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Tri-Valley CAREs Settles Freedom of Information Act Litigation with the Department of Energy

At Tri-Valley CAREs, we rely on many tools to monitor activities at Livermore Lab and across the US nuclear weapons complex. Chief among them is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a statute that provides that any member of the public or organization can request documents from the federal government, including federal agencies, and requires production of the documents within 20 days of the request (unless the documents are exempt from release pursuant to narrow exemptions set out in the statute).

After two years of litigation in Federal Court against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for violation of their responsibilities under FOIA, Tri-Valley CAREs has finally reached a settlement with the agency. The Complaint alleged that the DOE had failed to respond to six of Tri-Valley CAREs' request with any responsive documents and had displayed a pattern of violating FOIA. (Some of the requests had languished for over a year without any responsive documents). Because of our litigation, documents were finally produced in response to all of our requests.

The first FOIA request that was part of the litigation was sent to DOE on May 24, 2007, seeking records concerning the activities of the Institutional Biosafety Committee (hereinafter �IBC�) at LLNL. It wasn�t until August 2009, more than two years after that Tri-Valley CAREs received the first set of final responsive documents. DOE sent another set of responsive documents in February 2010.

Another FOIA request was sent on June 26, 2007 to DOE seeking records concerning the use of plutonium at the National Ignition Facility, including facility preparations, modifications, modernization, costs, and schedules from January 1, 2003, to the present. Tri-Valley CAREs finally received 42 final responsive documents on September 22, 2009, over two years since Tri-Valley CAREs� FOIA request. Only a few of the documents were provided in their entirety however; many of the responsive documents were redacted and provided with deletions.

The third FOIA request that was part of the litigation was also sent on June 26, 2007 requesting records concerning the Tritium Facility Modernization Project, including documents related to programs, projects, reports, schedules, letters, notes, and memos. Again, it took DOE over two years to respond to our request, and only after Tri-Valley CAREs filed several appeals, and notice of statutory violation. DOE finally sent final responsive documents in August 2009, which included three architectural drawings, a topographical survey, a site demolition plan and the grading and paving plan. There were 59 other drawings produced, albeit with large portions of the drawings entirely redacted.

The fourth FOIA request that was part of the litigation was sent on October 24, 2007 seeking records regarding the segmentation of the Tritium Facility (Building 331) at LLNL into two Nuclear Hazard Category 3 facilities. Consistent with its practice of providing an untimely response, DOE provided final responsive documents almost two years after Tri-Valley CAREs� request in August 2009.

Tri-Valley CAREs sent another FOIA request on May 22, 2008, to DOE seeking records concerning the 2008 assessment of the security programs at LLNL conducted by DOE�s Office of Health, Safety and Security. Tri-Valley CAREs received final responsive documents in August 2009, many of which were heavily redacted.

The last FOIA request part of the litigation was sent on July 2, 2008, requesting records concerning the "work for others" activities by the DOE at LLNL's Site 300 on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. Almost a year later, DOE responded with final responsive documents in March 31, 2009.

Tri-Valley CAREs received responsive documents to all its six FOIA requests after filing suit in December 2008 and also successfully recovered a portion of its attorneys fees as part of the settlement of the case.