WASHINGTON (CN) – A new federal complaint by environmentalists accuses regulators of stonewalling a records request to hamstring their objection against the Navy’s use of federal forest land for electronic-warfare training.
In its March 14 complaint, the National Parks Conservation Association says nine months have passed since it filed its records for records under the Freedom of Information Act.
At the time, the U.S. Forest Service had not yet even issued a draft of its decision to let the Navy operate three trucks that emit electromagnetic energy in Washington state’s Olympic National Forest.
Hoping to simulate systems operated by enemy combatants, the Navy’s efforts come at a time when control the electromagnetic spectrum is emerging as a pre-eminent war tactic, capable of being waged from the air, land or sea.
The conservationists note that they expected the Forest Service to issue a draft decision on the request in late-2016, so they brought their records request to fully and effectively participate in the objection process.
When the Forest Service published its draft decision on Nov. 29, however, the conservationists were still waiting to hear the outcome of their records request, by then long outstanding.
Still waiting on that determination, the conservationists say the Forest Service violated FOIA in several ways.
“In this case, USFS has missed every applicable FOIA deadline,” the complaint states. “Critically, although USFS knew that NPCA requested the records in order to effectively object to USFS’s draft decision, USFS failed to release responsive records before closing the objection period. USFS has therefore deprived NPCA of one of the primary purposes of its FOIA request — to fully and effectively object to the draft decision.”
When the Forest Service issued its draft decision in November, it created a 45-day window for groups to make known any objections.
“USFS has failed to produce a single responsive record to NPCA before the objection period for its Draft Decision closed on January 13, 2017,” according to the complaint.
The conservationists note that they are still waiting for a “single responsive record to” their June 10, 2016, FOIA request.
Though the deadline has passed, the conservationists say the records at issue “are still critically important to NPCA as they will inform NPCA of the basis on which USFS issued its draft decision and may issue its final decision.”
“Moreover, the requested records are still highly relevant to NPCA’s ongoing public education and outreach efforts regarding impacts to Olympic National Park from electronic warfare training,” the complain states.
The Forest Service’s draft decision stipulates that the mobile emitters can operate only on Olympic National Forest roads, but the conservationists note that the training activities associated with these emitters would occur on and above the Olympic Peninsula and the Olympic National Forest, and above Olympic National Park.
Though the Forest Service issued what is known as a Finding of No Significant Impact, the conservationists say that the Pacific Northwest Electronic Warfare Range “will adversely impact Olympic National Park and its environs.”
The U.S. National Parks Service said in an email it does not comment on pending litigation.
The National Parks Conservation Association is represented by Nina Robertson, a San Francisco attorney with the Lewis & Clark Law School’s Earthrise Law Center.
Rob Smith, the NCPA’s northwest regional director, noted that the group’s goal in bringing suit “is to ensure that the remarkable values of Olympic National Park are protected.”
“As such, we must have information to ensure activities on US Forest Service-managed lands that may impact the national park are adequately assessed and considered,” Smith added in an email.