Interior is Withholding Documents Detailing Exploitation of Public Lands
WASHINGTON, DC (July 1, 2002) -- After forcing the Energy Department to release more than 12,000 pages of documents related to Vice President Cheney's secret energy task force, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) has shifted its focus to the Interior Department, which has been quietly implementing task force recommendations over the past year. Today, the environmental organization filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Interior Department for failing to provide documents related to its role in drafting and carrying out the administration's energy plan. NRDC filed a similar suit against the Energy Department last December.
Since May 2001, the Bush administration has been opening up federal lands in the Rocky Mountains and the Southwestern desert to oil, gas and coal development. Following Cheney task force recommendations, federal agencies under Interior Secretary Gale Norton have targeted sensitive, undeveloped areas, expediting permits for energy-related projects and minimizing environmental restrictions. At the same time, the Interior Department has rebuffed efforts by NRDC to obtain documents on its activities and the role that industry may have played in shaping policy.
"The Bush administration has declared that some of America's most pristine public lands are now open for business," said NRDC senior attorney, Sharon Buccino. "Industry already enjoys access to more than 90 percent of these lands, but the Bush energy plan threatens our last remaining protected areas, no matter how special or environmentally sensitive."
In response to NRDC's initial April 2001 FOIA request, the Interior Department released less than 900 pages related to Secretary Norton and her staff's work with the task force. Given that Interior's Bureau of Land Management has been spearheading the administration's efforts to expand energy development on the more than 250 million acres of public land it manages, NRDC estimates that Interior is illegally withholding thousands of pages of documents. By comparison, the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency each identified more than 20,000 pages of documents in response to similar NRDC requests.
"These public lands belong to all of us, not just big energy companies," said Buccino. "But behind closed doors administration officials cut sweetheart deals with oil, gas and coal companies at the expense of the environment and the public's right to know."
NRDC has asked the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to order the Interior Department to turn over the requested records within 20 days. Because it is related to NRDC's pending lawsuit against the Energy Department for its failure to release all of its task force records, the case is likely to be assigned to the same judge, Judge Paul Friedman. NRDC is represented by the Washington, D.C., law firm of Meyer and Glitzenstein.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Related NRDC Pages
The Cheney Energy Task Force