Interior sued for violating Freedom of Information law

May 9, 2018

The Colorado Plateau is among the places TWS wants to protect from harmful drilling and mining.

The Wilderness Society (TWS) today filed a lawsuit to compel disclosure of President Trump’s plans to eliminate environmental protections on public lands.
TWS demands disclosure of so-called “Energy Dominance” papers
The Wilderness Society (TWS) today filed a lawsuit to compel disclosure of President Trump’s plans to eliminate environmental protections on public lands.
TWS alleges that in an effort to sell off our public lands to the highest bidder, President Trump and his Interior Department issued a series of orders starting in March 2017 aimed at removing “potential burdens” to energy development on America’s public lands. The orders called for a series of reports outlining the Trump Administration’s plans for achieving “energy dominance” on public lands by undermining environmental protections and citizen participation.  Most of these reports were not made public, leaving TWS to compel their disclosure through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
“The reports produced by the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management will provide the American public with critical information about the Trump Administration’s plans for turning our public lands over to companies for drilling and mining,” said Nada Culver, senior director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “This administration’s attempts to keep information from the public about management of lands they truly own violate the Freedom of Information Act and threaten the principles of our participatory democracy.”
Between April and September 2017, TWS filed 21 separate FOIA requests for documents related to presidential and secretarial orders on energy policy, as well as for correspondence (including emails and briefing materials from industry lobbyists) related to their preparation. The FOIA requires government agencies to respond to requests within 20 working days. Yet between 8 and 13 months later, the Department has responded only to two of TWS’s 21 requests. One response claimed the requested report did not exist — even though it was mandated by an executive order issued by the President of the United States. The second response, except for the header, was completely redacted.
“This pattern of making sweeping changes while stonewalling the American public has repeated itself during the past year as we have sought critical information from the Trump administration through FOIA,” said Culver. “We have now been forced to resort to legal action.”
The lawsuit filed today says that the Interior Department has “adopted and is engaged in a pattern, practice or policy of violating FOIA’s procedural requirements when processing FOIA requests.” The lawsuit “seeks an order from this Court that directs [the Interior Department] to promptly provide TWS with the records requested herein.”
TWS filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. TWS is represented by David Bahr, a FOIA attorney based in Eugene, Oregon.
“It is always unfortunate when an agency's conduct requires judicial intervention,” said Bahr. "But Congress did not equivocate in its desire that courts remedy the type of clear and repeated FOIA violations that we've been confronted with here.”