Judge temporarily blocks release of Colstrip data

Associated Press Modified: May 4, 2012 at 3:15 pm •  Published: May 4, 2012

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A federal judge has blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from releasing data about the Colstrip power plant in southeastern Montana to two environmental groups until a challenge by the plant's operator can be heard.

U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull ordered the hold Thursday at the request of operator PPL Montana, which says the data contains trade secrets that are exempt from the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Cebull's order describes the data as a 12-page spreadsheet containing information about every capital project undertaken at the plant between 1980 and 2003 that cost or was budgeted at more than $100,000.

The Montana Environmental Information Center and the Sierra Club requested the information two years ago to learn whether the coal-fired plant, the second-largest west of the Mississippi, is in compliance with environmental laws.

Anne Hedges, the center's program director, said Cebull's order granting the temporary hold was expected but her organization expects to eventually obtain the information.

"We just want the information the company is trying to hide and find out why they're trying to hide it," Hedges said.

PPL Montana spokesman David Hoffman did not return a call for comment.

PPL said in the lawsuit that the EPA should have granted it an exemption to the freedom of information law that deals with trade secrets and confidential commercial or financial information. That exemption says a federal agency can't release the information under FOIA if it causes substantial harm to the competitive position of the person from whom the information was obtained.