FOIA Update: Dept of State Stonewalling Public Review

I have been told that the main obstacle to my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of State (DOS) for the milepost data for the Keystone XL is that the information is “politically sensitive.”

To say the least, this stonewalling is disconcerting. A foreign corporation is abusing common carrier status to declare eminent domain on the property of American citizens so that it can build a diluted bitumen pipeline through America’s heartland and expedite delivery of its product to world markets. While this project will threaten our groundwater, waterways, and general health, increase gas prices and world dependency on oil, and further forestall a necessary shift to a green economy (Read more: TransCanada: “Keystone XL National Security Risk”), President Obama is expediting pipeline construction and has remained mute on global warming.

Whose interest is the White House and the DOS representing?

On April 12th I filed a FOIA request for the release of the milepost location data (which, according to both federal and state agencies, is public information) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. As FOIA requests with the DOS can take five to twelve months, I requested expedited service. This part of my request was rejected, I appealed, and am still waiting to hear back:

This email is to appeal your Denial of Expedition of FOIA request F-2012-XXXXX.

As you must be aware, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which will stretch through the American heartland from the Canadian border to Port Arthur, Texas, is of great interest to communities throughout the country. The release of the pipeline’s milepost (MP) marker longitude and latitude data and GIS information is of urgent importance for the following reasons:

1. MP Location Data is Required by the FEIS.
The MP location data is referenced throughout the Department of State’s Keystone XL FEIS. Without this information one cannot make a proper evaluation of the original Keystone XL FEIS, the revised Keystone application submitted on May 4, 2012, the Gulf Coast Route now being considered by the Army Corps of Engineers, or the entire project’s environmental impacts. In fact, the absence of this key reference data calls into question the completeness of the FEIS and the review process.

2. MP and GIS Location Data are Public Information
Federal and state agencies consider oil and gas pipeline GIS data to be public information. Such agencies include the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the Texas Railroad Commission, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, and the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources. By withholding this information and requiring a FOIA request, the Department of State is unnecessarily hindering the public review process.

3. Public is Being Denied Due Process
Despite the denial of the Presidential Permit, construction of the Keystone XL is currently underway. TransCanada, a foreign company, has been accused of using dubious means to gain right-of-way to private property, including the declaration of eminent domain. Currently, TransCanada is seeking expedited permitting by the Army Corps of Engineers for the Gulf Coast route. The Army Corps has promised to reply by June 26. While individual property owners are certainly aware of the pipeline’s presence, the wider community and citizens around the country are unable to make a proper review of the project without the MP and GIS data. To release key data only after landowners have undergone substantial hardship or the project is completed, would be to deny landowners, communities, and the public due process.

4. Keystone Mapping Project Disseminates Routing Data to the Public
My Keystone Mapping Project (KMP: http://keystone.steamingmules.com) will incorporate the MP and GIS data into its current online maps. The KMP, as the most comprehensive source of routing data for the Keystone XL, is referenced by major news organization, such as NPR, and viewed widely by landowners, researchers, educators, and the public.

Clearly, there is a compelling need for an immediate release of the Keystone XL MP and GIS data. Not only is the data required for proper review of the project but, with the Army Corps of Engineers permitting date for the Gulf Coast route less than three weeks away, it is imperative that accurate MP and GIS data be released immediately. The American public deserves the opportunity of both review and oversight.

As I post this, the Army Corps of Engineers has begun approving the necessary permits for the Gulf Coast route, thus maintaining its poor record on environmental stewardship. Even so, considering the effort I’ve expended in obtaining a data file that resides in the public domain from the DOS, the 45-day permit turnaround by USACE for a construction project that crosses two states is impressive.

Move along. There’s nothing to see here.

6 thoughts on “FOIA Update: Dept of State Stonewalling Public Review

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