Illinois would have the strongest protective oversight rules on fracking in the country under legislation introduced on Feb. 21 in the General Assembly. The bill includes nearly all the key elements for an effective chemical disclosure policy identified in a previous Center for Effective Government report. The bill represents stronger model legislation for states that want to protect the public from the health and environmental risks of fracking.
On Feb. 8, EnergyWire released a leaked draft proposal from the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management on natural gas drilling and extraction on federal public lands. If finalized, the proposal could greatly reduce the public's ability to protect our resources and communities. The new draft indicates a disappointing capitulation to industry recommendations.
A recent letter from Congress to the Justice Department represents a positive development toward strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The letter, sent Feb. 4 by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asks what steps the government is taking on a number of key transparency improvements.
On Feb. 5, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new data indicating that in 2011, the oil and natural gas sector was the second-highest contributor of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. A method of natural gas drilling, known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, is a major component of this industry. Given this data and its stated commitment to addressing climate change, the Obama administration will have to reconsider its strong support of natural gas production.
Total releases of toxic chemicals in the U.S. increased for the second year in a row according to Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data reported to and analyzed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The TRI program, established as a part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986, requires the EPA to make information on the release and transfer of toxic chemicals (above a certain threshold) available to the public in order to provide Americans with a better understanding about toxic pollution in their communities.
Four years ago, when Barack Obama assumed the office of the President of the United States, he signaled his commitment to open and accountable government with a set of directives and executive orders designed to make his administration “the most transparent in history.” Significant progress was made in his first term, but the president's vision has not yet been translated into across-all-agencies improvements in openness, and in the area of national security, most civil liberties advocates are disappointed.
Last year saw clear and important accomplishments in government transparency in several areas, such as improved whistleblower protections and progress on the numerous open government commitments made under the Open Government Partnership. There was, however, a missed opportunity for U.S. leadership at the Rio+20 environmental summit. We are also concerned that undue industry influence in certain regulatory arenas may be reducing public access to information. And state laws on fracking chemical disclosure often allow exemptions that are so broad as to undermine the laws. Nonetheless, at the federal level, 2012 was a year of continuing progress for open government.