Activist Group Wins Free Access to Information
Workers Exposed in Second Rocky Flats Accident in One Week
Citizen Action, an Albuquerque-based activist organization, successfully petitioned to overturn a determination by the Department of Energy (or DOE) Albuquerque Operations Office that would have forced the group to pay thousands of dollars for public documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
The law requires that an organization pay for Freedom of Information Act requests if such requests do not contribute significantly to public understanding of the actions of the government, or the information is intended for commercial use. Citizen Action, which is a non-profit organization, requested information regarding the contents of the Mixed Waste Landfill, which is a landfill located at DOE's Sandia National Laboratory. These are the type of documents that Citizen Action has received free-of-charge in the past under the fee waiver provisions of the law.
The Albuquerque Operations Office proposed to charge Citizen Action $3,200 and claimed that the group did not qualify for full waiver of fees. The Office argued that Citizen Action had not actively presented to the public any of the information previously received through the Act. The Office also claimed that, "Citizen Action has not provided us with enough justification to show heightened public interest in the [Mixed Waste Landfill.]" Furthermore, the Office said that Citizen Action had not proved that any members of their organization had sufficient expertise so as to present the information requested in a manner that would benefit the public.
Citizen Action appealed the decision to George Breznay, director of DOE's Office of Hearings and Appeals, who found in favor of Citizen Action, saying that the Albuquerque Office did not provide a legitimate basis for granting or denying either a waiver or a reduction in fees. He also noted that Citizen Action has held several public meetings to disperse the information they received through the Freedom of Information Act, which were well attended. Also, Citizen Action is covered by and contributes to local press. He also noted that Citizen Action engages the assistance of experts who help them to synthesize and present the data they receive in a manner that will be understandable to the public.
Sue Dayton, of Citizen Action, said, "We're really pleased. We feel vindicated."
* Five workers have tested positive for minor radioactive contamination and are undergoing further testing following two accidents at Rocky Flats in the past week.
Rocky Flats is undergoing cleanup operations following a 1989 FBI raid for environmental violations. Contractor Kaiser-Hill is receiving $7 billion for the job and possible bonuses if cleanup is completed by 2006.
In the first accident, workers were installing a filter system when air from a contaminated room filled the rest of the building. In the second, a filter fell off of an exhaust fan and released accumulated contamination.
Steven Gunderson, of the Colorado department of health, said that the accidents do not indicate a pattern of problems at Rocky Flats, but did comment, "They're anxious to close Rocky Flats, so we ask, 'Are they being hasty? Are they being sloppy?'"
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