On April 17th, the Union of Concerned Scientists obtained EPA records through three separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests demonstrating that a proposed Trojan horse “transparency” policy that would restrict the agency’s ability to use the best available science in decision-making is driven by politics, not science. The records also embarrassingly showed EPA officials were more concerned about the release of industry trade secrets than they were about sensitive private medical information.
Three days later, EPA officials removed the records from an online portal where anyone could review them.
Today, UCS restored public access by posting almost all of the responsive documents (more than 100 out of the 124 responsive records) related to the so-called “secret science” policy.
EPA removed the documents after extensive reporting on the contents, including by reporters at POLITICO, The Hill, E&E News, Reuters, and Mother Jones. In each of those stories, which I encourage you to read, journalists highlighted how EPA officials are attempting to administratively implement failed anti-science legislation advanced by House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, to benefit industries the agency is in charge of regulating and at the public’s expense.
The documents provided a window into the considerations of many agency officials, and showed that a policy that would be a fundamental shift in the way EPA uses science, was driven exclusively by political appointees, not scientists.
There were a number of documents on other topics that were also included in the records that were responsive to our public records request, that we are still reviewing. However, as a result of EPA’s actions, public access was denied.
My colleague and I spent much of our Friday afternoon trying to figure out why the documents were taken down. We repeatedly reached out to the agency, and were informed that the records were removed because of concerns about “privacy information” and “attorney-client communication.” Before posting the documents online, we spent some time going through all of the records and removed any documents that could be considered as private in nature (i.e. family pictures, etc.) or represent such privileged communication.
The irony here is not lost on me, as EPA tries to hide records that are critical to understanding the policy development process while officials try to develop a policy about “transparency” in the agency’s use of science.
The agency on Thursday sent a proposed policy to the White House for review. This means that a policy to restrict independent science can be announced any day now. These documents are critical to reporting around the motivation for the policy and to evaluate EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s claims of improving transparency in policymaking at the agency.
So, in the spirt of the presumption of openness doctrine under FOIA, we believe that it is our responsibility to restore public access to these documents. It is up to us, the public, to watchdog EPA and hold agency officials accountable.
You can find the documents here.