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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

ELR Citation: 51 ELR 20114
Nos. 18-cv-2219 (BAH), (D.D.C., 06/18/2021) (Howell, J.)

A district court granted summary judgment for EPA in a FOIA lawsuit brought by a nonprofit group. The group requested a 2018 draft version of the Agency's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) formaldehyde assessment. EPA withheld the assessment under the deliberative process privilege, and the group objected to the Agency's application of the privilege. The court found that the administrative context in which the draft assessment was produced, the substance of the document, and the fact that it predated a still-nonexistent final IRIS formaldehyde assessment indicated the document reflected a "preliminary view" rather than a "final decision" about the effects of formaldehyde and thus was protected by the deliberative process privilege. It further found that the Agency adequately linked two harms the privilege was meant to prevent—chilling of agency deliberations and public confusion—to the disclosure of the particular information contained in the draft assessment. It therefore granted EPA's motion for summary judgment.