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Citizens group wins FOIA battle with nuclear agency

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  1. Freedom of Information
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) unnecessarily delayed responding to numerous records requests from a citizen’s group regarding documents on…

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) unnecessarily delayed responding to numerous records requests from a citizen’s group regarding documents on nuclear waste sites in New Mexico, a federal judge ruled earlier this week.

U.S. District Judge Robert Brack held that the complex nature of the documents was no excuse for not complying with the federal Freedom of Information Law.

“Defendant’s reliance on the complexity and sensitive nature of the documents at issue is inconsistent with its duties and obligations under FOIA,” Brack wrote in the 16-page opinion.

Citizen Action sued NNSA and its parent agency the Department of Energy in August 2006 to compel the release of documents pertaining to the nuclear waste sites at Sandia National Laboratories, as well as records related to the monitoring and 10-year plans for the future activities at the site.

“It’s a well-deserved decision,” said Dave McCoy, executive director of Citizen Action. “I’ve been writing FOIAs and fighting with the NNSA and the DOE for probably 10 years on FOIA matters and they’re ability to delay and create secrecy through delay is unparalleled with other agencies. It’s time somebody really called their hand and that’s exactly what Judge Brack did here.”

Leonard DeLayo, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said any time the word “nuclear” is used, secrecy is all too often assumed despite what the law says.

“Historically, these [federal] agencies have operated above the public and above the law,” DeLayo said. “And now it’s turning around and these courts are turning around and saying these records are public and subject to inspection.”