The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reportedly withholding a recent study on the effects a spill from the Dakota Access Pipeline could have on the environment. The pipeline, which inspired months of protest and heavy-handed tactics from police in North Dakota, was delayed in December but fast-tracked when President Trump took office. It is expected to be operational within a month.
In March, independent news organization MuckRock filed a Freedom of Information Act request to gain access to the environmental assessment the Corps had conducted to determine the effects an oil spill could have on Lake Oahe. Huffington Post explained what prompted MuckRock co-founder Michael Morisy to submit the request:
“The assessment’s existence was mentioned in an internal Army Corps memo about the controversial 1,172-mile pipeline, which will carry North Dakota crude oil through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois.
“The memo mentioned that several documents were withheld from the public and from representatives of a Native American tribe that has objected to the project ‘because of security concerns and sensitivities.’”
Morisy set out to find out what was withheld, only to be told the information was too sensitive and could harm public safety.
“The referenced document contains information related to sensitive infrastructure that if misused could endanger people’s lives and property,” said a letter from Army Corps lawyer Damon Roberts, who denied the FOIA request. MuckRock published the letter Tuesday.
Rather than censoring certain parts of the report, the government chose to withhold the entire document. In citing vague dangers to the public, the Army Corps of Engineers is employing a common argument used by government agencies to justify withholding information from the public.
“I understand exempting some details, but knowing the impact of a natural disaster should be public,” Morisy told the Huffington Post. “I was very disappointed.”
Further, Morisy and MuckRock claim the Corps was skirting accountability and treating the outlet unfairly even before they issued their denial letter. According to MuckRock:
“Previously, the ACoE had obstructed access to DAPL documents by designating MuckRock – a non-profit – a commercial entity in order to charge higher processing fees. The ACoE continues to misrepresent MuckRock in outstanding DAPL-related requests.”
The pipeline is scheduled to be operational as soon as next month, which is all the more concerning considering the numerous oil spills that have continued to occur in recent months. One of those spills came from a pipeline owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the same company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline.