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Tri-Valley CAREs
Communities Against a Radioactive Environment

for more information, contact

Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs, (925) 443-7148
Steve Sugarman, Esq., Lead Attorney, (505) 983-1700

for immediate release, November 2, 2000

Freedom Of Information Not So Free At Energy Department: Agency Violates Law, Keeps Unclassified Documents Secret

Livermore Lab "Watchdog" Organization Files 2 Lawsuits Today; Cases To Set Precedent With National Implications As Plaintiffs Ask Court To Rule On Pattern Of Abuse

LIVERMORE -- Today, Tri-Valley CAREs filed two lawsuits in federal court in San Francisco against the Dept. Of Energy (DOE) for failing to provide records requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

One of the two cases involves the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a nuclear weapons design project under construction at the Livermore Lab.

On September 1, 1999, Tri-Valley CAREs requested all documents involving the NIF "Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) management meetings." ICF is the nuclear fusion method to be used at the NIF mega-laser.

It was at the monthly ICF meetings that NIF's rapidly-slipping schedule and other technical problems were discussed between managerial staff at Livermore Lab, Los Alamos Lab, Sandia Lab and DOE Headquarters, among others.

Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs' Executive Director explained, "It follows, therefore, that the records from these meetings should shed some light on the question of who knew what when about NIF's spiraling costs, unresolved technical difficulties and schedule delays. This is unclassified information to which the public has a right."

Under FOIA, the DOE had 20 days to respond.

"Instead, more than a year has passed while DOE has, in essence, thumbed its nose at the law," said Kelley.

First, DOE wrote Tri-Valley CAREs saying that it would not produce the ICF managers' meeting notes taken by DOE and weapons lab personnel. The Department claimed that the notes were not government business; that they were the personal property of the employees-as if the meeting notes were the same as grocery lists compiled on the employees' off-duty hours.

Tri-Valley CAREs appealed this decision to the DOE's Office of Hearings and Appeals. The Office ruled that DOE had not adequately justified its decision to withhold the meeting notes, and therefore remanded the matter back to DOE for further consideration. DOE, however, proceeded to merely reaffirm its earlier decision not to produce the notes.

Tri-Valley CAREs' suit challenges DOE's decision, and asks the court to find the agency in violation of the law - and to require the release of the meeting notes. Further, the suit seeks to command the DOE to produce numerous, additional documents listed in the group's 1999 FOIA request that the agency has similarly kept hidden from the public.

The group's second FOIA lawsuit, also filed today, involves documents outlining a DOE plan to shift various nuclear weapons activities around the country. This proposal, dubbed the mega-strategy by DOE, would dramatically increase the plutonium work load at Livermore Lab.

Under the mega-strategy, Livermore would take over the weapon re-design work for the W80, a nuclear warhead originally developed at Los Alamos with both sea and air-launched versions. Moreover, under this proposal Livermore Lab would take over the entire nuclear stockpile plutonium pit surveillance program from Los Alamos Lab. Both of these changes would result in more plutonium coming to Livermore.

"The DOE has shrouded this plan in darkest secrecy, not because of genuine national security concerns but, rather, to circumvent the community's right to know," charged Kelley.

On September 15, 1999, Tri-Valley CAREs filed a FOIA request for all documents pertaining to the DOE's so-called mega-strategy in order to assure an adequate public understanding of the proposal. Again, more than a year has elapsed since the FOIA request was filed-and DOE has still not provided a single responsive document. The lawsuit asks the court to compel production of the requested records.

"The DOE has exhibited a 'pattern and practice' of not responding to FOIA requests in the manner prescribed by statute. Routinely, DOE has failed to fulfill Tri-Valley CAREs' FOIA requests, and those of other organizations and individuals, within the allotted timeframe," explained noted New Mexico attorney Steve Sugarman.

"The DOE's conduct frustrates Tri-Valley CAREs' efforts to educate the public regarding major activities at the DOE's Livermore Lab and throughout the nuclear weapons complex," Kelley added.

Therefore, in both lawsuits, Tri-Valley CAREs also asks the judge to issue a court order appointing a Special Counsel to investigate DOE's pattern of failing to comply with the law. The Special Counsel would then determine whether disciplinary action is warranted, and against whom. "A positive ruling could set a precedent with national implications," said Sugarman.

Tri-Valley CAREs was forced to bring a similar FOIA lawsuit in 1998. Only after the group filed a complaint did DOE begin to produce the requested documents. Attorney Steve Sugarman handled the 1998 case for the organization, and is lead attorney in the two current actions.

"Tri-Valley CAREs should not be in the position where it has to file lawsuits in order to obtain public information," Sugarman noted. "The Freedom of Information Act was enacted specifically so organizations like Tri-Valley CAREs would have free access to documents that disclose the operations of the government. These two lawsuits are intended to vindicate the public's right to stay informed about this country's nuclear weapons programs and to understand the impact of those programs on their lives."

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