Quantcast

Court Ruling Expands Secrecy on Public Safety Information Concerning Dam Failures and Chemical Spills

A sweeping new appellate court decision justifies federal agencies withholding substantial public safety information concerning dam failures, chemical spills and other critical events, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The ruling blocked PEER’s attempts to force release of the emergency plans in the event of failure of two large international storage dams on the Rio Grande River and inundation maps showing the areas likely to be flooded.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided this week that this material could be withheld because “terrorists or criminals could use that information to determine whether attacking a dam would be worthwhile.” The court’s reasoning significantly expands the scope of the exemption under the Freedom of Information Act for material compiled for “law enforcement purposes.”

Amistad Dam, Texas. Photo credit: The Center for Land Use Interpretation

“Under the standard articulated by the court, the majority of information about known risks and planned responses to virtually every emergency could be placed off limits,” stated PEER senior counsel Paula Dinerstein, who filed the complaint and argued the appeal. “This ruling will block affected communities from learning about plans to prevent and respond to chemical spills,” added Dinerstein, noting recently-plagued West Virginia, oil blowouts that fouled the Gulf of Mexico and even steps needed to prevent and respond to contamination of food and drugs.

The case involves the actions of a little-known agency called the U.S. Section, International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC), which implements border treaties with Mexico and, in so doing, jointly operates several international dams and water treatment plants along the border. Despite acknowledging external reviews showing two major structures, the Falcon and Amistad Dams, are in “urgent” need of repair, the agency refused to release:

  • More than 75 inundation maps, showing what areas will be flooded following dam failure; 
  • A 2009 report issued by a panel of technical advisors regarding the condition of Amistad Dam (the release of which was remanded to the lower court for further consideration); and
  • Much of the Emergency Action Plans for the dams, including the “Guidance for Determining the Emergency Level”; “Notifications and Emergency Service Contacts”; “Location and Vicinity Maps”; “Summary of People/Structures at Greatest Risk”; and “Reservoir Elevation Area-Capacity Data.”

“Basic emergency planning should not be treated as a state secret,” said Dinerstein, noting that the court had transformed a fairly narrow law enforcement exception from public disclosure into an extremely broad one without well-defined limits. “By the court’s incredibly deferential standards, virtually every federal agency could withhold maps, assessments and even phonebooks if an official can imagine a potential nefarious use for them. A vigilant public will lose access to much of the information needed to protect itself and to agitate for changes that prevent these man-made disasters from occurring.”

Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
vimeo.com

Video Shows Oil Company's Plans to Drill Arctic From Artificial Island

The Liberty Project has posted a video about its proposal to build the nation's first oil production platform in federal waters in the Arctic.

The video was quietly uploaded two months ago and shows Hilcorp Alaska's plan to build an artificial gravel island and undersea pipeline for its offshore drilling project in the Beaufort Sea. Frankly speaking, the five-minute clip—with its all-American voiceover and electric guitar riffs—is something you'd expect from a pickup truck commercial.

Keep reading... Show less
www.youtube.com

Scientists Discover Sea Levels Rose in Sharp Bursts During Last Warming

By Rice University

Scientists from Rice University and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi's Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies have discovered that Earth's sea level did not rise steadily but rather in sharp, punctuated bursts when the planet's glaciers melted during the period of global warming at the close of the last ice age. The researchers found fossil evidence in drowned reefs offshore Texas that showed sea level rose in several bursts ranging in length from a few decades to one century.

The findings appeared Wednesday in Nature Communications.

Keep reading... Show less
Gemasolar 15 MW Parabolic Power Plant in Spain / Greenpeace

Quitting Coal: New Global Survey Names the Companies, Countries and Cities

More than a quarter of the 1,675 companies that owned or developed coal-fired power capacity since 2010 have entirely left the coal power business, according to new research from CoalSwarm and Greenpeace. This represents nearly 370 large coal-fired power plants—enough to power around six United Kingdoms—and equivalent to nearly half a trillion dollars in assets retired or not developed.

While many generating companies go through this rapid makeover, the research also shows that a total of 23 countries, states and cities will have either phased out coal-fired power plants or set a timeline to do so by 2030.

Keep reading... Show less
Roderick Eime / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

New Evidence Suggests Ancient Egypt Was Brought Down By Volcanoes and Climate Change

Ancient Egypt is often described as an exotic place—pyramids, hieroglyphics, lavishly worshipped kings and queens.

But in many ways, it has a lot of parallels to modern life. It was an economically diverse, culturally vibrant and unequal place.

The millenniums-old society also struggled with a phenomenon that people today know all too well: climate change. And it may have ultimately led to the civilization's demise, according to a new paper by a team of researchers at Yale University.

The team of researchers studied the tail-end of ancient Egypt during the Ptolemaic dynasty between 305-30 BCE.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Portuguese youth plaintiffs, from left to right: Simão and Leonor; Cláudia, Martim and Mariana; André and Sofia. Global Legal Action Network

Kids Harmed by Portugal Fires Reach Key Crowdfunding Goal for Climate Lawsuit

As Portugal reels from its worst wildfires on record, seven Portuguese children have met an important crowdfunding goal for their major climate lawsuit against 47 European nations.

More than £20,000 ($26,400) was pledged by 589 people, allowing the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)—the nonprofit coordinating the lawsuit—to identify and compile evidence to present to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. GLAN now has a new stretch target of £100,000.

Keep reading... Show less
Flying insects such as bees are important pollinators. Flickr / M I T C H Ǝ L L

German Nature Reserves Have Lost More Than 75% of Flying Insects

A new study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE adds more evidence that insect populations around the globe are in perilous decline.

For the study, researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands, alongside their German and English colleagues, measured the biomass of trapped flying insects at 63 nature preserves in Germany since 1989. They were shocked to discover that the total biomass decreased dramatically over the 27 years of the study, with a seasonal decline of 76 percent and mid-summer decline of 82 percent, when insect numbers tend to peak.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics

Pushing Toxic Chemicals and Climate Denial: The Dark Money-Funded Independent Women’s Forum

By Stacy Malkan

The Independent Women's Forum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has taken money from tobacco and oil companies, partners with Monsanto, defends toxic chemicals in food and consumer products, denies climate science and argues against laws that would curb the power of corporations.

IWF began in 1991 as an effort to defend now Supreme Court Justice (and former Monsanto attorney) Clarence Thomas as he faced sexual harassment charges. The group now says it seeks to "improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty."

Keep reading... Show less
Mladen Kostic / iStock

Toxic Toys? After Nine Years, a Ban on Harmful Chemicals Becomes Official

Phthalates are a particularly harmful type of chemical, used, among a range of other ways, to soften plastic in children's toys and products like pacifiers and teething rings. In response to mounting concern about the serious health impacts of phthalates—most notably, interference with hormone production and reproductive development in young children—Congress voted overwhelmingly in 2008 to outlaw the use of a few phthalates in these products and ordered the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to assess the use of other types of the chemical in these products. After much delay, the CPSC voted 3–2 Wednesday to ban five additional types of phthalates in kids' toys and childcare products.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox