Lawsuit Seeks Public Accountability for U.S. Financing of Climate-Damaging International Projects
WASHINGTON — Environmental groups sued the United States International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) today for illegally exempting itself from the Sunshine Act, which requires multi-member federal agencies to open deliberations to the public. The DFC provides billions of dollars in financing each year to international projects, including fracking and environmentally destructive road-building.
The Trump administration exempted the agency from the Sunshine Act in April 2020, despite the fact that the DFC’s predecessor agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or OPIC, was subject to the act. In response to the litigation, the DFC has claimed that the Sunshine Act does not apply to it, meaning DFC is under no obligation to notify and hold public meetings.
“This is an easy one for the Biden administration,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity and lead lawyer on the suit. “Congress intended this new agency to be open to the public and follow the Sunshine Act. While the Trump administration used the agency to favor its special-interest benefactors like the oil and gas industry, our lawsuit says ‘no more.’ This agency needs sunshine, and it needs it now.”
“The new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation must be a part of the climate solution, not the problem,” said Kate DeAngelis of Friends of the Earth. “The DFC should be using the power of the U.S. purse to build clean and renewable energy opportunities, while holding itself accountable to the public as the Sunshine Act clearly requires.”
“Over decades of work, CIEL has witnessed the importance of transparency for communities on the ground,” said Carla García Zendejas at the Center for International Environmental Law. “Time and time again, we have seen that the Sunshine Act meetings are a vital lifeline in securing access to information about the DFC’s decision-making processes — this is particularly evident in the Maipo region of Chile. The community has spent years calling on OPIC to take action in the Alto Maipo Hydroelectric Project. As the construction is underway and the livelihoods of the Maipo River Valley residents are at risk, transparency and accountability at the DFC are more important than ever.
“CIEL — and our partners around the world — expect more from the Corporation which is meant to finance development in a way that builds and strengthens civic institutions, while providing for public accountability and transparency.”
The agency was created by Congress in 2018 through the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act. This law consolidated OPIC and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Development Credit Authority into a new mega-agency. Although Congress intended to reform and strengthen U.S. development finance capabilities, the new DFC has been criticized by business and public interest entities alike for being untransparent.
“Although President Biden’s DFC has committed itself to ‘net zero emissions through its investment portfolio by 2040,’ the agency still lags badly behind other countries’ development agencies and is still promoting dirty shale gas and oil throughout the world,” said Snape.
“The DFC’s support of disastrous liquified natural gas development in Mozambique and fracking projects in Argentina are prime examples of why this agency needs more sunshine,” said DeAngelis. “As an international organization, Friends of the Earth is acutely aware of the need to stop exporting our pollution and problems to other countries.”
Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The Sunshine Act was enacted in 1976 and is, as its legislative history states, “founded on the proposition that the government should conduct the public’s business in public.” With limited exceptions, every portion of every agency meeting shall be open to public observation under the Sunshine Act.
In addition, under the Act, an agency must publicly announce at least a week in advance of a meeting the meeting’s subject matter, time and place. All meetings must also have transcripts or detailed minutes of the meeting made available to the public, as well as relevant documents or records.
Contacts: Kate DeAngelis, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0747, [email protected]
William Snape, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 536-9351, [email protected]
Cate Bonacini, Center for International Environmental Law, 202-742-5847, [email protected]