Breaking: Trump Admin. Sued for Multi-Agency Climate Change Gag Orders, Bucking FOIA Requests

(EnviroNews DC News Bureau) — Washington D.C. — On May 23, 2017, The Center for Biological Diversity (The Center) filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration, demanding it reveal records of its censorship of government employees in relation to climate change topics. With this suit, The Center is following up on still-unanswered Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests it filed in March, requesting facts pertaining to the Administration’s climate change censorship.

“We could not be more outraged that the Trump Administration is trying to hide the truth about climate change. We filed this suit to expose the Administration’s incredibly inappropriate meddling with science and the ability of federal public servants to convey the facts,” Amy Atwood, Senior Attorney for The Center, told EnviroNews.

In the complaint, the national conservation non-profit “challenges the failure of the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and U.S. Department of State (DOS)” to provide records concerning The Administration’s “censorship of these federal departments’ and their component agencies’ discussion or dissemination about climate change.” It also conveys that to withhold this information, as the agencies have done, is in violation of the FOIA “or alternatively, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).”

Numerous news articles have reported on the removal of climate change data from government sites and the prohibition of certain related terms for federal employees. In January, The Washington Post reported the DOE removed any reference to combating climate change from its webpage. In March, Politico revealed the DOE’s international climate office told its staff not to use phrases including, “climate change,” “emissions reduction” and “Paris Agreement.” In April, the DOI removed or altered most of the climate change-related information on its site, according to VICE’s Motherboard.

An excerpt from the March FOIA request from The Center to the DOE reads as follows:

The Center requests from the [DOE] all agency directives, instructions, and/or other communications, including communications with the Trump Administration transition team, instructing agency and/or department staff to not use, or to remove from formal agency communications, any climate change-related or energy-related words or phrases, including but not limited to “climate change,” “global warming,” “climate disruption,” “greenhouse gas emissions,” “emissions reductions,” and/or “Paris Agreement,” and any related words or phrases.

The agencies have failed to provide the records or indicate when they might, which The Center states violates legal deadlines, and which led to the May suit. Also in March, The Center filed a separate FOIA request alongside Conservation Biologist Stuart Pimm and the Center for Media and Democracy, seeking to stop The Administration from removing numerous environmental data sets from government sites. Under FOIA, federal agencies must make public any records that are requested three or more time, through what is called “the Beetlejuice Provision.”

“By starving the public of facts and science, climate censorship threatens to stifle society’s understanding of and ability to confront the most pressing issue of our time — the climate crisis,” Taylor McKinnon, Public Lands Campaigner with The Center, concluded to EnviroNews.