Alabama Censorship over Local Newspaper
By Nicolas Walker
A state court judge in Alabama prevented the Montgomery Advertiser from publishing a story about Alabama Gas Corp.’s utility plan for gas line safety. The information had been released by the Alabama Public Service Commission after an open records request.
. . . . Algasco owns hundreds of miles of pipelines and server around 425,000 customers in central Alabama. The Montgomery Advertiser had printed an article saying that it had requested a copy of the company’s Distribution Integrity Management Plan on Wednesday. In response, Algasco claimed that such a document had been released with no required notification to the company and that it contained safety-related information. Judge Vance temporarily prevented the Advisor from writing about the issue, claiming that there was a reasonable chance that the document not be made public.
In response, the newspaper refused any request made by Algasco to return the document.
According to the newspapers lawyers, judge Vance’s ban represents an unprecedented unconstitutional restraint and that the information is already available publicly. Executive Editor Tom Clifford told reporters that the bulk of the document was already available on Algasco’s website.
In return, the utility company claimed that certain details could not be released as they would endanger public safety (according to them, they show precise locations of critical gas infrastructure). They added that preventing the Advisor from printing those details represented a matter of homeland security and as such, falls under the Alabama law.
Alagasco sues Advertiser to stop use of pipe safety plan
Kala Kachmar, Montgomery Advertiser
Alabama Gas Corporation has taken legal action to attempt to stop the Montgomery Advertiser from publishing or writing about the company’s document that outlines a plan to ensure the safety of gas pipes.
The document, Alagasco’s Distribution Integrity Management Plan (DIMP), was obtained in June through a public records request to the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC), which oversees the state’s utilities….
….. The Advertiser’s use of the document is part of a national USA Today investigation that examines the dangers of cast iron pipes, which when corroded can cause gas leaks, fires and explosions. According to federal data, Alagasco has about 833 miles of cast iron main gas lines, which is the highest of any gas company in Alabama and ninth highest in the country….