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Natural Resources Defense Council v. United States Environmental Protection Agency

ELR Citation: 50 ELR 20078
Nos. 19-2896, (2d Cir., 04/01/2020)

The Second Circuit reversed a district court ruling that denied environmental groups' motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit seeking FOIA disclosure of an EPA computer model related to its rollback of greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicle manufacturers. The groups challenged EPA's withholding of the model pursuant to a FOIA exemption for inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters that would not be available by law to a party other than the agency in litigation. The district court found that EPA properly invoked the deliberative process privilege and properly withheld the model pursuant to the exemption. On appeal, the court found that the model provided only highly abstract insights into Agency deliberations, which were too far removed from any policy judgments to render the model deliberative, and thus that the model did not fall within the scope of the privilege. It further found that the model did not contain or expose the types of internal agency communications that courts typically recognized as posing a risk to the candor of agency discussion, and thus that disclosure of its analytical tools could not reasonably be anticipated to impair the quality of agency decisionmaking. It thus reversed the district court ruling and remanded with directions to enter judgment for the groups.