Groups sue EPA over release of emissions study documents

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, August 21, 2015

Ethanol proponents have filed a lawsuit accusing U.S. EPA of failing to respond to a request for documents related to a gasoline emissions study.

In the complaint filed Monday, the Urban Air Initiative and Energy Future Coalition charge that EPA has released three documents out of 36,000 in response to the groups’ February Freedom of Information Act request.

They say that publicly available documents give “scant information” about the extent of outside consultants’ involvement in the study, which EPA used to shape a model to measure transportation emissions.

The groups are asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to order EPA to produce the remaining documents by a certain date.

“Plaintiffs are being irreparably harmed by EPA’s unlawful failure to produce responsive records,” the complaint says, “and Plaintiffs will continue to be irreparably harmed unless EPA is compelled to fulfill its obligation under FOIA.”

At issue is the “EPAct” study of gasoline emissions, which the agency conducted with the help of Chevron Corp., the Southwest Research Institute and the Coordinating Research Council, a nonprofit engine research organization supported by oil and auto groups.

Last year, using the results of the study, EPA issued its latest version of a computer model known as the Motor Vehicle Emission Simulator (MOVES). The agency encouraged states to use the MOVES2014 model for analyses needed to shape required Clean Air Act pollution control plans.

The Urban Air Initiative and Energy Future Coalition have raised concerns that the model wrongly attributes air pollution emissions to ethanol that has been added to gasoline, rather than to hydrocarbon aromatics. They’ve blamed the model’s conclusions on the underlying study and said that it used test fuels that don’t represent the fuels used in the real world.

In February, the two organizations requested documents related to the study, including the decisions to contract out work to Chevron and the other groups.

According to the complaint, EPA responded in March with a letter that said the groups’ request included 83,000 records and that it would cost $24,000 to provide them. After a few conversations with agency officials, the ethanol groups agreed to limit the scope of the request to just records related to the design of the study and contract agreements.

The UAI and Energy Future Coalition agreed to pay $18,000 for the new request, which EPA said contained 36,000 documents. EPA, however, said it was not sure that it would be able to produce all the documents by February 2016 — a year after the original FOIA request. In June, EPA released three documents.

The ethanol groups say that EPA’s failure to fully act on the FOIA request has limited their ability to be successful in another lawsuit filed last December over the MOVES2014 model with the states of Kansas and Nebraska.

The UIA and Energy Future Coalition argue that, because EPA never responded to the FOIA request, they were forced to file an opening brief in the MOVES2014 lawsuit “with few specific details” about the EPAct study.

In particular, the complaint alleges that they are missing details about “several unexplained alterations” in the design of the study and the circumstances surrounding EPA’s decision to retain a consultant from Chevron.

“Without the records they seek, Plaintiffs can only speculate about the motives behind these choices and the EPAct study’s resulting design,” the complaint says.

EPA’s brief in the Kansas lawsuit is due on Sept. 16. In public statements, the agency has defended the model and the underlying testing (Greenwire, May 20).

Correction: An earlier version of this article said the U.S. EPA’s brief in the Kansas lawsuit was due Oct. 16; it is due Sept. 16.