Today, a federal judge in Portland, Oregon sharply rebuked the Army Corps of Engineers for its secrecy over a coal export proposal at the Port of Morrow on the Columbia River. Despite overwhelming public concern about the impacts of the project on the Columbia River ecosystem, the Corps decided to conduct a very narrow environmental review, which has not yet been released. The coal export proposal, which would involve 8.8 million tons per year, has been greeted by stiff opposition from local communities, conservation groups, and Native tribes because of the serious threats posed to our water, land and air.
In 2012, Columbia Riverkeeper filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking documents from the Corps that would shed light on why the federal government is taking such a narrow view of the potential effects on our environment. The Corps withheld over 90 documents claiming they were exempt from public disclosure. The Crag Law Center partnered with the Columbia Riverkeeper and challenged the Corps’s policy of secrecy in federal court.
In today’s opinion, the District Court ordered the Corps to release all but one document to the Riverkeeper. The documents include draft press releases, draft communication plans, draft web site content and an internal memo and briefing materials, all of which relate to the coal export proposal. The Corps will be allowed to redact certain portions of the memo and briefing materials but must release the remainder.
Crag Co-Executive Director and Staff Attorney Chris Winter worked on the case with the Columbia Riverkeeper. Winter said, “it’s high time for the Corps to come clean and to prepare a thorough Environmental Impact Statement for this coal export proposal. Oregon deserves better out of the federal government than secrecy and short-sighted decision making.”
Stay tuned for updates on what we learn from the documents when we receive them. In the meantime, you can review the judge’s opinion here.
You can also read the press release here.