Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 12, 2019

Contact: Meg Townsend, (971) 717-6409,

Lawsuits Target Trump's War on Transparency at EPA, Interior Department

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a pair of lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the Freedom of Information Act by failing to make records available to the public. The lawsuits, filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., coincide with national Sunshine Week.

Under President Donald Trump, the agencies have weakened their FOIA responsibilities and routinely delayed or denied access to public records.

The Center has submitted a series of FOIA requests to better understand how the agencies are responding to such requests but has not received any responses. The Center is seeking documents that explain the policies and instructions informing records management practices, as well as the EPA’s list of pending public records requests. 

“Trump’s agencies are notorious for their lack of transparency, but the EPA and Interior Department FOIA practices and policies are among the worst,” said Meg Townsend, the Center’s open government attorney. “It’s unacceptable. These officials are supposed to protect human health, wildlife and our environment, but they’re busy hiding critical information from the American people.”

In October the Center obtained a guidance document from the Fish and Wildlife Service that aimed to keep the public in the dark about how endangered species decisions are made. That memo recommended that the Service limit the information released to the public about government actions that impact species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Then, in December, the Interior Department proposed rule changes that would hinder public access to records on agency actions that impact wildlife and public lands. The Interior Department’s proposed rule would expand the discretion of agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service to reject records requests made through the Freedom of Information Act by classifying them as “unreasonably burdensome” and by politicizing the FOIA process within the agency.

The Center submitted comments on the proposed changes, but the Interior Department has not confirmed when it will publish the final rule.

“We’re fighting Trump’s anti-science, pro-secrecy agenda because it impacts all aspects of government,” said Townsend. “Without access to public records, we lose our ability to hold our government accountable to its own environmental protection laws.”

Sunshine Week is a national initiative spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy. Sunshine Week occurs annually around March 16, National Freedom of Information Day.

This Sunshine Week, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform plans to hold a hearing regarding the Freedom of Information Act under the Trump administration on Wednesday, March 13.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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