On Jan. 31, the U.S. Department of State published its long-awaited Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline, which acknowledges, for the first time, that the proposed pipeline could contribute to climate change. On Feb. 3, communities and groups across the country organized over 200 local vigils in 44 states and Washington, DC to let President Obama know the risks that the pipeline will bring. The final EIS report does not provide any recommendations on the pipeline but will be used to develop a recommendation from the State Department and in the president's final decision on the pipeline.
During the week of Jan. 20, the air quality in Utah's Salt Lake City region and parts of California hit red-alert status – meaning that the air was unhealthy for everyone and was especially harmful to sensitive groups like children, the elderly, and those with chronic respiratory conditions like asthma. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) forecasts and posts air quality levels in an easy, color-coded format on a website called AIRNow.
As we look ahead through the new year, a number of major open government issues will almost certainly become the center of policy debates and offer opportunities for improving transparency. This article presents the top open government issues we believe are most likely to garner the most time and attention of Washington policymakers. And, since every year offers surprises, we also offer a quick list of the most likely "wild card" issues that may emerge in 2014.
What a rollercoaster of a year it was for citizen access to public information. Early in the year, a flurry of activity around improving freedom of information requests took place but then slowed down. Likewise, we are being teased with the possibility of serious improvements in the accuracy of federal spending datasets. We thought we were going to get better disclosure of fracking chemicals on federal lands, but good rules failed to materialize. After 38 years, legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act has been introduced, but with preemption clauses, it could actually end up reducing protections. The information leaked by Edward Snowden has led to tough questions and pressure for better oversight of our national surveillance agencies, but to date no action has occurred. And the government shutdown shut down federal agency websites, leaving citizens in the dark. Here is our take on the biggest ups and downs in open government for 2013.
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.
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.