Earthjustice, on behalf of Sightline Institute, has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration today in hopes of daylighting information behind crucial federal energy policy decisions.
The groups had submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in February 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 has ignored multiple attempts by Earthjustice attorneys to obtain the requested information or even a response from agency officials.
Today’s lawsuit 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 past year, 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 today’s filing, that law lapsed in 2001 and no longer provides any pretext for BIS to skirt the issue.
Patti Goldman, managing attorney of Earthjustice’s Northwest office, states, “BIS is making public policy decisions about America’s energy future behind tightly closed doors. We expect greater transparency and accountability of our government when it is shaping the country’s and even the planet’s energy future.”
Eric de Place, policy director of Sightline Institute, notes, “Given the current upsurge of public concern around oil issues, from the Shell drilling lease in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea to oil trains rolling through communities across the country, this is exactly the wrong time to be engaged in secretive and illegal behavior that further promotes the interests of the oil industry.”
Read the court filing.
Read more about the filing on Sightline Institute’s website at daily.sightline.org/FOIASuit. To learn more about the export ban exemptions, see: Federal Agency Quietly Allows Oil to Leak Through Crude Export Ban.