D.C. Circuit: California Water Well Information Exempt from Public Disclosure

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that information about a government project to manage water in the California is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. The Court found that Exemption 9, which covers "geological and geophysical information…concerning wells," permitted the Bureau of Reclamation to withhold information about well location and depth information. "Congress enacted FOIA to 'permit access to official information long shielded unnecessarily from public view,'" the Court said. However, the D.C. Circuit rejected the arguments of environmental group AquAlliance that the legislative history indicated the exemption only applied to oil and gas wells; the Court said it should "assume that Congress meant what it said, and said what it meant." EPIC frequently fights overbroad agency withholding of public records. In EPIC v. FBI, a FOIA lawsuit seeking release of FBI privacy assessments, a court sided with EPIC and agreed that the agency did not justify withholding records under a FOIA exemption for law enforcement procedures and techniques.

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