Peace Group Calls for NEPA Disclosure on Construction at Bangor Base

April 30, 2014

A peace group wants higher courts to hear its argument that the Navy is required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to disclose more information about the impacts of a nuclear submarine facility upgrade at the Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base in Washington state.

The group, the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, lost its NEPA bid in an earlier U.S. District Court summary judgment issued January 8, 2014. That decision dismissed Ground Zero's effort to get the Navy to disclose more environmental and other risks of the facility, especially the risk of explosion. An earlier 2012 decision by the same court imposed a gag order sealing some filings that had previously been public.

In February 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declined to review the gag order on an interim basis. Appeal of the overall case is still pending.

The case, known as Ground Zero v. Navy, echoes an earlier 2011 case in which the Supreme Court came down in favor of greater public information. That case, Milner v. Navy, restricted the "personnel" exemption to the Freedom of Information Act. The Society of Environmental Journalists was among journalism groups who submitted one of several friend-of-the-court briefs in the Milner case.

The current case focuses on construction of a second explosives-handling wharf at the base, a homeport for Trident nuclear missile submarines. The Navy started an environmental impact statement in 2009, and released its final version in the Spring of 2012. But Ground Zero and another group, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, argue that the Navy's EIS was defective because it did not consider enough information. For example, the Defense Department's own Explosives Safety Board had refused to grant permission for the project. The explosives risks at issue are from rocket fuel, not nuclear warheads.

Plaintiffs in the case say the Navy had filed many documents about risks in open court, but then reversed field and asked for them to be sealed under the gag order.

Ground Zero filed its notice of appeal of District Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton's decision on February 6, 2014. Opening briefs for the appeal are due May 19, 2014.