The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337

Lawsuit to Force EPA to Reveal Its Research Plans

Bush-Era "Transformation" of EPA Science Arm Rests on New "Business Model"


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is improperly withholding
documents detailing its new scientific priorities and programs,
according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite pledges of transparency by
the Obama administration, EPA refuses to divulge its proposed research
"transformation" or the new "business model" guiding it.

The documents at issue consist of 78 pages of PowerPoint
presentations from the EPA Office of Research & Development (ORD)
Division Directors Meeting that took place in Washington, DC on
November 6, 2008. Following that meeting, ORD assembled a task force to
put the new science model into application. In denying the bulk of
PEER's request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), EPA claimed
the materials will not be released because they are "deliberative" or
pre-decisional in nature.

Based upon fragmentary materials that PEER has otherwise obtained,
EPA plans to mandate that all of its scientific inquiries employ an
"integrated multidisciplinary approach" to address only pre-selected
topics of "broad national interest". Yet to be answered are basic
questions, such as -

  • What new national-impact research issues will EPA address,
    how are they chosen and which scientific questions will EPA now abandon?
  • How
    will EPA obtain answers to scientific questions about hundreds of local
    and regional issues that arise in agency permitting and enforcement?
  • Are
    ORD's current five-year research plans to be jettisoned? How and when
    will the nearly 2,000 EPA/ORD scientists learn what their new marching
    orders are?

"This plan may divorce EPA's entire science program from its
day-in-day-out operations which address local threats confronting our
communities," stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a
biologist and attorney who formerly worked at EPA. "This supposed
'Science Transformation' has a one-size-fits-all approach that seems
the antithesis of good science."

On the day after his
inauguration, President Obama ordered federal agencies to exercise a
"presumption of disclosure". In March, Attorney General Holder issued a
directive that the Justice Department will defend agencies against FOIA
lawsuits only when "disclosure would harm an interest protected by one
of the statutory exemptions". The PEER suit will test whether EPA's
stance represents administration policy.

"EPA contends that not a single comma from these presentations is
releasable but that makes little legal sense," said PEER Staff Counsel
Christine Erickson, who filed the complaint today in the U.S. District
Court for the District of Columbia. "Apparently, EPA did not get
President Obama's memo that from now on 'openness prevails'."


See the EPA refusal to release planning presentations

Read the PEER suit

Look at an outline of the EPA "Transformation" in research priorities

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.