Alabama circuit court judge Robert Vance lifted a temporary restraining order on the Montgomery Advertiser and USA Today that prevented them from revealing just how old and decrepit gas lines in the Heart of Dixie really are.
“In its motion for a temporary restraining order, the plaintiff raised the danger of terrorism and sabotage if data within its Distribution Integrity Management Plan were publicly disclosed,” the judge wrote in his order. “While such possibilities might exist, they now appear to be only vague phantoms. On reflection, the court finds that it too readily focused on such ghosts in entering the Temporary Restraining Order sought by the plaintiff.”
We’ve seen how post-9/11 laws and regulations that were ostensibly intended to keep information about critical infrastructure out of terrorists’ hands have been abused by industry to conceal flagrant safety violations.
Perhaps the most infamous current example is the way Greg Abbott, who is currently running for Governor of Texas on the Koch brothers’ dime, invoked such a statute to restrict state records about dangerous chemical storage sites from public view after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas killed 15 people and injured more than 200. The purpose of such decisions has nothing to do with protecting Americans — and everything to do with protecting profits from legal liability.
That is just as true in this case, for Alabama Gas still uses more than 800 miles of dangerous, deteriorating cast-iron mains that are vulnerable to corrosion and leaks. One such leak caused an explosion in Birmingham last December that killed a woman and injured several residents of her apartment complex.
Whereas a gag order is relatively cheap, replacing those miles of pipe is a hugely expensive undertaking. As Judge Vance determined, the only problem with this legal strategy by Alabama Gas was their blatantly-unconstitutional prior restraint on newspapers trying to report matters of public interest.