Sierra Club Sues DOE For Grid Study Info
Law360, New York (August 14, 2017, 4:49 PM EDT) — The Sierra Club sued the U.S. Department of Energy in California federal court Monday over an allegedly overdue Freedom of Information Act request for details on communications concerning an electric grid study that the environmental group fears could be biased in favor of fossil fuels.
According to the complaint, the Sierra Club filed the FOIA request in early May, but it has not been filled despite the 20-business-day deadline prescribed by law. And after multiple deadline extensions, the Sierra Club says, it lost confidence that it would receive any documents by late August, the most recent estimated production time frame DOE provided.
The environmental organization says it was prompted to file the FOIA request because of concerns the study would be biased.
“Based on DOE’s study, policymakers at multiple levels of government may make substantial policy changes that impose enormous costs on consumers, stymie innovation, and reverse our nation’s progress toward a cleaner energy sector,” the complaint says. “It is critical that these policymakers are able to immediately place the DOE study in proper context and understand how the agency was influenced in this work.”
The FOIA request asked for communications between DOE officials — including agency Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and others close to the study — and outside institutions, especially those that are affiliated with industry.
A portion of the Sierra Club’s complaint is dedicated to allegations the study will be biased in favor of fossil fuels. These assertions stem in part from an April 14 memorandum Perry sent his chief of staff, calling for the study and saying fossil fuel generating units are important to grid reliability, according to the suit.
In addition, some of the individuals who have been brought on to conduct the study are connected to fossil fuel interests, the Sierra Club alleges.
“It appears DOE has intended from the outset to release a biased study containing pre-determined conclusions that ‘baseload’ plants utilizing fossil fuels are necessary for the reliability and resilience of the grid and that existing policies encourage continued adoption of clean energy sources should be scaled back,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit also mentions an alleged draft of the study that leaked last month saying that the electric grid is comparatively reliable today and that while clean energy has increased the rate at which fossil fuel plants are retired, they are not a major cause of instability. That study has not yet seen the light of day, however, and the Sierra Club worries the report was being altered to comply with Perry’s “biases … for fossil fuel energy sources and against clean energy sources,” according to the suit.
The DOE recently said it would produce the documents “in late August,” the Sierra Club says.
“Given DOE’s demonstrated pattern of failing to produce documents by the dates it has communicated to the FOIA requester, Sierra Club is far from certain that any documents, much less a comprehensive response to our request, will be provided in late August,” the complaint states.
Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said the public has a right to be concerned about the study.
“If the Trump Administration refuses to be transparent in accordance with the law and continues to raise suspicion that it will interfere with the process, we have no choice but to take them to court,” Hitt said in a statement.
The DOE did not respond to a request for comment.
The Sierra Club is represented in-house by Casey Roberts and Gregory E. Wannier.
Counsel information for DOE was not immediately available.
The case is Sierra Club v. U.S. Department of Energy, case number 3:17-cv-04663, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
–Editing by Edrienne Su.