New Report Recommends Best Practices for Executive Agency Freedom of Information Act Regulations

Americans deserve easy access to public information. For that to happen, executive agencies need effective procedures for responding to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Although several agencies have adopted some good practices, most agency FOIA regulations are outdated and unfriendly to the public. To encourage agencies to improve their FOIA procedures, a goal under the president's 2nd National Action Plan on Open Government, the Center for Effective Government released a new report on Dec. 9, Best Practices for Agency Freedom of Information Act Regulations.

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Coal Ash Waste Standards Inch Forward, But Industry Opposition Strong

This December will mark the fifth anniversary of a massive spill of coal ash in Tennessee that destroyed three houses and damaged more than 40 others. This event sparked intensified calls for the regulation of coal ash, a waste by-product produced when coal is burned. Federal efforts to deal with the problem of coal ash have progressed slowly, but agency action on the issue may be gaining momentum in light of recent policy developments. Meanwhile, coal industry proponents in Congress are revamping legislative efforts to thwart national protections against coal waste.

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E-Gov Spotlight: Centralized Product Recall Portal Needs Significant Improvements

The idea behind the U.S. government-run website Recalls.gov represents the best, most practical qualities of the Internet: to help consumers with valuable, timely, up-to-date recall information. Spanning six federal agencies, Recalls.gov aims to be a 'one-stop shop' for consumers concerned about the safety of the products they buy for themselves and their families. It is supposed to make finding recall information easy and efficient. However, the intentions of Recalls.gov are severely hampered by poor implementation, resulting in an unusable, inconvenient website.

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Hydrogen Fluoride – A Toxic Chemical in Your Neighborhood?

Across the nation, 167 industrial facilities currently store and use hydrogen fluoride, a dangerous and highly toxic gas, in their manufacturing processes. In the past 15 years, 129 incidents have occurred, causing 100 injuries and five deaths, a high accident rate given the number of facilities. Many of these facilities are located in densely populated areas, and a release of hydrogen fluoride could put millions in danger. However, safer alternatives to this toxic chemical are available. Find out if you live near one of these facilities with a new map by the Center for Effective Government.

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More Federal User Fees Could Be Part of a Mini Budget Deal

Observers have low expectations of the special House-Senate committee set up to craft recommendations for a long-term fiscal deal to replace the next nine years of so-called "sequestration" (automatic and indiscriminate budget cuts). Those recommendations are due by Dec. 13. The committee met for the first time last week, with Republicans publicly opposed to tax reforms that could generate more revenue and Democrats rejecting a spending cuts-only approach. But some think a smaller deal could happen to replace a year or more of sequestration, involving more "federal user fees" as a modest way to generate more funding.

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E-Gov Spotlight: EPA's Enforcement Database Gets Updated

On Oct. 23, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a beta 2.0 version of its enforcement and compliance web-based tool. The new version should make it easier for the public to find information on which facilities near their communities violate air, water, and pollution standards. The agency has requested user feedback as it continues to update and fine-tune the site, so we encourage readers to visit the website and provide comments on your experience to the agency.

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Congress Continues Efforts to Thwart Climate Change Emissions Limits

On Sept. 20, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a new proposal to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new coal-fired power plants. The Center for Effective Government applauded the steady progress on the rule but warned of likely challenges from climate-change deniers, regulatory opponents, and their allies in Congress. Over the past month, these challenges have appeared in the form of draft legislation and appropriations riders that seek to repeal or severely limit EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fueled power plants under the Clean Air Act.

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States Taking the Lead to Curb Toxic Chemical Exposure

A new state law addressing toxic flame retardants recently enacted in California is the latest in a string of successful state efforts to improve chemical safety. In response to insufficient federal controls on toxic chemicals, many states have passed or proposed their own policies to protect residents from the risks posed by hazardous chemicals. In the absence of comprehensive national protections, it is imperative that states take the lead in addressing risks to health and safety.

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Benefits Finder: A Path through the Government Benefits Maze

The recent government shutdown shuttered some websites and left others frozen without up-to-date information. Benefits.gov, a one-stop-shop for government benefits assistance, was among the government websites that remained online, but without ongoing updates. The site, which helps citizens assess their eligibility for more than 1,000 governmental assistance programs across 17 different agencies, is a critical service for the public.

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Americans Want Safer Chemical Facilities, but the Shutdown Stalled Reform Efforts

A new poll released Oct. 11 found that a majority of Americans want the federal government to require facilities to use safer chemicals and processes to prevent chemical disasters like the explosion in West, TX in April. However, an effort to better coordinate the work of three federal agencies was stalled thanks to the government shutdown. Now that the agencies are all functioning again, we hope they will meet their target deadlines for recommending new policies to improve the safety of facilities handling or storing large quantities of hazardous chemicals.

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