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.
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.
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.
Currently, over 2,700 facilities nationwide store large amounts of toxic chlorine gas, putting millions of Americans at risk of serious harm in the event of an explosion or leak. In the past 15 years, over 600 accidents injuring almost 800 people have occurred at these facilities. However, safer alternatives are available, and many facilities have already turned to them, showing that these alternatives can be commercially successful. Check our new interactive map to see if there are facilities with chlorine gas in your community.
On Sept. 11, California lawmakers passed a controversial bill aimed at providing oversight of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil (a drilling process known as fracking). While the new law includes some of the key elements of an effective chemical disclosure policy, last-minute, industry-friendly amendments forced into the bill undermine its ability to protect the health and safety of California residents.
Oversight of how federal agencies implement the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is critical to ensuring the public has robust access to government records. The Justice Department's Office of Information Policy (OIP) recently issued its annual assessment of how well agencies are processing FOIA requests and announced plans to substantially improve its assessment measures next year. The more robust assessment tool will better hold agencies accountable for providing information to the public.
Climate change has become the largest environmental concern in decades, and transparency and accountability will be critical in providing an effective response to combating it. As we move forward in making new policies related to climate change, it is critical that the public be well informed about the issue. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an online tool offering users a means to explore the sources of greenhouse gas emissions.