McAuliffe stands strong on fracking trade-secret exemptions from FOIA

lawLegislation attempting to exempt hydraulic fracturing trade secrets from the Freedom of Information Act of Virginia met bipartisan rejection in Virginia’s General Assembly, in large part because of concerns highlighted by Governor Terry McAuliffe’s administration.

The bills would have shielded specific chemical information used in fracking from public disclosure required by Virginia’s newly amended drilling regulations.

Several conservation groups, as well as the Virginia Association of Counties, local leaders in King George County, the Association of Soil and Water Conservation, and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, voiced concerns early on. Growing opposition of the bills focused on the need for this information to ensure the safety of nearby drinking water resources and concerns that the exemptions would hinder local officials who need the information to adequately plan for emergencies.

“We applaud Governor McAuliffe and his administration for listening to local government and the call from citizens,” said Kristin Davis, attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “They supported our attempts to find a solution that balanced protection of public health and the environment with industry’s interest in avoiding disclosure of these ingredients. When the Virginia Oil and Gas Association and Virginia Petroleum Council rejected these proposals, the administration stood firm in their commitment to Virginians and the environment.”

At various General Assembly hearings, officials from the Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Public Health testified that their agencies—which are tasked with protecting public health and the environment across the Commonwealth—must be able to efficiently access information about the fracking chemicals. Without agreement on that point, these agencies and the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy opposed the proposed exemption.

Following bipartisan rejection of the bills, the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy confirmed that it will not exempt any information sent to it on fracking fluids and will share the information with anyone that requests it, including other state and federal agencies.

“The defeat of these bills is an example of good government,” said Davis. “Citizens, local leaders, and organizations stepped up to explain why this FOIA exemption was a bad idea for Virginia, and Richmond listened.”

SELC, along with Friends of the Rappahannock and other local partners, has worked hard to ensure strong local and state drilling oversight, including in Tidewater Virginia where more than 85,000 acres of land in the Taylorsville Basin was leased for possible shale gas drilling. King George County has passed land use laws that protect 91 percent of the county from fracking and Westmoreland County is considering options to ban or limit fracking in the county. And in the Shenandoah Valley last week, Augusta County voted to ban fracking entirely.

 

About the Southern Environmental Law Center

The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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