Anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate are the two substances that have been investigated as possible causes of the April 17 explosion of the West Fertilizer Company plant in Texas. Though experts now believe the explosion was due to the ammonium nitrate, the facility did have two 12,000-gallon tanks of anhydrous ammonia, which could have exacerbated the tragedy in Texas had they leaked or exploded.
On April 17, there was a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in central Texas, which killed at least 14 people and injured more than 200. Though investigators are still trying to determine the exact cause of the incident, the West Fertilizer Company's explosion raises serious questions about managing the risks that facilities can pose to local communities.
The Keystone XL pipeline is a controversial project that would transport tar sands oil (which is more corrosive than crude oil) from Canada through America's heartland to Texas, creating air, water, and public health risks in its wake. In the past two weeks, lawmakers have introduced bills in both the House and Senate to strip the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline away from the Obama administration. The bills, if passed, would short-circuit the regulatory permitting process and prevent the public from voicing their concerns about the public health and environmental risks of the pipeline.
On March 20, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform approved the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act (H.R. 1211), sponsored by the committee's chair and ranking member, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD). The bill would take steps to improve agency compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and require agencies to post more public information online. However, more reforms will be needed to address fundamental flaws in the current FOIA system.
Four years ago, President Obama entered office offering an inspiring vision for a more open and participatory government. A new report by Center for Effective Government staff credits the Obama administration for using its first term to construct a policy foundation that could make that vision a reality. However, the actual implementation of open government policies within federal agencies has been inconsistent and sometimes weak.