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Court forces EPA to release GE discussion records

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information    

Court forces EPA to release GE discussion records

  • A public interest group should have access to documents regarding EPA’s decision to force GE to cleanup the Hudson River, a district court ruled.

March 17, 2003 — The Environmental Protection Agency must release its records on discussions with General Electric Co. regarding the company’s obligation to clean up portions of the Hudson River, which it polluted for decades with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, a federal district judge in New York ruled March 10.

The New York Public Interest Research Group sued EPA in 2001 under the federal Freedom of Information Act for access to records submitted by GE to the agency and for notes made of the meetings between them.

The EPA argued that the documents contain confidential business information and were therefore exempt from the FOI Act.

But Judge Alvin Hellerstein held that the documents are subject to the act and must be released.

The case goes back to EPA’s decision in July 2001 to force GE to finance the removal of the PCBs it dumped in the river from the 1940’s until 1977. PIRG wanted to find out what proposals GE had made to the EPA before its final decision.

According to the judgment, “GE sought to convince the EPA to abandon, or at least downscale, its arguments,” and asked that records of that effort be withheld.

The court ruled that the documents do not fall under the FOI Act’s exemption for commercial records because nothing in them would cause competitive injury. There was no evidence that the information had commercial value to GE or to its competitors. The court also held that the documents could not be considered confidential because GE was unable to prove that it intended that the information be held in confidence by the government.

However, the court ruled that some records — written notes taken during a meeting by an EPA administrator — could be withheld under the act’s exemption protecting intra- or inter-agency records that were part of the agency’s decision-making process.

(New York Public Interest Research Group v. Environmental Protection Agency; Counsel for plaintiff: David Vladeck, Washington, D.C.) GS

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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