Freedom of Information Act Requests
Visit our FOIA Updates page for current information about the status of our requests.
The Protect Our Communities Foundation and partner groups Back Country Against Dumps and the East County Community Action Coalition are attempting to track the progress of government permits for the Sunrise Powerlink by requesting documents under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).
One of the purposes of the information requests is to determine whether SDG&E has carried out the myriad mitigation measures required by various agencies before any construction can begin. The short answer appears to be “no” – SDG&E is planning on beginning construction in bighorn sheep habitat in October 2009 (construction in other areas can’t start until the summer of 2010) but required surveys and mitigation don’t appear to have been completed as of mid-September.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was the first agency to respond to our FOIA requests. We asked that they expedite their response to our August FOIA given the looming work in sheep habitat in October and they responded in just a few days. It was not the documents we received, but rather the documents that were notably NOT provided by Fish and Wildlife, that gave us the greatest insight into whether SDG&E is following the rules. SDG&E is required to secure off-site habitat mitigation land prior to any construction activities, to prepare habitat management plans for those lands, conduct surveys and prepare plans to control noxious weeds, prepare plans to monitor bighorn sheep during construction, and conduct surveys for federally listed species, all to be approved by permitting agencies and completed before construction. Yet the Fish and Wildlife Service documents show that only a few species surveys have been completed.
Our attorneys and consultants may need degrees in dentistry given the tooth pulling that appears to be necessary to get the other agencies to respond. Two FOIA requests were sent to the Bureau of Land Management this summer with the first in June and the second in August. The BLM responded right away to the June request with a letter promising the documents within 5 days. That was the last we heard from them. No word from them whatsoever in response to our August expedited FOIA request.
The Forest Service is just as bad. Despite written promises to respond by the end of August the Forest Service still hasn’t provided a single document in response to our May FOIA request let alone a second similar follow-up request sent in early September. The Forest Service bungled things further when in July they granted us a fee waiver for the cost of preparing the documents and then, just a few weeks later, they claimed in a letter to Congressman Bob Filner that we were responsible for the delay because we hadn’t responded to an earlier Forest Service request for more information in support of a fee waiver! (All requested information had been provided weeks before.) To be fair, the local office preparing the FOIA response claimed they were honoring the earlier fee waiver and had already started compiling documents. But we still haven’t received a single document.
POC also sent FOIA requests to the U.S. Department of Energy and the Office of the Secretary at the Department of the Interior seeking any documents showing pressure from Sempra Energy or SDG&E lobbyists or from the agencies themselves on the Forest Service to approve the Powerlink across the Cleveland National Forest. Both agencies claimed they had no documents responsive to this request.
We’ll keep you posted as we try to pry documents loose from the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service and work to make sure SDG&E doesn’t jump the gun with powerlink construction in bighorn sheep habitat this fall.
Linked below are our FOIA requests and other documentation: