Challenging BPA’s Lack of Transparency over Ties to Salmon Research
30th of Dec 2022
Advocates for the West recently filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit against the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to compel the agency to produce certain records as required by law.
The records concern BPA’s relationship with Canadian research company Kintama Research Services. Over the last decade, BPA has funded Kintama’s research, including studies on the causes of declining salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest. Despite significant scientific evidence to the contrary, Kintama is a proponent of the theory that ocean conditions—rather than the hydroelectric dams managed in part by BPA—are the main driver of declining Columbia Basin salmon populations.
“That theory is very convenient for BPA. If true, it would relieve the agency of the financial burden of salmon mitigation efforts and allow the federal hydroelectric dams to be managed for maximum profitability,” said Andrew Missel, Staff Attorney at Advocates for the West.
Under FOIA, Advocates for the West has requested contracts, communications, and records documenting meetings between BPA and Kintama. However, in responding to our request BPA redacted all or part of more than 1,500 pages of those records, despite not meeting requirements for exemption of the materials under FOIA.
Kintama’s supposed scientific independence from BPA has been key to both BPA and Kintama. However, in redacting or withholding the requested records, BPA is relying on a FOIA exemption that allows agencies to withhold communications with private entities like Kintama only when they act in a capacity similar to an agency employee.
“BPA can’t have it both ways,” said Missel. “It can’t cite Kintama as an independent scientific authority while at the same time claiming Kintama as the equivalent of a BPA employee for FOIA purposes. If BPA wants to withhold its communications with Kintama from the public, it will have to disavow Kintama’s independence.”
This is the second FOIA suit Advocates for the West has filed against BPA since 2020. The first concerned several sets of records that Advocates for the West requested from BPA under FOIA, but that BPA did not comply with the statutory deadlines in providing.