Keystone Pipeline Records Stonewall Ignites Lawsuit

WASHINGTON (CN) – Conservationists claim in a federal complaint that the State Department has for five years left them waiting for public documents on the path of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Joined in the May 18 complaint by advocate Thomas Bachand, the Center for Biological Diversity accuses the State Department of having improperly stonewalled their attempts to learn more about the pipeline’s path from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Together, Bachand and the center have filed five requests for the data under the Freedom of Information Act since 2012.

Bachand submitted the first of these requests in April 2012, asking the State Department to turn over “mapping data” on the controversial pipeline. This included “pipeline milepost marker longitude and latitude data for the entire route,” according to the complaint, as well as a collection of data called a “GIS shape file,” which shows the pipeline’s geographic route through the country.

The State Department rejected Bachand’s request more than a year after he filed it, saying it did not have the pipeline’s geographic data because a private company performed the environmental impact statement for TransCanada, which is building the pipeline. Saying the agency held firm on appeal, Bachand it as saying TransCanada “made clear that it retained all rights to that data and placed express limitations on its use.”

Unsatisfied with the answer, Bachand renewed his request in September 2014. Bachand says his appeals went ignored after the State Department denied his requests for expedited processing and a fee waiver.

“The Keystone XL GIS data is referenced tens of thousands of times in the State Department’s environmental review, yet the data itself is fully redacted,” Bachand said in a joint statement with the Center for Biological Diversity. “State Department officials claim they do not have the data, but if that’s the case how can they have possibly considered its environmental consequences? The truth is that the State Department unquestionably possesses and controls this critical information.”

Bachand and the center have spent the last three years filing additional Freedom of Information Act requests. Two of these requests sought the same mapping data that Bachand requested by himself, and another requested information on the department’s handling of Bachand’s original request. None of the requests have proved fruitful, however, with the agency maintaining that it does not have access to the mapping information the center and Bachand are after.

The center says the mapping data their requests could reveal would help show what habitats and lands the pipeline would disturb if built.

“We can’t fully understand Keystone XL’s threats to our water and wildlife until the Trump administration releases public documents about this dangerous pipeline’s route,” Amy Atwood, endangered species legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “With the State Department illegally refusing to provide information about a leak-prone pipeline that could pollute hundreds of waterways, we’re left with no option but to sue.”

Filed with a federal judge in Washington, the 33-page complaint seeks a court order directing the State Department to turn over all of the information in the various requests the center and Bachand have filed. Both the Center for Biological Diversity and Bachand are represented by Eugene, Ore., attorney David Bahr.

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing agency policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.