News stories about the April 17, 2013, explosion of a fertilizer storage plant in the town of West, Texas that killed 15 people have so far focused on the plant operator's risk-disclosure failure, instead of the likely fact that government agencies knew the nature and magnitude of the hazard — or should have known. The bigger story is the regulatory failure — and industry's decades-long campaign to keep the public ignorant of the threats they face. Photo: AP/LM Otero/Available through Creative Commons.
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InvestigateWest's Robert McClure and Jason Alcorn explain how to spin the local angle about how parks built or improved with money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund are increasingly being illegally privatized or converted to something other than parks — including sharing their searchable database of almost 40,000 park grants.SEJ Publication Types:Region:
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, saying that agencies had 20 days to respond to FOIA requests, stating "what documents would or wouldn’t be handed over and why," according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.Region:
It may come as little surprise that an unknown number of Americans could die as a result of White House weakening of food safety rules mandated by Congress. The Office of Management and Budget has been secretly weakening environmental health and safety at industry request for years. The surprise is that we found out.
Natrona County District Judge Catherine Wilking ruled March 25, 2013, that a company could withhold as trade secret the ingredients used in the fluids it pumped under high pressure to fracture gas- and oil-bearing rock. Environmentalists had sought to make the ingredient list public.
The unsealed documents revealed that the potential plaintiffs had received $750,000 from frackers Range Resources, which has been accused of high-handed tactics. The case is important in several respects — even beyond the broader controversy over sealing of civil settlements.Region:
A bipartisan House bill was released March 12, 2013, marking Sunshine Week with proposed steps forward in implementing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The bill, sponsored by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD), was put out in draft form for discussion and has yet to be formally introduced.
An Associated Press analysis of data on Freedom of Information Act requests showed little increase in the number of FOIA requests from the public, a slight increase in rejection of such requests, and an increase in federal claims that such rejections were justified by security and internal deliberations.
Secret meetings and conflicts of interest for experts on federal advisory committees are still problems, openness advocates told Congress during Sunshine Week 2013. The searchable Federal Advisory Committee Act online database is a great aid for reporters in searching for this type of information on a particular beat.
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and David Vitter (R-LA) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) on March 7, 2013, released an e-mail exchange they suggest shows EPA lawyers delaying responses to requests for controversial information. They also charge EPA with incompetence and urge U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate.