As outlined in earlier posts, there have been two Freedom of Information Act requests submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for information related to CGC STORIS, her illegal sale and her illegal export to Mexico for scrapping.
At 5:35 p.m. on Friday, May 02, 2014, I received an email from Lynn Kelly of the EPA General Counsel’s Office. This is an update to my request for a fee waiver associated with the second STORIS-related FOIA I had submitted on Feb. 17. The EPA’s initial response to what I believed was a valid, thorough and well-worded request was “messed-up,” to put it politely. Long story short, the EPA denied the fee waiver request Feb. 26 from their position that releasing the information would not be of public benefit, also citing that the methods in which I planned to share the information would not be sufficient to meet the fee waiver criteria of the FOIA laws. The goofy circumstances of EPA’s response to this FOIA, it’s filing and the fee waiver rejection were posted to Facebook on Feb. 26 and can also be found here on this blog. Following the bureaucratic runaround my initial request received, I submitted an appeal dated March 21.
Despite the fee waiver denial issued in February, I ultimately received much of the requested information on April 15 and did not receive an invoice or bill from EPA. (This is the release accompanied by a cover letter stamped MARCH 15, a full month off. This is another ludicrous aspect of EPA’s response.) I have until May 15 to appeal and will be submitting that letter shortly. However I already have the information I requested and wasn’t billed for it. Yet EPA is apparently still trying to decide whether or not they should waive the fees for the request after I’ve already received the documents? Wait. It gets more complicated than that.
It appears that the fee waiver denial received on May 2 follows the same reasoning as the denial letter that I appealed, claiming that the method of dissemination would not meet the FOIA statute, particularly since the responding counsel couldn’t find a Web page for the STORIS Museum. The May 2 letter is here: http://goo.gl/PgEcSg
The problem is that the FOIA in question was dated Feb. 17, a month and a half after I already knew the STORIS Museum Web site was shut down and no longer existed. I never said anything about the old Web site in the February FOIA request as the new Facebook USCGCSTORIS: Life and Death of a CG Queen page and the new Web site www.uscgcstoris.net were already up and running. I explained that these new Facebook and Web pages were created specifically to disseminate the information being sought from the EPA, Coast Guard, General Services Administration and Maritime Administration. Since then, there has been an additional source set up as a Google Blog at www.uscgcstoris.blogspot.com. I also pointed out in the appeal that Danielle Ivory, an investigative reporter with the New York Times, was interested in the STORIS situation as well as Senator Mark Begich of Alaska and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. There were several other nonprofit policy and environmental groups I also cited as recipients of the information being sought. This matter, I explained, is clearly a matter of public interest and my level of specificity for the supporting reasoning was more detailed than the original request in order to validate my argument. The verbiage of the May 2 fee waiver denial also does not address the more specific explanation of the appeal. Did they even bother to read the appeal? Who knows? Did they contact me to ask for clarification in the interests of open and transparent government?
Then where did the reference to the STORIS Museum Web site and Facebook pages come from? What appears to have happened is that EPA has confused paperwork and appeals I submitted for the February FOIA request with appeals for the original request that I submitted on Nov. 4, 2013. On the afternoon of Jan. 17, I received a final fee waiver denial for the original FOIA request. That fee waiver denial is located here: http://goo.gl/70RRJX The process of the EPA FOIA submission was outlined on Facebook Feb. 21 and is also posted here on the Google Blog site.
Ultimately, the fee waiver for the first FOIA became moot, as EPA supposedly missed an internal deadline and ended up notifying me that I wouldn’t be charged for the information. That email notification is here: http://goo.gl/KXEdS3. Since the materials were also simultaneously released to Danielle Ivory of the NY Times through her identical FOIA request granted for public benefit release, I shouldn’t have been charged anyway. I knew that I had seen the particular verbiage about the STORIS Museum sites somewhere else and had to go back to the original fee waiver denial from January to recognize where it came from. So the May 2 letter denied my fee waiver for the February FOIA based on information from the other request and appeals made weeks earlier. It leaves me shaking my head. Again, did they even read the appeal I submitted for the Feb. 17 FOIA? It’s also significant that a final denial from was based on paperwork from the wrong appeal. The bureaucracy is maddening. It’s just not as maddening as what was allowed to happen to STORIS, so we carry on.
As far as the original FOIA, that process is still underway but at a more advanced stage.
At 5:41 p.m., May 2, I received a second FOIA update from EPA, just a few minutes after the message described earlier. This update was related to the first FOIA request from Nov. 4 and is notifying me that EPA requires an extension to continue reviewing the file. It would be nice if the description of what they are reviewing would have been included. I'm sure that I'm not the only person with multiple FOIAs through EPA. My guess is that the outstanding appeal being reviewed for the original request is related to withheld and redacted information that EPA removed from the released information. I have sent an email for clarification. It would be helpful if they would have been specific as to what the agency was referring to, since there are multiple files open related to STORIS and it seems as though every time a different region, department or official within EPA gets involved, the tracking number appears to change. EPA has changed the control/tracking numbers for the FOIAs on more than one occasion, which makes it difficult to keep tabs on which files they are reviewing, especially since I wasn’t notified of the number changes and had to physically look them up on the EPA’s online FOIA database to figure out to which files they were referring. Again, I’m apparently applying too much common sense and asking too much.
All of these issues raise questions about the internal communication and policies at EPA. They also raise some serious questions about how EPA is handling the process and release of information that should be public related to STORIS and the government’s complicity in allowing her destruction.
We deserve to know the truth about what happened to STORIS.