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How to Use Freedom of Information Laws Aaron Colangelo Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Presentation on theme: "How to Use Freedom of Information Laws Aaron Colangelo Natural Resources Defense Council."— Presentation transcript:

1 How to Use Freedom of Information Laws Aaron Colangelo Natural Resources Defense Council

2 NRDC’s use of FOIA National environmental nonprofit group Dozens of FOIA requests every year –Drinking water contamination –Water and air pollution (mercury, lead) –Disposal of nuclear waste –“Cheney Energy Task Force” meetings Filed with almost every federal agency State FOIA requests also Often lead to lawsuits Major news stories

3 What to Ask For General requests –To get a lot of information about a problem Specific requests –When you know exactly what you’re looking for Talk to friendly government officials to get suggestions

4 How to Ask for it Create templates or models Give as much detail as you can Include the names of people who might have the documents Show that you know the law Offer to clarify if necessary

5 How to Get it Be persistent Negotiate Appeal File a lawsuit “Vaughn index”

6 How to Use the Information Media –Digest the information –Present it to reporters –Press release or newsletter –Publish reports Lawsuits –Violations of environmental laws –To support other claims Community meetings –Disclose contamination in a community Reform the process –Prevent secret meetings

7 Common Obstacles Delay Cost Inadequate search Withholdings Too much information

8 Case Study -- Perchlorate Drinking water pollutant In vegetables, fish, and milk Dispute between Environmental Protection Agency, military, and White House

9 Perchlorate contaminates the water in almost every state in the U.S.

10 In 2003, perchlorate was detected in all seven samples of supermarket milk in Texas In 2005, perchlorate was also detected at high levels in mother’s breast milk.

11 Perchlorate FOIA requests More than 20 separate requests so far 8 federal agencies Follow new leads to find out who might have more information Narrow the requests once you start to get information

12 Example – request filed with the Pentagon

13 Perchlorate FOIA lawsuits Make the problem real to the judge Say why the information is important –Looking for three things only: Scope of contamination (where is it) Health effects (how does it harm people) Cleanup efforts (how can we clean it up) Credibility Lawsuit is a last resort Themes: –Necessary to protect public health –Equal access to information

14 Federal Lawsuit

15 Court orders Several victories in court so far –Air Force records –Private contractors –Missing documents –Contamination data

16 Government must disclose information about health effects

17 Air Force must explain missing records

18 Documents released so far Tens of thousands of documents released –“Gag order” –Ignoring the problem – refusal to look for contamination –Pollution problems in specific communities –Contamination in food –Industry pressure –Political interference to prevent cleanup –Intimidating independent scientists –Coverup – missing or destroyed records

19 Additional information Sample FOIA requests and court filings (202) Thank you!


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