New York – The Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) has been forced yet again to sue a New York governmental entity for failure to adhere to that state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). This time it’s the New York City Comptroller, in a suit filed in the Supreme Court for New York County last week.
E&E Legal submitted a FOIL request to the NYC Comptroller’s Office on March 1 seeking correspondence of three Comptroller employees with, or discussing, political donors and activists like NRDC, the Rockefeller Family Fund, BlackRock and Ceres. Specifically, E&E Legal sought documents reflecting how the NYC comptroller corresponded with activists known, from other open records productions, to have been involved in the left’s campaign to force public pension funds to divest from fossil fuels. Rather than respond to the FOIL requests as required by the law, the NYC Comptroller chose to stonewall.
The Comptroller’s office initially pledged to complete a response to the March 8 request by April 27, and then denied the request in full. In a letter to E&E Legal, the Comptroller determined that over 12,000 responsive records existed, and satisfying the request would be burdensome, which is not a criterion for declining to turn over public records under New York’s public records law. That law clearly states that an agency cannot deny access to public records by claiming that granting access would be a “burden.” In fact, the statute declares that if an agency is understaffed and unable to process a request on its own in a reasonable amount of time, it can hire an outside contractor to fulfill its duties to comply with the law. But it cannot simply disregard requests as it chooses. That is instead what an agency does when it chooses to stonewall.
“Over the course of public records requests to several New York state agencies in recent years, we have experienced a troubling pattern,” said E&E Legal counsel Matthew Hardin. “When it comes to requests involving embarrassing and in some cases possibly illegal political coordination between New York public officials and outside green pressure groups, and activities with the appearance of the state taking actions benefitting these groups and their benefactors at the expense and detriment to the citizens of New York, stall and stonewall is the name of their game.”
Ironically, while E&E Legal seeks public records between the Comptroller and green pressure groups regarding the environmental extremists’ attempts to sway critically important investment decisions, the same parties have just concluded New York City’s ‘Divestment Week’ of political theater, underwritten in part by green energy billionaires who would benefit from such activities and those at the heart of E&E Legal’s FOIL requests. The week prior saw green pressure groups descending on the money capital of the U.S. to urge investors — including municipal and other governmental retirement funds — to divest from fossil fuels.
“The activism that underlies pressure campaigns like ‘Divestment Week’ are a main driver of our public records requests to the New York City Comptroller’s Office in the first place,” said E&E Legal President Craig Richardson. “What we found in past requests in New York and elsewhere is that a level of coordination exists in advancing political and ideological agendas even to the point of using public investment officers, and law enforcement. The public needs to see the details of how these positions of public trust, paid for by the taxpayer and impacting the entire economy, are being used and, clearly in some cases, abused.”
The Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) is a 501(c)(3) organization engaged in strategic litigation, policy research, and public education on important energy and environmental issues. Primarily through its petition litigation and transparency practice areas, E&E Legal seeks to correct onerous federal and state policies that hinder the economy, increase the cost of energy, eliminate jobs, and do little or nothing to improve the environment.