For Immediate Release
WASHINGTON, DC -- The national advocacy group Food & Water Watch filed suit against the Department of Energy (DOE) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today, charging the agency has refused to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents related to a massive loan guarantee for a fossil fuel infrastructure project.
The controversial $1.9 billion loan guarantee was sought by the Appalachian Development Group to support its plan to build a massive ethane gas liquid ‘storage hub’ in Appalachia - a project meant to stabilize feedstock prices for future petrochemical and plastics manufacturing.
The loan guarantee was sought as part of the DOE’s Title XVII program, which requires that eligible projects must meet several criteria, including a provision that facilities must “avoid, reduce or sequester greenhouse gases.” A facility that would store ethane, a plastics feedstock derived from fracked gas, in order to utilize those gas liquids in petrochemical manufacturing would plainly not qualify on those grounds.
In April 2019, in order to better understand how a new fossil fuel project could be deemed eligible for a loan program geared towards clean energy, Food & Water Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking the company’s application, as well as communications related to the request.
But the Department of Energy’s subsequent release was incomplete, and filled with substantial redactions. The agency redacted the entire risk assessment, which keeps communities in the dark about the dangers of the project. This is of particular concern as a similar project exploded in Mont Belvieu, Texas on July 29.. DOE additionally withheld the greenhouse gas emissions estimates, which makes it impossible to determine how the project could be eligible for the loan guarantee in the first place.
In December, Food & Water Watch filed an appeal with the DOE’s Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA), challenging the agency’s compliance with the FOIA request.
OHA granted the appeal in January, instructing the Department of Energy to conduct a further review and search in accordance with the original request. Since then, despite inquiring about production for several months, the DOE has still failed to produce the requested records.
In the current suit, Food & Water Watch is seeking an order from the court requiring the Department of Energy to comply with FOIA by immediately producing the records that were requested.
Food & Water Watch attorney Adam Carlesco released the following statement:
“The climate crisis demands a swift and substantial shift away from fossil fuels. The global plastics crisis will not be addressed by building out more manufacturing capacity. The Department of Energy appears to think that a massive fracked gas liquids storage system is a clean energy project, and can hide information about this decision from the public. This loan guarantee comes down to a patently absurd and dangerous manipulation of a federal program intended to support the kinds of clean energy projects the country desperately needs. By repeatedly failing to explain its decision-making, the Department of Energy is acting as if it has something to hide, and attempting to use the considerable power of the federal government to deepen our addiction to fossil fuels.”
The loan guarantee program has come under political scrutiny both last year and last week, when the House of Representatives passed an amendment filed by Reps Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) clarifying that funds used in the Title XVII clean energy program cannot be used to support projects that do not decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
“This storage hub would help create a cluster of fracked gas, petrochemical and plastics infrastructure that would transform the region into a new Cancer Alley - and it would absurdly be enabled by a federal clean energy program,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director at Food & Water Watch. “This Trump-friendly scheme would expose Appalachian residents to increased harm from fracking and industrial toxic emissions, while creating more plastic trash that is filling our oceans.”