Friday, May 05, 2017

The EPA’s Obama-Era Snapshot Is Missing Information

Brian Kahn By Brian Kahn
Published: May 5th, 2017

Last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate change pages were shuttered for revisions. A week later, they’re still not back.

In their place is a page explaining that they’re being updated to “reflect EPA's priorities” under President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and that users can check out a snapshot of the entire EPA site from the day before Trump took office.

There’s one major issue with the Jan. 19 snapshot. It’s not complete, with the entire student site redirecting to the message about the climate page being updated rather than the original student content. This is the first documented instance of pages disappearing from archives, and it leaves teachers and students without a scientifically accurate climate change resource.

Failing to post the pages could violate the Freedom of Information Act and other federal statutes designed to keep federal records accessible to the public. It also raises questions about how the Trump administration is handling climate science information that contradicts statements made by the president and his cabinet members, including Pruitt.

In February, the EPA posted the Jan. 19 mirror of what the EPA’s website looked like on the last day of the Obama administration. The snapshot was posted online as the result of at least three FOIA requests for the site.

But the Environmental and Data Governance Initiative has uncovered discrepancies in the mirrored site, including the missing student site, which includes dozens of pages with information on the causes and impacts of climate change as well as the solutions. Those pages are still available through slightly different web addresses that don’t match the original (for example, the main page includes a double slash), but the snapshot itself remains incomplete.

“I don’t think it’s malicious or about intentionally hiding information,” Sarah Lamdan, a lawyer at the CUNY School of Law and a FOIA expert who works with EDGI, said. “However, I do think the slapdash way it was done and incomplete nature of the result is indicative of record management and preservation issues that are serious. It’s a serious thing if the new administration comes in and doesn’t take care to preserve the records of the previous administration.”


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