Institute for Energy Research v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA INSTITUTE FOR ENERGY RESEARCH, Plaintiff, Civil Action No. 22-2114 (BAH) v. Judge Beryl A. Howell FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION, Defendant. MEMORANDUM OPINION Plaintiff Institute for Energy Research challenges the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (“FERC”) withholding, in response to plaintiff’s request, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552, of calendars for two FERC Commissioners during an approximately 18-month period, from November or December 2020 through April 19, 2022. FERC withheld certain calendar entries under FOIA Exemption 5 and 6, id. §§ 552(b)(5), (b)(6), asserting that the redacted calendar entries are subject to the deliberative process privilege and otherwise contain sensitive personal information implicating significant privacy interests that outweigh any public interest in disclosure. The parties have now cross-moved for summary judgment. Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.’s Mot.”), ECF No. 11; see also Pl.’s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.’s Mem.”), ECF No. 11-1; Def.’s Cross-Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 15 (“Def.’s Cross-Mot.”); see also Def.’s Cross-Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J, ECF No. 15-1 (“Def.’s Cross-Mem.”). For the reasons set forth below, summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, without prejudice, to FERC and denied, in part without prejudice, to plaintiff. 1 I. BACKGROUND Summarized below is the background relevant to resolving the pending motions and the procedural history of this lawsuit. A. Plaintiff’s FOIA Request FERC is an independent federal agency that, under the direction of Chairman Richard Glick, regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil. Def.’s Cross-Mot., Declaration of Sarah Venuto, Dir. of FERC’s Office of External Affairs (“OEA”) (“OEA Decl.”) ¶ 2, ECF No. 15-3. On April 19, 2022, plaintiff submitted to FERC a FOIA request seeking copies of all calendars: “(1) kept by FERC Commissioner and Chairman Richard Glick, for the period November 8, 2020 through April 19, 2022; (2) kept for FERC Commissioner and Chairman Richard Glick, by his Chief of Staff Pamela Quinlan, for the period November 8, 2020 through April 19, 2022; (3) kept by Commissioner Allison Clements, for the period December 8, 2020 through April 19, 2022; and (4) kept for FERC Commissioner Allison Clements, by her assistant Alexander de Taboada, for the period December 8, 2020, through April 19, 2022.” Id. ¶ 7 (citation omitted). Plaintiff initiated this request “for calendars in light of Chairman Glick’s testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources on March 3, 2022, specifically his testimony about FERC’s controversial guidances [sic] and policy statements known as ‘Policies to Guide Natural Gas Project Certifications pertaining to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.’” Pl.’s Mem. at 2. In plaintiff’s recounting, at the March 2022 hearing, Glick responded to “the direct question, ‘has anyone higher up in the [Biden] administration ever spoken to you in regards to somehow slow-walking or otherwise impeding or otherwise accentuating policy that would have the effect of impeding the development of natural gas pipelines?’ . . . with an unambiguous no.” Id. (alteration in …

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