Daylighting Decisions On America’s Energy Future

The U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security is making public policy decisions, shaping the country’s and planet’s energy future, about America’s energy future behind closed doors.

Regional Office / Program

Case Overview

Earthjustice, on behalf of Sightline Institute, has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration in hopes of daylighting information behind crucial federal energy policy decisions.

The groups submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in February 2015 to the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) seeking details on BIS’s criteria for approving multiple significant exceptions to the nation’s 40-year-old crude oil export ban. For the more than four months since that filing, BIS ignored multiple attempts by Earthjustice attorneys to obtain the requested information or even a response from agency officials.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. district court in Seattle, asks the Court to order the Obama administration to disclose the BIS rationale and key documents concerning the new loopholes.

In the year previous to the lawsuit filing, BIS has issued secret rulings exempting certain crude oil streams from the licensing process. The agency shares its rationale with industry players seeking to exploit the new loopholes, but hides the full extent of the loopholes from the public. By quietly eroding the export ban behind closed doors, BIS is initiating a major change in U.S. energy policy at a time when this very policy is being hotly debated in Congress.

In response to similar past FOIA requests by media outlets, agency officials have invoked the Export Administration Act of 1979 to withhold this information. Yet as Earthjustice points out in the lawsuit filing, that law lapsed in 2001 and no longer provides any pretext for BIS to skirt the issue.

Crude oil tank cars.
Crude oil tank cars. As wells pump crude out of North Dakota and Texas in the biggest oil boom since the 1970s, foreign markets are singing siren songs to oil producers and their allies in Congress. (Photo courtesy of Roy Luck)

Case Updates

June 25, 2015 document

Complaint: Sightline, Earthjustice Sues Obama Administration over Crude Oil Exports and Illegal Secrecy

Groups move forward on unanswered FOIA request from February

June 24, 2015 Press Release

Sightline, Earthjustice Sue Obama Administration over Crude Oil Exports and Illegal Secrecy

Lawsuit follows unanswered FOIA request filed in February. Export Administration Act no longer shields BIS from answering such inquiries.

Oil pipe spill
March 12, 2015 Article

Federal Agency Quietly Allows Oil to Leak Through Crude Export Ban

While Congress debates whether we should keep the crude oil export ban, a highly secretive federal agency decided to erode the ban on its own, without public input.