Environmental groups sue Coast Guard over spill documents

The Associated Press

Six environmental groups are suing the U.S. Coast Guard, challenging a denial of two Freedom of Information Act requests about the response to an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Tulane Environmental Law Clinic filed a complaint Tuesday in federal court in the District of Columbia on the groups’ behalf. It asks the court to force the Coast Guard to release information requested in 2011 about leaking wells 11 miles from Louisiana’s coast that were damaged when Hurricane Ivan in 2004 triggered an underwater landslide.

The plaintiffs are Waterkeeper Alliance, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Galveston Baykeeper, Louisiana Bayoukeeper, Apalachicola Riverkeeper and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.

A telephone call to the Coast Guard for comment about the lawsuit was not immediately returned.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs submitted a FOIA request Oct. 19, 2011, requesting information about the Mississippi Canyon block 20 of the Gulf of Mexico and associated with Taylor Energy Co. LLC of New Orleans.

“We filed this suit to stop the spill and lift the veil of secrecy surrounding Taylor Oil’s eight-year long response and recovery operation,” Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance, said in a statement Tuesday. “Neither the government nor Taylor will answer basic questions related to the spill response, citing privacy concerns. The public deserves to know how this spill happened and why it continues.”

The Coast Guard released 19 of 256 pages last June, but withheld most of the information requested, citing two FOIA exemptions.

A second FOIA request was sent Dec. 5, 2011, for documents about efforts to decommission wells in the area of the leaking wells. Although the Coast Guard acknowledged receiving the letter that day, the plaintiffs have not received a response, said Machelle Hall, an attorney with the law clinic.

Hall said the groups also filed a separate lawsuit against Taylor Energy, alleging there were up to 28 wells that continue to leak oil.

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