Fighting Government Secrecy
Originally published in the Spring 2022 edition of PEEReview.
Over the past few years, PEER has been spending more time collecting environ-mental data from federal agencies. Too often, we find that agencies are coming up short in their stewardship of environmental information, and that is having real world consequences.
Here are just a few examples:
PEER obtained data through the Freedom of Information Act on the health of over 155 million acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. This data sat largely unused in office filing cabinets until PEER digitized the data and created an interactive map. The data shows many of our public lands are failing to meet the agency’s own rangeland health standards, particularly in the cold desert regions of the West. BLM needs to start using information to make better resource management decisions.
We have also been talking a lot lately about our work on the toxic class of chemicals known as PFAS. We recently ended a three-year effort to get all Environmental ProtectionAgency data on PFAS contamination through the Freedom of Information Act. The data we received showed PFAS contamination was much more widespread than many out-side experts had thought. Only when we started publishing this data and making it available in a map form did EPA finally relent, quietly publishing the data on its own website.
That EPA would keep this information from the public is very disturbing. But it gets worse. We are now finding that much of EPA data on chemicals appears to be classified as Confidential Business Information, meaning it cannot be released to the public. This effectively blocks independent scientists from researching these issues and keeps the public in the dark about what is happening in their communities.
If government were working correctly, we wouldn’t need to be constantly fighting to release data and analyzing it ourselves. But government isn’t working correctly, which is why this work we are doing on data with your support is so important.
Tim Whitehouse is the Executive Director of PEER. Among other things, Tim formerly served as an EPA enforcement attorney.