IER lawsuit alleges USDA withholding RFS documents

The Institute for Energy Research has sued the USDA to compel the department to release certain documents the public policy group sought in April out of concern that the department is interfering with a key Renewable Fuel Standard regulatory process.

The Institute for Energy Research (IER) has sued the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to compel the department to release certain documents the public policy group sought in April out of concern that the department is interfering with a key Renewable Fuel Standard regulatory process.

IER’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request charged that a USDA official was exerting pressure on the US Environmental Protection Agency to require use of more corn ethanol in gasoline blends.

“These records are central to a matter of timely, current political deliberation and of great public interest, to which request defendant has not provided any of the statutorily required responses and therefore has denied,” the group said in its lawsuit filed in federal district court for the District of Columbia. “The records requested include and involve the correspondence of a high-ranking USDA official as it relates to decision-making that will have an impact on his former employer.”

Separately, IER said on Sept. 6, “The USDA has no statutory authority or involvement in the RFS. Authority over the program resides with the [EPA] with an advisory role for the [US] Department of Energy. Nonetheless, public records and news reports demonstrate USDA officials have in fact sought to influence administration RFS policy. USDA’s efforts are thus contrary to law and a matter of grave public concern.”

Recent reports of such USDA involvement in RFS policymaking “are all the more concerning because USDA Deputy Sec. Stephen Censky is the former longtime chief executive officer of the American Soybean Association, a position he held for the 21 years preceding his appointment,” it said. “Given that soybeans are the second-largest source of biofuels used for compliance with RFS, any involvement by Censky in USDA’s interference stands to materially benefit his former employer.”

The USDA acknowledged that it received this FOIA request nearly 4 months ago but has not indicated that it is in fact processing IER’s request, said attorney Chris Horner, who filed the suit on IER’s behalf on behalf of the nonprofit law firm Government Accountability & Oversight PC. “With reports of efforts by the administration to substantially alter the RFS, and demonstrated involvement in this effort by USDA officials, the public deserves to know sooner rather than later the specifics of the role USDA officials have played in that effort,” he said.

The nonprofit law firm also filed a letter on Sept. 5 with the US Office of Government Ethics (OGE) seeking an investigation of whether Censky’s alleged communications with lobbyists and other industry representatives comply with federal ethics rules and OGE guidance with respect to actual and apparent conflicts of interest.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@endeavorb2b.com.

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