The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) filed lawsuits against three federal agencies accusing them of failing to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests about their involvement with implementing the Biden administration’s climate policies in accordance with the Paris Agreement.
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden accepted the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement on behalf of the United States. He later announced his administration would set a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) number, pledging an “economywide target of reducing America’s net greenhouse gas emissions by 50–52 percent.”
Former President Donald Trump terminated all implementation of the accord, which had been agreed to by the Obama administration.
When the United States officially rejoined, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was an “unprecedented framework for global action. We know because we helped design it and make it a reality. Its purpose is both simple and expansive: to help us all avoid catastrophic planetary warming and to build resilience around the world to the impacts from climate change we already see.” He also said “climate change and science diplomacy” need to be part of U.S. foreign policy.
To learn how the administration planned to do this, TPPF filed FOIA requests with the departments of Commerce, State and Energy in February and received no information it requested.
By not responding within the statutory time frame, the agencies violated the Freedom of Information Act, TPPF’s lawsuits allege. The lawsuits were filed separately against each agency on Nov. 16 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas Austin Division.
“Setting a Nationally Determined Contribution Number is an ambitious goal, one that will impact all Americans and their livelihoods. Americans have a right to know how government agencies are coming up with that number and implementing other climate related goals,” TPPF executive director and general counsel Robert Henneke said. “The failure of the government to respond at all is a common tactic to hide records for the public view. We are suing to ensure those records see the light of day.”
TPPF submitted FOIA requests to each agency seeking records about their efforts to support the 2030 NDC emissions target. It submitted separate FOIA requests to the U.S. Department of State and to the U.S. Department of Energy on Feb. 7, 2022, and to the Commerce Department on Feb. 9, 2022. The only response it said it received was an acknowledgment that the agencies received its request.
When Trump withdrew the United States in 2017, he said the accord was “simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers—who I love—and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.”
The non-binding accord imposed “the draconian financial and economic burdens” on American companies, which is why Trump said he ended it. He also ended the U.S.’s nationally determined contribution and the Green Climate Fund, which he said cost “a vast fortune.”
According to a National Economic Research Associates study, U.S. compliance could cost roughly 2.7 million jobs by 2025, including 440,000 in manufacturing. If the U.S. complied with the Obama-era commitments, it estimated that by 2040 there would be drastic cuts in several industries, including 12 percent less production of paper, 23 percent less production of cement, 38 percent less production of iron and steel, 86 percent less production of coal, and 31 percent less production of natural gas.
Prior to the COVID-related lockdowns resulted in massive economic losses and before sky-high inflation hit, compliance with the accord was estimated to cost the U.S. economy in 2040 $3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs, the NERA study found. Households were estimated to lose $7,000 annually in income, or worse, without accounting for the inflation losses of 2021 and 2022.
While some groups debunked the NERA finding, the Foundation for Economic Education said they were “both credible and alarming;” warning “more industrial controls via government will cost jobs and productivity.”
Still, countries that agreed to comply with the Paris Agreement pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to submit their own NDC plan.
The TPPF brief points out that the administration pledged its NDC plan would encompass an “economy wide target of reducing” U.S. net greenhouse gas emissions by 50–52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. It would also take a “whole-of-government approach” at the federal level, using “levels of government and the private sector.” It would also work with the private sector “to drive and implement this NDC and create a more equitable, resilient, zero carbon future for the American people.”
Its “whole of-government approach” included “a bottom-up analysis of existing and potential policies and measures at the federal level, accounting for capital stock turnover, technology trends, infrastructure needs, and continued subnational policies and measures,” it said, which prompted TPPF to inquire what they were.
The agencies haven’t issued a statement about the lawsuit or why they haven’t disclosed information about their involvement with the NDC plan.
By Bethany Blankley