FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: Cause of Action Institute weighs in on EPA's "sensitive review."

FOIA News (2018)Allan BlutsteinComment

Politics Clouding Criticism of the EPA’s Heightened Sensitive Review FOIA Procedures

By Ryan Mulvey, Cause of Action Inst. Blog, May 14, 2018

Last week, a report from Politico revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) maintains a burdensome “sensitive review” process for Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests concerning Administrator Scott Pruitt’s activities.  According to internal sources, officials within the Office of the Administrator have “reviewed documents collected for most or all FOIA requests regarding [Pruitt’s] activities[.]”  The Politico report further claims that this “high-level vetting” has increased, as compared with the policies and practices introduced during the Obama years.  “This does look like the most burdensome review process that I’ve seen documented,” argued Nate Jones from National Security Archive.

It is true that the Trump Administration has enhanced sensitive review processes at the EPA.  Other agencies have witnessed a similar expansion of sensitive review, as Cause of Action Institute’s investigation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration demonstrates.  But it would be a mistake—as I argued last December—to think that the Obama White House was any better at avoiding FOIA politicization.   The EPA has a long and terrible track record for anti-transparency behavior.  Consider the agency’s blatant weaponization of fee waivers.  According to data compiled by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and reported by Reason and The Washington Examiner, the Obama EPA regularly denied public interest fee waivers to organizations critical of the agency’s regulatory activities and the White House’s policy agenda.  By contrast, left-leaning groups nearly always (92% of the time) received fee waivers.

Read more here.