After filing a Freedom of Information Act request, the Environmental Defense Fund has released emails surrounding last year’s decision to remove information about climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. The emails indicate that newly appointed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt oversaw the changes.
The Environmental Defense Fund – an international nonprofit advocacy group focused on climate, ocean and health issues – has released the emails in a PDF on its website.
In April 2017, information about climate change and even references to it on other pages disappeared from the EPA website. The changes came shortly after President Donald Trump appointed Pruitt – a former Oklahoma attorney general who repeatedly sued the EPA during his tenure and who received campaign donations from the energy sector – to lead the agency.
“The disappearance of these key web pages makes it harder for the public to access vital information about climate change and public health, including information about the Clean Power Plan,” EDF attorney Ben Levitan said in a press release.
The EPA’s former page about the Clean Power Plan, a global initiative to curb greenhouse gas emissions, was also scrubbed from the site. Any searches on the EPA website for the Clean Power Plan now redirect to a page about energy independence. The old pages are available on an archive of the site.
“Obscuring information thwarts meaningful public participation in EPA’s work to protect Americans’ health and safety,” Levitan said. “It reinforces serious concerns that Pruitt has predetermined that he will repeal the Clean Power Plan, and that the current rulemaking process is a sham.”
The emails point to Pruitt’s personal involvement in the website changes.
An early April email about the Clean Power Plan, from Pruitt advisor Lincoln Ferguson to EPA staffer J.P. Freire, reads, “How close are we to launching this on the website? The Administrator would like it to go up ASAP. He also has several other changes that need to take place.”
Other emails about the website changes between agency leadership directly refer to Pruitt’s involvement.
The emails surrounding the website changes are among several recent FOIA requests submitted by the Environmental Defense Fund. In December, the EDF submitted a request for any agency records related to the Definers Public Affairs Corporation, a political consulting firm, and has asked the EPA’s Inspector General to investigate a $120,000 no-bid contract with the firm.
Definers has been accused of submitted at least 40 of its own FOIA requests to scrutinize employees’ email and uncover any resistance against the president.
The Environmental Defense Fund has also joined a coalition of nonprofits and community groups to sue the EPA over its alleged failure to uphold smog standards.
By Kyla Cathey, Earth.com staff writer