The Environmental Defense Fund says it has obtained e-mails indicating Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s personal involvement in efforts to remove information about climate change from EPA’s website.
EDF obtained the emails from EPA in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. It has made the associated files available for public review.
The e-mails center on a website purge at EPA in April 2017. Along with webpages about climate change and climate science, the purge removed the webpage about the Clean Power Plan—the most significant action that the U.S. has ever taken to address climate change, and one that Pruitt is now attempting to repeal.
“The website purge undermined access to information about the Clean Power Plan’s immense benefits for climate and public health, as well as supporting materials about the rule’s legal and technical underpinnings,” the group says. “The public comment period for Pruitt’s proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan is ongoing.”
“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,” said EDF Attorney Ben Levitan. “Obscuring information thwarts meaningful public participation in EPA’s work to protect Americans’ health and safety. 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.”
Since the “website purge,” the URL for the Clean Power Plan webpage redirects visitors to a webpage featuring President Trump’s “Energy Independence” executive order.
The newly released emails indicate that Pruitt was personally engaged in the website changes, and redirecting all Clean Power Plan references to Trump’s executive order.
“The changes are particularly harmful considering the ongoing public comment period on Pruitt’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan,” EDF contends. “The selective restriction of information availability further increases concerns about Pruitt’s objectivity when determining the fate of the Clean Power Plan. The removed webpages are still accessible through various EPA archives, but the archives are a poor substitute. They do not appear in a search of the EPA website. They are harder to find with certain search engines, including Google. And they are no longer being updated, which is especially problematic for cutting-edge pages like EPA’s overview of climate science.”
"The website purge fits Pruitt’s troubling pattern of ruling EPA under a cloak of secrecy, which is no way to run an agency entrusted with protecting the public health and environment,” it added.
On Jan.29, environmental and legal activists submitted a letter to the EPA urging it to withdraw the proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan and for Pruitt to recuse himself from any further Clean Power Plan proceedings.
The effort includes the Environmental Defense Fund, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Conservation Law Foundation, Earthjustice, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“Administrator Pruitt has made public statements that he has already decided to repeal the CPP–even that he has already done so–when in fact he has only proposed a repeal, and (as of the time the statements were made) had not yet even received public comment,” the letter says. “These statements cross a clear line and show that Administrator Pruitt has a fixed position on the repeal of the rule, making his participation inconsistent with the Due Process Clause, which protects the public from rulemakings that are empty formalities because they are presided over by officials with an “unalterably closed mind.’”
On Oct. 16, 2017, the EPA released a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan. If finalized, a repeal would “leave the U.S. unprotected from our largest stationary source of carbon pollution—even as the urgent threat of climate change becomes ever clearer,” the groups wrote.