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Citizens for a Healthy Community v. United States Department of the Interior

Citation: 43 ELR 20032
No. 12-cv-01661, (D. Colo., 02/13/2013) (Matsch)

A district court held that BLM must disclose the names of companies who have submitted an "expression of interest" (EOI) in obtaining an oil and gas lease on certain public lands in Colorado. The EOI is the first step in the competitive bidding process for federal oil and gas leases. An environmental group concerned about the environmental impacts of oil and gas development in their county requested BLM to provide the EOIs for the relevant parcels under FOIA. But the BLM denied the request, stating that the information was protected by Exemption 4 because it contains "commercial or financial information obtained from a person that is privileged or confidential." But the information required to be provided by an EOI submitter is not protected by Exemption 4. BLM claimed that because exploration for oil is very competitive, when a submitter's interest in known by its competitors, they gain an unfair advantage. This contention, however, runs contrary to the public sale process. Competition in bidding advances the purpose of getting a fair price for a lease of publicly owned minerals. In addition, the identity of the submitter may be relevant to concerns about the stewardship records of that potential owner. The group's FOIA request, therefore, must be granted.