GREAT FALLS — Montana Attorney General Tim Fox on Wednesday gave a conservation group the records it wanted about Fox’s decision to join other states in protesting plans to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal land.
Fox’s office turned over the documents to the Montana Environmental Information Center one day before a judge was to hear arguments in an open-records lawsuit, the Great Falls Tribune reported.
The contents of the documents weren’t immediately known. Fox spokesman John Barnes described them in an email to The Associated Press as “redacted unrelated information regarding separate litigation matters.”
The center first asked for the records in August, after Fox joined attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska and Oklahoma in sending a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell expressing “serious concerns” and “strong objection” to proposed rules governing hydraulic fracturing on federal land.
Fox released some of the documents in November and January, but he withheld others, in part citing litigation or expected litigation.
The conservation group filed its lawsuit in January.
Barnes said at the time the lawsuit was politically motivated because it named only Fox, a Republican, even though “both our Democrat governor and the attorney general worked together to protect Montana jobs from unnecessary federal regulation.”
On the same day the attorneys general sent their letter, Gov. Steve Bullock wrote his own letter to Jewell noting his “deep concern” about proposed rules involving hydraulic fracturing.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, boosts production from oil and gas wells by pumping pressurized water and chemicals into the wells to fracture open deposits.
On Wednesday, Barnes said the Attorney General’s Office was no longer concerned that releasing the documents would compromise any litigation.
Jim Jensen, director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, said Fox’s office had “thrown in the towel.”
“I hope it wasn’t a matter of taking eight months just to read the constitution to realize what they had to do under the law,” he said.
In an agreement signed Wednesday, Fox’s office still maintained that attorney-client privilege and work-product privilege applied to some of the information but said the office was waiving those privileges.
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