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Our favorite stories about public lands and opportunities for you to get involved in protecting your outdoor experiences.

 

Interior's Attempt to Undercut the Freedom of Information Act

Tania Lown-Hecht

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Today, the Department of Interior is wrapping up a short public comment period on a rule that would change how it manages Freedom of Information Acts (FOIA).

FOIA makes government activities and information transparent and accessible to the public, which is crucial for journalists and advocacy groups in particular, including Outdoor Alliance and its member groups. American Whitewater, for example, uses FOIA requests to investigate records related to the Bureau of Reclamation's management of the lower Dolores River in southern Colorado, among other projects. Access Fund uses FOIA requests to investigate climbing restrictions and access closures such as the ones at Haleakala National Park in Hawaii and North Cascades National Park in WA.

Among other changes, the new rule will allow Interior to refuse requests that are “vague” or “unreasonably burdensome,” which would, in theory, allow them to dismiss a vast number of requests. According to the rulemaking, Interior is making these changes because of “exponential increases in requests.” FOIA requests have increased about 30%, mostly during Ryan Zinke’s tenure as Secretary of Interior. Having a new administration is often a time of increased public scrutiny, especially when the administration’s priorities are vastly different than prior administrations. We find a 30% increase in requests to be reasonable, and suggest that instead of restructuring how the agency responds to requests, a better solution would be to allocate more resources to addressing FOIA requests.

Click here or at right to view our full policy letter.

Today is the last day to comment on the rule. You can do so here.