WASHINGTON, DC, March 27, 2017 (ENS) – To prevent hundreds of environmental data sets on government websites from being removed by the Trump administration, two nonprofit organizations and a conservation biologist have sent Freedom of Information Act requests for the data sets to eight federal agencies.
The Center for Biological Diversity, together with conservation biologist Dr. Stuart Pimm and the Center for Media and Democracy, are asking for records on wildlife, the oil industry, climate change and sea level rise, among other subjects.
To preserve or resurrect what already has been removed by the Trump administration, the centers and Dr. Pimm submitted three separate Freedom of Information Act requests for data sets to eight federal agencies: the Army Corps of Engineers, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy and Interior.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, when federal agencies receive requests for the same records three or more times, they must make the records freely available to the public on their websites, a rule known as “the Beetlejuice provision,” after the 1988 American comedy-horror fantasy film “Beetlejuice,” in which a ghoul helps a dead couple evict obnoxious homeowners.
“By removing or hiding hundreds of data sets containing critical information about the climate, wildlife and the health of our oceans, Trump and his cronies are blatantly trying to conceal the truth from the American people,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Thankfully our scientists have the Freedom of Information Act to keep this vital information in the light of day,” she said.
The legal requests seek hundreds of data sets on energy usage, renewables, oil and gas projections, coal reserves, climate data, sea-level rise, human population, environmental justice and the status of scores of endangered and threatened species and other wildlife.
The requesters are seeking information relating to conservation of aquatic systems, residential energy consumption and Endangered Species Act “Section 7” consultations, a step taken by federal agencies to avoid jeopardizing listed species.
Media have reported on the loss and vulnerability of federal data relating to some of today’s most pressing environmental issues, pointing out the disappearance of data sets from agency websites under the Trump administration and documenting scientists’ efforts to save them.
“The U.S. government produces and maintains some of the most important information that scientists use in their research,” said Dr. Pimm, a Duke University professor and research scientist – and a founder of conservation biology – and the second requester of data.
“Along with the Herculean efforts of volunteer scientists around the country, I’m doing what I can to protect this information because it’s critical these data remain available to academic institutions for scientists and future generations,” he said.
With these requests, the nonprofit groups and Dr. Pimm are invoking a provision of the Freedom of Information Act that was part of the 2016 amendments to the law designed to ensure free public access to information on agency websites.
They have requested data covering preservation of species monitoring data and surveys, water quality and flows, weather patterns, sea-level rise and energy production, such as oil and gas well data and coal reserves.
“In dark times such as these, thank goodness for the Freedom of Information Act,” said Nick Surgey with the Center for Media and Democracy, the third data requester.
“Because we have the law on our side,” said Surgey, “Trump and the people hostile to agency missions he is installing in the federal government will not be allowed to keep this important information from public view.”