Anne Hedges & Derf Johnson
Some of you may have caught the headlines recently about Pennsylvania Power and Light’s shameless suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). PPL is trying to prevent the EPA from releasing publicly held documents regarding its Colstrip plant.
PPL’s suit comes in response to a 2-year old request to the EPA by MEIC for documents and data related to any upgrades or changes that the facility has undergone within the past two decades. These documents will shed light on how the plant has been running, as well as whether the government agencies responsible for regulating the plant have been doing their job.
Montana’s have a long history with corporate secrecy and abuse of power, going back to the days of the copper kings and the Anaconda Company. Anaconda Company’s abuse of our public system of governance and our media became so pervasive and widespread that Montana ultimately had to rewrite the basic foundation of our system of government, our constitution, in 1972. Thankfully, this rewrite of our constitution represented the death-blow to the “copper-collar” era, and our constitution now more accurately reflects the will of the people to shun corporate and government secrecy and shine a light on government processes and decision making.
Montana’s far-sighted Constitutional Convention delegates included a Right to Know clause, providing citizens access to our government. This right is spelled out in Article II, Section 9, and is a fundamental right for the citizens of Montana:
Right to know. No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.
Of course, PPL claims its suit is intended to prevent the release of data on capital improvement projects, and should be considered confidential to prevent competitors from accessing the data and using it for market advantage. This claim, of course, is recognized as false by the EPA and is the reason for PPL’s suit. And really, how do capital improvements that were potentially made decades ago rise to the level of confidentiality because of concerns over market advantage?
Make no mistake, what PPL is trying to prevent is public access to government decisions. The claim of confidential information is a smoke screen and a sham, and the courts will likely not buy it. PPL longs for the days of smoky back rooms, poor public oversight, and would prefer that Montana put on a “Coal Collar” and be prevented from accessing the basic mechanisms of our democracy.
So we’d simply like to ask PPL, what is it you are trying to hide?