Tapping the "Fishbowl" — Is EPA Doing Some Things Right on FOI?

September 23, 2009

OMB Watch, a fierce FOI advocacy group, says EPA has been working hard — and often successfully — to push hitherto restricted data out to the public.

After a decade of growing restrictions on EPA data — could it be true?

"The Obama administration has made government transparency a high priority in its early months," OMB Watch wrote, "and of all the federal agencies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears to be making the quickest progress in turning rhetoric into action. Across a range of issues, the EPA is taking proactive steps to improve transparency, collecting and releasing to the public important environmental data needed to protect the environment and public health."

OMB Watch pointed out that EPA is actively publishing such information on its own initiative, in contrast to other agencies, some of whom still publish data in response to FOIA requests and lawsuits.

Examples cited by OMB Watch include the earliest-ever release of TRI data (for year 2008), monitoring data on atrazine in water, monitoring data on air pollution near schools, and an extensive suite of information about coal-ash disposal and its possible risks.

The group also said that EPA did a good job publishing data about some $7 billion in stimulus spending.

"Overall, the recent actions are a welcome change in openness from EPA," OMB Watch said. But the transparent "fishbowl" declared by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in an April 24, 2009, memo may still be a bit cloudy. "It is not clear that these disparate actions comprise a coherent, uniform policy for public disclosure of environmental information," OMB Watch wrote.