Watchdog sues EPA over 2014 RFS documents

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2014

A nonprofit legal watchdog yesterday launched a lawsuit against U.S. EPA accusing the agency of failing to respond to a request for documents related to the renewable fuel standard.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had requested documents under the Freedom of Information Act tied to the agency’s shaping of the 2014 mandates for renewable fuels. In a complaint filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the group said that EPA had failed to respond within the required 20 business days after it filed the request.

“By failing to release the records as plaintiff specifically requested, defendant violated the FOIA,” the complaint says.

Last November, EPA for the first time proposed to roll back the nation’s mandates for ethanol and advanced biofuel use in 2014, largely on the grounds that there’s a technical limit to the amount of ethanol that can be used in gasoline (Greenwire, Nov. 15, 2013).

In May, CREW filed a Freedom of Information request with the agency seeking external and intra-agency communications records related to the proposed rule. The FOIA request was prompted by a Reuters article that detailed lobbying by the Carlyle Group and Delta Air Lines Inc. to reduce the RFS mandates.

In filing the request, CREW said it was concerned that the agency had allowed itself to be improperly influenced over the rule.

EPA denied CREW’s plea that it expedite the request for records, saying in a June letter that the group had not demonstrated that swift action was needed. According to the complaint, CREW and EPA had a series of exchanges about the scope of the request that led to a Sept. 26 release of documents covering only the calendar year 2013. EPA told the group that it continued to work on the rest of the request but did not provide an expected date of completion.

In a statement today, CREW charged that EPA was allowing politics to shape the 2014 renewable fuel targets. CREW asked the court to compel EPA to “immediately” release the requested records.

“Is the EPA slow-walking its release of these documents because it does not want the public to learn how political the RFS has become?” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan asked in a statement. “The RFS should be based on sound energy policy, not politics. CREW’s lawsuit will shed light on what really went on at the EPA.”

CREW has also called on EPA’s inspector general to launch an investigation into whether groups connected with Pennsylvania refineries improperly influenced the agency over the 2014 rule (E&ENews PM, May 22).

The final 2014 RFS rule has been at the White House for review since August. Industry observers believe that the agency will release it after the midterm elections.

EPA did not comment on the lawsuit but said it was still working on the FOIA request.