WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 19, 2018 – Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) sent a letter today to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seeking information about new guidance issued to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) employees restricting information released through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests specific to the Endangered Species Act.
The full letter is available at http://bit.ly/2R1lEmj.
Grijalva raises concerns that an internal document, as recently reported by The Guardian, recommended less transparency when responding to FOIA requests involving endangered species decisions. Specifically, the letter states that the new guidance signaled “that records that could undermine positions taken by the FWS in court should be reviewed and possibly withheld.” Grijalva writes that the guidance “guidance undermines the implementation of the Endangered Species Act, and it significantly hinders the ability of the American people to hold their federal government accountable for its actions.”
He expresses particular concern about the apparently intentional hiding of information on controversial projects like the Keystone XL pipeline:
FOIA requests are critical for ensuring government transparency and allowing the public access to federal government records. For example, FOIA was used to obtain documents that showed that the FWS failed to adequately assess the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline on endangered whooping cranes. A FOIA request revealed that the FWS ignored biologists’ recommendations to strengthen protections for red wolves and eliminate regulatory loopholes that allowed the species to be illegally killed. Under the new guidance, the likelihood for the FWS to withhold important documents like these could increase, making it more difficult to challenge decisions that cause harm to imperiled species.
Ranking Member Grijalva and committee Democrats have been vigilant in defending the Endangered Species Act even as the Trump administration and congressional Republicans have worked to weaken existing law.