U.S. Right to Know, a consumer advocacy organization, filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for violating provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Public Citizen Litigation Group, a public interest law firm in Washington, D.C., is representing U.S. Right to Know in the action.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeks documents related to EPA’s assessment of a controversial chemical called glyphosate. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world and is the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s branded Roundup herbicides as well as other weed-killing products. Concerns about the chemical have grown since the World Health Organization in 2015 said its cancer experts classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. Other scientists have also said research shows safety problems with the chemical and the formulations its used in.
U.S. Right to Know requested the EPA records after the EPA posted an internal memorandum titled “GLYPHOSATE: Report of the Cancer Assessment Review Committee” to the agency’s website on April 29, 2016. The internal EPA report, known as the CARC report, concluded that glyphosate was “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” The EPA then deleted the public posting on May 2, saying that the document was posted inadvertently. But before it was deleted Monsanto officials copied the document, promoted it on the company website and on social media and made reference to it in a court hearing dealing with lawsuits filed by agricultural workers and others who allege Monsanto’s herbicide gave them cancer.
The May 12, 2016 FOIA request asked for certain records relating to the CARC report on glyphosate as well as records of communications between Monsanto and EPA officials that discussed glyphosate issues. Under FOIA, the EPA had 20 working days to respond to the request, but well over 190 working days have now passed and the EPA has yet to produce any records in response to the request. The EPA has also failed to comply with similar, more recent FOIA requests made by U.S. Right to Know for documentation of EPA dealings with Monsanto regarding glyphosate, though those requests are not part of this lawsuit.
The lawsuit specifically claims that U.S. Right to Know has a statutory right under FOIA to the requested records and that EPA has no legal basis for refusing to produce these records. The complaint asks the court to order EPA to make the requested records promptly available.
Public Citizen Litigation Group litigates cases involving open government, health and safety regulations, consumer rights, access to the courts, and the First Amendment. It is the litigating arm of the national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, Public Citizen. The Litigation Group often represents individuals and organizations seeking access to records under the Freedom of Information Act. More information can be found at www.citizen.org.