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WildEarth Guardians Goes to Court to Enforce Transparency, Defend Public Interest

January 17, 2019
Becca Fischer, (406) 698-1489, rfischer@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
#GreaterChaco, #KeepItInTheGround, #Transparency
Denver, CO—In defense of Americans’ right to know, WildEarth Guardians this past week filed two transparency lawsuits against the Trump Administration, targeting the U.S. Department of the Interior’s failure to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests.

“The Trump Administration has declared a war on transparency,” said Becca Fischer, Climate & Energy Program Attorney for Guardians. “It’s now common for federal agencies to not only fail to provide requested records within the Freedom of Information Act’s time limits, but also to fail to even acknowledge our requests. To top it off, the Administration is proposing to make public access to information even harder with revisions to Interior’s FOIA regulations. It’s completely counter to our democracy.”

The federal lawsuits target Interior’s illegal failure to provide records related to rollbacks of public lands and coal mine safeguards.

The first suit confronts the Department and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s refusal to release records related to its revision of an oil and gas management plan in the Greater Chaco region of northwestern New Mexico.

The second suit challenges the U.S. Office of Surface Mining’s refusal to release records related to its decision to scrap developing rules that would limit toxic blasting emissions at coal mines.

They come as the Interior Department has proposed to roll back its Freedom of Information regulations to make it more difficult for Americans to request and receive information from the federal government.

“We will not tolerate secrecy within our federal government,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians.  “With our public lands, our climate, and more at stake, we can’t afford to let the Interior Department hack away at transparency at the expense of our democracy.”

Attorneys from Kampmeier & Knutsen and Bahr Law Offices filed the first lawsuit for Guardians last Friday.  Attorneys with Guardians and Travis Stills with Energy & Conservation Law filed the second suit against the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement on Tuesday.

The Greater Chaco region has faced increasing pressure from the oil and gas industry, with fracking taking over and putting the region’s Navajo communities and the sacred fabric of the landscape in jeopardy. Despite this, the Bureau of Land Management is moving to develop a plan that would actually open the door for more fossil fuel development.

Tribal, environmental, health, and community advocates have been sounding the alarm over this surge in fracking, calling on the Bureau of Land Management to stop selling public lands to the oil and gas industry and put an end to new drilling permits.

“The people of the Greater Chaco region have a right to know what’s going on in their backyards,” said Fischer. “Sadly, our federal government refuses to come clean about its plans to open the door for more fracking in this sacred region.”

In 2015, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining proposed to adopt rules that would limit toxic emissions produced from blasting at coal mines. Under the Trump Administration, however, the agency inexplicably shelved the effort.

“The Trump Administration is going to every length to appease the coal industry and we aim to expose their corrupt abandonment of protecting public health and the environment,” said Nichols.  “This is about enforcing transparency, but it’s fundamentally about ensuring our federal government is putting Americans first.”

Guardians has been and continues to be on the frontlines of enforcing transparency and has filed more Freedom of Information Act requests and transparency lawsuits against the U.S. Interior than any other public interest environmental organization in the nation.

Other Contact
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org