If you are looking for yet another category of environmental information that the U.S. public is not allowed to know about, try international trade agreements. A recent court decision — one that got little attention from the news media — upheld the federal government's authority to keep secret some information about the health and environmental impacts of trade treaties.
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Exxon claims trade secrecy in its bid to hide inspection results for the pipeline that leaked 5,000 barrels of Canadian oil sands crude in Arkansas last spring, spurring debate over transparency and spill readiness. EnergyWire's Elana Schor has the story, raising questions that have still to be answered.
The revised proposal still allows companies to claim trade secrecy on chemicals in fracking fluid — and to fulfill disclosure requirements on the remainder by submitting them to the controversial FracFocus database, run by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and the Groundwater Protection Council.
Styrene (used to make plastic packaging) was listed in June 2011 as "reasonably anticipated" to be cancer-causing in the biennial federal Report on Carcinogens. Industry not only challenged, but also mounted a political campaign, persuading a powerful House Appropriations subcommittee chairman to withhold spending for the report until NTP reconsidered the styrene listing.
NC's Senate is considering an industry-sponsored bill that would extend restrictions on undercover investigations beyond livestock operations to include other categories of industry. The state's Chamber of Commerce supports it, saying industries beyond agriculture want protection from the reporting of workplace abuses.
While a Tennessee governor vetoed "ag-gag" legislation in that state, bills criminalizing the collection of information about abuses in livestock operations are still being pushed in other states — and the mechanism may be extended to stifle reporting on other environmental abuses.
An EPA initiative to protect American consumers from toxic chemicals, especially endocrine disruptors, has run into a brick wall put up by the Obama White House three years ago due to secret urging of the chemical industry — even though the law requires information and arguments on which federal regulations are based to be open and on the record.
In the wake of the Justice Department's chilling seizure of AP phone records, the Department asserted that a Fox reporter violated the law by reporting the news. The unprecedented assertion was made by FBI agent Reginald B. Reyes in a search warrant application that was ultimately approved by a judge, allowing Reyes to snoop through the phone records of Fox News correspondent James Rosen.
The unanimous decision turned down a FOIA request by a California resident for records in Virginia. According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, only a "handful" of states have similar residents-only restrictions to their FOI laws. But the doctrinal impact of the decision is likely to be large, since the court held, among other things, that the First Amendment conveys no right of access to government information.
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