The Centre for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against four US federal agencies over what it called “censorship” of climate change information.
Filed at a district court in Washington DC, the legal challenge targets the Environmental Protection Agency and Departments of Interior, State and Energy.
The environmental group submitted requests under freedom of information law on 30 March to disclose directives to federal employees on this subject. These requests were not answered within the statutory deadlines, according to the complaint.
“The Trump administration’s refusal to release public information about its climate censorship continues a dangerous and illegal pattern of anti-science denial,” said Taylor McKinnon from the CBD. “Just as censorship won’t change climate science, foot-dragging and cover-ups won’t be tolerated under the public records law.”
Since Trump took office in January, online data factsheets as well as policy information have been taken down, pending review. Scientists have expressed fears entire datasets could be airbrushed from public record.
Trump is seeking to revive US coal mining and expand oil production, in defiance of the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels destabilises weather patterns and drives sea level rise.
The centre’s lawsuit is part of a wave of litigation seeking to promote and defend action to address dangerous climate change.
A survey from Columbia University’s Sabin Centre for Climate Change Law identified 654 such cases in the US – more than three times the number across the rest of the world.
These range from objections to specific projects like airports or coal plants to a high profile plea from 21 young people for stronger climate policy to protect their future.
International examples include a Pakistani farmer’s campaign to enforce government policy protecting citizens from the impacts of climate change and a Norwegian NGO lawsuit against oil exploration in the Arctic.
“Judicial decisions around the world show that many courts have the authority, and the willingness, to hold governments to account for climate change,” said Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Centre.
“In the United States, climate change litigation has been absolutely essential, from the first lawsuit demanding the US Environmental Protection Agency regulate greenhouse gas emissions, to a recent lawsuit claiming a constitutional right to a stable climate system. Similar litigation all over the world will continue to push governments and corporations to address the most pressing environmental challenge of our times.”
Researchers foresee a growth in cases in developing countries, as they bring in more climate laws, and an increased focus on “climate refugees”.