Washington — The Institute for Energy Research (IER) has filed an open records lawsuit against the Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to compel release of certain documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). IER originally submitted the FOIA request in May 2019 out of concern that the USDA was interfering with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) regulatory process.

The USDA has no statutory authority or involvement in the RFS. Authority over the program resides with the Environmental Protection Agency with an advisory role for the 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 illegal USDA involvement in the RFS are all the more concerning because the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Stephen Censky, is the former longtime CEO of the American Soybean Association, a position he held for the 21 years preceding his appointment. Given that soybeans are the second largest source of biofuels used for compliance with RFS, any involvement by Mr. Censky in USDA’s interference stands to materially benefit his former employer. Public records document efforts by ASA-aligned lobbyists to influence RFS policy through Mr. Censky, and Censky’s willing assistance,

IER President Thomas Pyle made the following statement:

“IER’s FOIA request seeks records pertaining to any involvement by Mr. Censky in USDA’s efforts to interfere with the RFS regulatory process. Given that the debate over mandated biofuel volumes under the RFS is an immediate issue of public concern, IER believes that release of the relevant documents should not be the subject of further delays. USDA’s refusal to comply with its statutory FOIA requirements leaves IER with no choice but to request a court to compel release of the relevant information to the public.”

IER looks forward to USDA satisfying its public transparency obligations sooner rather than later, but in the absence of compliance, is pursuing its rights to obtain these documents of immediate public interest.

Attorney Chris Horner, who filed the suit for IER on behalf of the non-profit public interest law firm Government Accountability & Oversight, P.C. (GAO), said,

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture acknowledged its receipt of this FOIA request just shy of four months ago but given no indication it is actually processing IER’s request. 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.”

To read IER’s FOIA Request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture click here.

To read IER’s public lawsuit click here.

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