A federal court has ruled that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt must actually do his job.
Pruitt has publicly claimed that carbon dioxide is not known to be a major cause of climate change. Now, according to Ars Technica, a U.S. district judge for the District of Columbia ruled on Tuesday (June 5) that the EPA must comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to disclose any evidence it has supporting that claim.
The case dates back to a March 2017 television appearance Pruitt made on the CNBC show "Squawk Box," during which he claimed that "there's a tremendous disagreement about of [sic] the impact" of "human activity on the climate," and that human-made carbon emissions are not "a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."
The administrator's claims flatly contradicted previous scientific reports released by the EPA before Pruitt took office, as well as mountains of evidence supported by an overwhelming majority of climate scientists.
A nonprofit group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) heard Pruitt's surprising claims and, the next day, filed an FOIA request asking the EPA to disclose any documents that Pruitt used to reach his conclusions. When the EPA refused to comply, PEER sued the agency. (This is not the only lawsuit against Pruitt's EPA.)
At the trial, the EPA argued that the FOIA request was unreasonable and that it "would require EPA to spend countless hours researching and analyzing a vast trove of material on the effect of human activity on climate change," according to a summary released by the court. (Cynics might confuse the EPA's description of responding to an FOIA request as just part of the agency's job).
Judge Beryl A. Howell was unmoved by the EPA's excuses, calling the agency's resistance to a simple request for supporting evidence "both misplaced and troubling."
Howell ultimately ruled that the EPA must comply with PEER's FOIA request and share any documents it has supporting Pruitt's claim that human-made carbon dioxide is not a significant contributor to global climate change. The EPA must comply with the request by July 2 and, if it cannot provide any documents, release a report explaining their absence by July 11.
"When the head of an agency makes a public statement that appears to contradict the published research and conclusions of that agency, the FOIA provides a valuable tool for citizens," Howell concluded. "Compliance with such a request would help ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society."
Failure to comply with this ruling could result in further court appearances, the summary said. On the flip side, failure to reduce global carbon emissions could result in 10,000 years of catastrophe.
Original article on Live Science.
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Brandon is the space/physics editor at Live Science. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Reader's Digest, CBS.com, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.