E&E Legal Again Forced to Sue State Department for Public Records

Department fails to even acknowledge Request for specific correspondence with and about key green lobbyist who boasted of recruitment by China to organize Post-Obama Climate Agenda

Washington, DC – Today the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic (FME Law) filed suit against the Trump Administration Department of State (State). This Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit seeks specific records to, from or discussing green-group lobbyist Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute. The requests at issue followed up information obtained by E&E Legal about a coordinated effort, with State’s assistance, between green pressure groups and China to keep the climate gravy train chugging in the post-Obama world.

Specifically, on January 25, 2017, E&E Legal and FME Law submitted a request to the Trump State Department seeking copies of copies of all electronic correspondence sent to or from six State officials sent to or from Jennifer Morgan and which use “China” or several other specific words.

E&E Legal grounded its request in very specific reasons, on which basis it pointed State to precise records with which they could most efficiently begin processing: “with April 30, 2015 through May 30, 2015 emails, beginning 4/15/15 at 8:30 AM from WRI’s Morgan to inter alia Todd Stern and Clare Sierawski (Subject: “US-China longer-term dialogue”).”

E&E Legal also sought copies of all all electronic correspondence sent to or from six State officials sent to or from or referencing four parties involved in arranging a collaborative effort on the climate issue at China’s request.

Regarding this request, which was also grounded in very specific information, E&E Legal pointed State to records with which they could most efficiently begin processing: “with the March 11, 2015 through March 12, 2015 email thread beginning 3/11/15 at 5:42 PM from State’s Trigg Talley to inter alia Todd Stern and Susan Biniaz (Subject “Jennifer Morgan”).”

Morgan, in records obtained in long-running litigation by E&E Legal, boasted to State officials that China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation (NCSC) recently asked WRI to coordinate think tanks and other advocates — including those identified by China — “stem[ming] from the recognition that this Administration is coming to an end soonish and their desire to open up channels in DC that are additional to the ones that are working well now.” Morgan sought the Obama State Department’s assistance and, records show, was met with an enthusiastic response, with State suggesting they immediately arrange a call for their respective “China teams to talk”.

In other records, State officials engaged in a discussion thread, “Subject: Jennifer Morgan”, which it is implausibly withholding in its entirety as b5, “deliberative process”. Like other records many directly relating to Paris and its circumvention of the U.S. Constitution’s Article II, Section 2 for “advice and consent” of all treaties, this is plainly designed to delay and obstruct public awareness of State’s activities.

State did not even acknowledge the requests at issue in today’s suit, let alone demonstrate by the legal deadline that it is processing them. Overtures to determine whether State would alter its ongoing obstruction met no favorable response. As such E&E Legal is forced yet again to sue to obtain public records, which on their face appear highly relevant to the ongoing public debate about the federal government’s role in what has become a “global warming” industry, and coordination with that movement’s leading activists as well as with other countries which seek the U.S. to adopt the agenda’s harmful policies.

These records are of even greater public interest given recent reports of parties having derailed President Trump’s promise to “cancel” the purported U.S. agreement to the December 2015 Paris climate treaty, which he had unambiguously declared was “bad for US business” and allows “foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use”.

It is unclear whether the new administration intends to continue the Obama administration’s clampdown on politically embarrassing but nonetheless public information, or if this failure to correct course is the result of holdovers from the prior administration, who also are behind abusive withholdings in E&E Legal’s other suit against State for similar documents. The latter include redactions of Obama officials joking about how foreign diplomats made clear the U.S. would have to buy others’ participation in a Paris climate treaty, withholding correspondence with lobbyists pursuing the climate agenda as internal deliberative, and even redacting a Rolling Stone reporter’s email to them as he wrote about Obama’s Paris negotiator.

E&E Legal Senior Legal Fellow Chris Horner says, “State continues to withhold records from the public that appear to be highly instructive about the Paris treaty’s development without any legitimate claim to privilege. We look forward to confirming, by this suit and others, that the current Administration will not in fact continue the Obama administration’s brazen practice of keeping records secret, and will reverse these uses of the non-existent yet remarkably persistent ‘political embarrassment’ exemption to FOIA.”

Horner continued, “As the Washington Post would say, democracy dies in the darkness. The Trump administration should shed some light on these schemes which, whether at EPA or State, exist solely due to having avoided our proper democratic processes”.

“Regardless of what lies behind the widespread failure to reverse facially improper withholdings of public records, it reminds us all that the Trump administration should prioritize review of current disputes over withholdings, finally implementing Pres. Obamas much-hyped, thoroughly disregarded transparency memo to the heads of all agencies,” said E&E Legal’s President Craig Richardson. “Any general counsel taking over a private sector entity would immediately review records on its system that relate to current or likely litigation. The obligation is particularly obvious as applies records relating to key priorities and campaign promises. It is critical here, given signs that parties close to the Trump administration seek to continue the Obama climate treaty policy.”