The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) filed suit late Tuesday under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain records of 65 meetings that the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) held with interest groups to discuss four major Clean Air Act rules under consideration by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The scope of the EIP lawsuit includes 51 meetings with representatives of utilities and other industries, and 14 with public interest organizations.
The EPA rules in question are: the Mercury Air Toxics Rule; the Ozone Rule; the Boiler Rule; and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. OIRA’s website maintains a list of meetings and attendees for each pending rulemaking at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/oira_meetings.
EIP Attorney Alayne Gobeille said, “We are filing the suit because we have received no response from OIRA to our original FOIA request of January 24 2012, although the law requires to agency to respond within than 30 days.” Executive Orders put in place by President Clinton and reaffirmed by President Obama require the records of any meetings that have a significant impact on regulations to be made publicly available as part of the rulemaking record.
OMB’s website identifies attendees and posts written materials presented at these meetings, but provides no information about the substance of the discussion. No materials were provided at 16 of the meetings in question, including four attended by OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein, leaving the public no clue about the content of those conversations. “Industry lobbyists have every right to meet with the White House about EPA rules,” said Gobeille. “But the public ought to know what was said at these meetings and whether it influenced decisions that are supposed to protect our health and the environment.”
Gobeille adds, “OIRA has clearly emerged as a major chokepoint when it comes to regulations that affect the public health, hosting no fewer than 123 meetings related to EPA regulations alone in 2011, including those pertaining to solid waste and the Clean Water Act. Most of these regulations are required by statute and subject to court order requiring their completion. Reasonable people may disagree about the role that OIRA should play in these reviews, but all parties should agree that meeting records that include a summary of discussion should be part of the public record to inform debate about proposals and final decisions.” For more information, visit www.environmentalintegrity.org.