We’ve already seen the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior halt National Academies studies addressing the impacts fossil-fuel extraction and attempt to remove references to human-caused climate change from a report on national parks and sea-level rise. Now, DOI has rolled out another plan that would reduce public access to information the agency seems to consider unfavorable: making it harder to get information via Freedom of Information Act requests.
In a proposal published in the Federal Register on December 28 — just before the New Year, when fewer people might be expected to notice it — DOI proposed several changes to its FOIA regulations. These include allowing the agency to reject requests it finds “unreasonably burdensome” and to impose limits on records it will process for individual requestors, as well as making it harder for public interest organizations (including media organizations and academic institutions) to receive fee waivers.
You can read more about this in pieces in The Guardian, The Hill, and the WildEarth Guardians website. A terrific Twitter thread from Law of the Land Project also highlights the following stories that resulted from FOIA requests to DOI:
- Ben Lefebvre & Nick Juliano at POLITICO: Zinke’s Halliburton mess deepens
- Eric Lipton & Lisa Friedman at The New York Times: Oil Was Central in Decision to Shrink Bears Ears Monument, Emails Show
- Dino Grandoni & Juliet Eilperin at The Washington Post: Trump official said scientists went ‘beyond their wheelhouse’ by writing climate change ‘dramatically’ shrank Montana glaciers
- Nick Juliano at POLITICO: Zinke’s agency held up Indians’ casino after MGM lobbying
- Sara Ganim & Gregory Wallace at CNN: Secretary Zinke’s calendar omissions date to his very first day in office
- Drew Harwell & Lisa Rein at The Washington Post: Zinke took $12,000 charter flight home in oil executive’s plane, documents show
- Sarah Emerson at Motherboard: ‘Yikes, This Is Bad Press’: Internal Emails Show Federal Employees Asking Why a Climate Scientist’s Meeting With Mark Zuckerberg Was Canceled
- Juliet Eilperin at The Washington Post: Trump administration officials dismissed benefits of national monuments
- Jimmy Tobias at Pacific Standard: Inside Ryan Zinke’s Department of Industry Influence
- Adam Federman for The Washington Post: Trump says he ended the ‘war’ on coal companies. But it’s too late to save them.
The rationale for DOI’s proposed changes is that FOIA requests have surged. The above list suggest that the spike in requests is due to problematic actions by DOI leadership, and that FOIA is working as intended by allowing the public to learn about what our government is doing. An appropriate response to embarrassing news stories is to do fewer things that result in embarrassment when the public finds out about them, not reducing access to relevant information.
DOI is accepting comments on this proposed regulation until January 28.