“Apparently, the Ethics in Government Act does not include the public’s right to know what the EPA’s ethics actually are, or even whether they actually exist.”
Here’s the Greenwire story:
EPA nixes financial disclosure request for PM advisory panel
Sean Reilly, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, June 3, 2016
U.S. EPA has rebuffed a request for the confidential financial disclosure reports of an air quality advisory panel, saying they are exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act on personal privacy grounds.
Steve Milloy, a Washington, D.C.-area attorney, had sought the records for all 26 members of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee Particulate Matter Review Panel in March, according to an online post yesterday on his blog JunkScience.com. After EPA initially rejected the request, Milloy said he appealed, only to again be turned down by an agency attorney.
In weighing the merits of the request, “a comparison must be made between the extent to which the documents shed light on EPA’s performance of its statutory duties, and the need to avoid disclosure of personal matters,” Assistant General Counsel Kevin Miller said in the letter, which Milloy said he received yesterday and then put online.
“In this case, the harm to the individuals as a result of disclosure clearly outweighs the public interest in such disclosure,” Miller added, citing a FOIA exemption that allows records to be withheld if release would represent “a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
The review panel, made up mostly of university researchers, will play a key role in determining whether any changes are needed to EPA’s current ambient air quality standards for particulate matter.
On the disclosure reports, required under the Ethics in Government Act, panel members are supposed to spell out everything from compensated expert testimony to volunteer work, and also list any factors that could keep them from providing impartial advice.
“Apparently, the Ethics in Government Act does not include the public’s right to know what the EPA’s ethics actually are, or even whether they actually exist,” Milloy wrote yesterday.
Milloy, who could not be reached for comment this morning, is also representing the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute, a D.C. nonprofit group, in a lawsuit filed last month seeking to dissolve and then reconstitute the panel on the grounds that most of its members have received EPA research grants. As a result, the suit alleges, they will be “inappropriately influenced” by the agency’s view that fine particles warrant stricter regulation “despite considerable scientific evidence to the contrary” (Greenwire, May 17).
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, sought first a stay and then a temporary restraining order to keep the review panel from holding a May 23 public teleconference. After Judge Tanya Chutkan did not act on either bid and the teleconference went forward, the institute planned to seek a preliminary injunction to keep the panel from “undertaking action” as long as the lawsuit is alive, according to a filing last week.
On a related front, Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in April asked EPA to turn over the confidential financial disclosure reports for the seven members of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, as well as for the Science Advisory Board (Greenwire, April 12).
At the time, Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said his panel was seeking to gauge the reliability of EPA’s conflict-of-interest assessments for members of both advisory bodies. Despite the confidential label, the reports can be provided to the committee, Chaffetz said in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
A Chaffetz spokeswoman did not immediately reply to emails today asking whether EPA has provided any of the requested records.