Lawsuit calls out agencies violating FOIA

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Today Trustees for Alaska and Bahr Law Offices filed a lawsuit calling out federal agencies for violating the Freedom of Information Act by withholding public information relating to oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Porcupine Caribou Herd on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS photo.

The FOIA requests submitted in 2018 and 2019 concern management of the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge, including documents used to produce the draft environmental impact statement for leasing, and communications and records relating to lease sale activities during the 2018–2019 government shutdown and the Porcupine Caribou Treaty between the United States and Canada.

“The lack of response across multiple agencies underscores the anti-democratic tactics being used to promote drilling in the Arctic Refuge,” said Trustees for Alaska attorney Maresa Jenson in a press release. “FOIA is integral to our democracy. Delaying, ignoring, or withholding information sows distrust, prevents accountability and transparency, and breaks the law.”

The public deserves to know how agencies make decisions

FOIA abuses have been in the news under the Trump administration because of its policies and actions undermining transparency.  Allowing political appointees to review documents before a release of FOIA materials means that high-ranking officials can cull what they don’t want people to see.

“We need to know what agencies are doing and reviewing when deciding what happens to sacred lands and our way of life,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, one of four plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Other plaintiffs include The Wilderness Society, Alaska Wilderness League, and Defenders of Wildlife.

“We have a right to know how our public lands are being managed and shouldn’t have to file lawsuits to access public information,” noted Patrick Lavin, Alaska policy advisor with Defenders of Wildlife.

Who do our agencies really serve?

The suit filed in the U.S. District Court of Alaska names the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as violating the law.

 “FOIA exists because agencies and public servants can be improperly and illegally influenced by agendas that do not serve the public interest,” said attorney Dave A. Bahr of Bahr Law Offices. “The continued withholding of information by the agencies called out in this lawsuit should only deepen distrust over how and why they make decisions, and who they really serve.”

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