Monday, September 28, 2009

Environmental groups in Idaho sue BLM for grazing info

Two environmental groups are suing the Bureau of Land Management after the agency refused to release the names and addresses of people with grazing permits on the nation's public land.

In the lawsuit, filed Thursday in Boise's U.S. District Court, the environmental groups contend that the BLM wrongly said the names, addresses and other grazing permit information was protected from release under the Freedom of Information Act.

Specifically, the BLM claimed the information fell under the same exemption that allows agencies not to release medical records, personnel records and other information that, if disclosed, would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

Kris Long, public affairs officer with the BLM's Idaho state office, said the agency did not comment on any pending litigation.

Todd C. Tucci, an attorney with Advocates for the West who was representing the environmental groups, said the case stemmed from, "just another attempt by BLM to hide its operations from public view."

"These are business contracts -- companies that entered into a contract with a government to graze private cows on public lands," Tucci said. "In general, my clients are pretty displeased that despite this era of openness, ushered in back in January, that BLM continues to play hide-the-ball with the information the public has a right to. This is the kind of way that government works when you get one bored but creative lawyer that decides to try something."

According to the lawsuit, the environmental groups requested the information under the federal Freedom of Information Act in 2007, and BLM said that it would release the information, but it needed additional time to gather it first. But the following year, the BLM said it had decided to deny the request because it believed the information was exempt from disclosure.

The environmental group are asking a federal judge to declare that the BLM violated the Freedom of Information Act and that the court force the BLM to provide the information immediately, free of charge.

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