By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. watchdog group filed a lawsuit in a federal court on Tuesday to force the Environmental Protection Agency to release communications with billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who it says tried to influence biofuels policy for personal gain.
American Oversight, which has filed nearly a dozen lawsuits against the Trump administration on a range of issues, filed the suit after it did not get an "adequate" response from two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for communications between Icahn and representatives of his oil refining company CVR Energy Inc <CVI.N> and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and senior agency officials.
Icahn, who owns an 82 percent stake in CVR, has recommended the White House change the biofuels program in a way that would reduce costs to CVR and other refining companies.
He was named as an unpaid special adviser to President Donald Trump in December and has said his proposal is not self-dealing because it would benefit many refining companies, not just CVR.
"We need to know what kind of influence Mr. Icahn has at the EPA to see if he has been shaping energy policy to benefit himself at the expense of American families," said American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers.
According to the court filing, accessing those documents "would shed light on a matter of significant public concern: the extent to which individuals associated with industry interests, such as fossil fuel firms, have access to the Trump administration and EPA and are influencing federal environmental protection regulations."
The group said that EPA Administrator Pruitt has a known track record of working closely with energy companies, raising the need for scrutinizing his communications with Icahn.
Reuters reported in April that CVR made a huge bet in 2016 that prices for government biofuels credits would fall - just before Icahn started advising Trump on rules driving that market.
That gamble involved $186 million worth of biofuels credits the company said it needed at the end of 2016 to satisfy regulatory requirements.
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, however, said in May that it is not investigating Icahn's activity in the biofuels credits market.
American Oversight filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Marguerita Choy)