The Senate March 15, 2016, unanimously passed a bill (S 337) improving the 50-year-old Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). But the appearance of bipartisan consensus may belie a rocky road to final enactment in a highly politicized election year.
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The Senate Energy Committee last November approved a different version of the bill which seems to include an exemption from fees and permits for "news gathering." But whether it will pass on the floor or get reconciled with the House bill in an election year is unknown.
The reports aren't released to the taxpayers who funded them but the Federation of American Scientists' Government Secrecy Project publishes leaked copies. Here are 17 of the latest, from air to water, food to fuel, and much more.Topics on the Beat:
Maine passed a law in 2015 that allowed railroads to keep oil-train routing information from the public — over the governor's veto. In the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting's Pine Tree Watchdog, Dave Sherwood reports how the provision was a bait-and-switch.Topics on the Beat:Region:
Bad as it is, the Flint drinking water disaster is hardly uncommon. Even though the law requires authorities to tell the public of dangerous levels of lead in drinking water, they often don't.Topics on the Beat:Region:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's openness has been a major issue throughout the crisis of contaminated drinking water in Flint, which has caused lead poisoning of some children. One aspect of the openness issue is the ability of agency employees to speak with journalists; another is unfulfilled FOIA requests.Topics on the Beat:Region:
A similar bill almost became law in 2014, and chances of the current bill being enacted seem good. But the possibility of a last-minute derailment, especially in an election year, remains. To complicate matters, journalism and open government groups found problems with a last-minute "carve-out" for intelligence inserted at the behest of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
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Do consumers have a right to know where their food comes from? What if there is a federal law decreeing that they have that right? Not anymore. None of that matters. International trade treaties — nowadays often negotiated in secret — trump United States law aimed at protecting consumers.