Today, President Obama signed a bill that will bring stronger protections for federal whistleblowers. The bill, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (S. 743), will improve government transparency and accountability by safeguarding public servants who report misconduct.
Fracking fluid is known to contain benzene (which causes cancer), toluene, and other harmful chemicals, but the exact substances and amounts in fracking fluids are typically kept secret because companies invoke "confidential business information" exemptions to right-to-know laws and rules. On Nov. 14, an environmental organization launched a website to give the public improved access to information on the chemicals used in fracking.
In Hurricane Sandy's aftermath, government agencies have acted quickly to save lives and restore power and other basic essentials for those impacted by the storm. As recovery continues, federal and state agencies will be addressing another growing problem: the noxious materials such as oil, toxic chemicals, and raw sewage that the storm has released into waterways. The health of residents and first responders will depend on knowing what's around them so they can take proper precautions and mitigate risks.
As the country continues to recover from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, one lesson is already clear: government information plays a vital role in Americans' everyday lives whether they realize it or not. Information created, collected, and disseminated by government agencies alerted the nation to the storm, tracked its every move, and helped millions of Americans to prepare.
Two reforms launched by federal agencies this month represent new approaches to more efficiently releasing government information. New websites to publish declassified documents and records released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) could set new precedents and improve on older practices by making the information available to everyone online.
Another public interest report has confirmed that shale gas extraction is creating new public health risks. However, the fracking boom grows unabated, and drilling is occurring near schools and other locations. This could lead to increased chemical exposures among children and other vulnerable populations.
Our nation's ocean wildlife and fish are a public resource, and citizens should be able to track the impact of fishing on fish populations. But a new proposal from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will greatly reduce the public's access to essential fisheries data, including taxpayer-funded programs. Restricting public access to fisheries data could erode scientific integrity, transparency, and public participation in government decisions and eventually lead to poorer management of fisheries.