Reading Room

for immediate release, December 2, 2008

for more information, contact:

Robert Schwartz, Staff Attorney, Tri-Valley CAREs, (925) 443-7148
Marylia Kelley, Executive Director, Tri-Valley CAREs, (925) 443-7148

Bay Area Group Sues to Compel Open Government, Enforce Public Right to Know

Litigation Charges Pattern of Abuse, has National Implications

LIVERMORE, CA - This morning, Tri-Valley CAREs filed a lawsuit in federal district court in San Francisco against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The suit alleges numerous violations of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the nation's key open government law enacted to ensure public access to federal government records.

Tri-Valley CAREs was forced to pursue litigation after DOE and NNSA failed to respond to six, separate FOIA requests within the 20-day timeframe generally required under the statute. By forcing Tri-Valley CAREs to wait up to 18 months and longer with no substantive response, DOE and NNSA have not only violated the law but greatly diminished the value of the information sought, which often becomes less relevant over time.

"As a ?watchdog' organization, Tri-Valley CAREs relies on open government laws like FOIA to do its work on behalf of the community," observed Robert Schwartz, the group's Staff Attorney. "Congress provided that right, but DOE and NNSA have taken it away through abuse and neglect. We're filing this case to protect the public's right to information about our government."

"The information we seek is crucial to community right to know. Without it, Bay Area residents are rendered unable to participate in decisions that affect their health and environment," added Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs' Executive Director and a neighbor of the nuclear weapons lab that is the subject of the suit.

The FOIA requests made by Tri-Valley CAREs concern the operations and activities of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), located in Livermore, California. In one request, the group sought information about the lab's Institutional Biosafety Committee, which itself is ironically intended to promote transparency. However, more than one year after making its request, Tri-Valley CAREs has yet to receive any documents concerning the committee, which is responsible for reviewing LLNL's research involving recombinant DNA and biological materials.

Another of Tri-Valley CAREs' FOIA requests concerns a federal assessment of LLNL's security programs that took place earlier this year. The lab failed the most critical portions of that assessment, including training drills in which mock terrorists were able to succeed in their separate objectives to obtain sufficient material to detonate an "Improvised Nuclear Device" on-site and steal a stash of plutonium and highly enriched uranium. LLNL's vulnerability to terrorist attack could endanger not only the Bay Area but the entire nation, and it increases the pressure on DOE and NNSA to remove these materials from the lab at the earliest practical date.

"Where the government is using taxpayer dollars to harm the environment and threaten public health and safety, the public has a right to know," commented Kelley. "Keeping the requested information hidden prevents the public from understanding the threats they face and demanding the change they need."

In its other FOIA requests, Tri-Valley CAREs sought information concerning LLNL's Tritium Facility, which may present serious public health and safety risks, and the use of plutonium at LLNL's National Ignition Facility (NIF). Plutonium use at the NIF could result in increased radioactive emissions from the lab, endangering public health and undercutting recent LLNL public relations efforts to portray the NIF as a fusion-based energy research facility, not as a nuclear weapons research facility.

"We've identified a pattern and practice by DOE and NNSA of failing to comply with FOIA," noted Schwartz. "Because we intend to address that pattern and practice with this case, a favorable ruling could have national implications."

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Tri-Valley CAREs' complaint can be obtained by visiting http://www.trivalleycares.org/comments/Complaint.pdf on December 2, 2008 immediately following its filing in federal court.

Or, call Robert Schwartz or Marylia Kelley at (925) 443-7148, or email rob@trivalleycares.org or marylia@trivalleycares.org.

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