a political office strikes me as more notable and concerning."

Zinke appears to be trying to clamp down on coverage overall, reprimanding the superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park last month after a series of tweets about climate change, Timothy Cama reports for The Hill.

Environmental groups and news outlets have criticized EPA for not answering FOIA requests more quickly, but EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said he and his staff are concentrating on clearing out the backlog of requests filed during Obama's administration, the Post reports. Some state officials are irked too: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed suit in August to force EPA to release documents about how Pruitt is handling potential conflicts of interest.

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