Wednesday, June 26, 2019

New EPA rule gives chief more power over FOIA requests

"The Environmental Protection Agency is making changes to its transparency rules that include explicitly granting the administrator the authority to decide which public records the agency will release or withhold," Gregory Wallace and Ellie Kaufman report for CNN. "The change in the Freedom of Information Act rule comes without the normal process of public input. It was not announced but instead was placed in the Federal Register for formal publication."

The move is the agency's latest response to the unusually large number of FOIA requests to the EPA during President Trump's administration. It could also be an attempt to reduce fulfillment of such requests, since information obtained from previous requests has proved embarrassing to the agency. EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson testified before Congress in 2018 that he and other aides would try to delay "politically charged" requests, Wallace and Kaufman report.

The new rule takes a different tack. It "appears to allow, for example, the administrator to personally review his own documents, such as emails and calendars, and decide what to release and what to withhold, though he still must comply with the applicable laws governing the release of public documents," Wallace and Kaufman report. "At federal agencies, that process is typically in the hands of career employees and attorneys."

The agency said that the new rule brings it into compliance with congressional amendments to FOIA, and that the Obama administration failed to meet a 2016 deadline to update EPA guidelines.

The move is the latest in a series of actions that weaken public access to information. The Interior Department tightened control over FOIA requests in 2017, and this week the Supreme Court limited access to business-provided government records by expanding what can be considered confidential.

No comments: