Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hiding The Salami

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (March 26, 2013) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then hasten back here.)

One of Obama's campaign promises in 2004 was to increase transparency in government.  Well, we know how that has worked out.  From drone assassination to enforcement of the Patriot Acts' invasion of privacy, President Obama has actually decreased open government over that of President Bush.  Here is just one more example.

When the State Department hired a contractor to produce the latest environmental impact statement for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, it asked for a Web-based electronic docket to record public comments as they flowed in each day. Thousands of comments are expected to be filed by people and businesses eager to influence the outcome of the intense international debate over the project.

But the public will not find it easy to examine these documents.

A summary of the comments will be included in the final version of the environmental impact statement when it is released, said Imani J. Esparza of the Office of Policy and Public Outreach in State's bureau of oceans, environment and science.

But the only way to see the comments themselves is by filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, a process that can take so long that the Keystone debate could be over before the documents are made available.

The public will not be able to access the full electronic docket online.

The State Department "is doing no more than what they have to do, at a time when most other agencies are moving proactively toward timely disclosure," said Katie Greenhaw, an expert in the regulatory process at the Center for Effective Government, which advocates for public involvement and openness. "This is not meaningful engagement." ...

 After the environmental review is complete, the public will have another chance to weigh in on the Keystone project. This time the State Department will consider the broader question of whether building the pipeline is in the "national interest."

During that phase, too, the agency will consider public comments - but the process will likely be even more opaque, because there are no clear guidelines for that phase, as there are for NEPA assessments. In a 2011 go-around of the national interest process, people who spoke at hearings or commented in writing complained to InsideClimate News that their comments were falling into a black hole, not fully considered by the department, or in many cases were lost.   [Emphasis added]

First, why is the State Department so involved?  Isn't this more properly a subject for the EPA?

Second, what is the purpose of withholding the information, of "hiding the salami," from people who need to know just what this pipeline is going to do to the environment in the US and, quite frankly, the rest of the planet, since most of the tar sands cruised will be shipped out?

We may be stupid, but a lot of that is due to being uninformed.  And that is just the way our owners want to keep us.

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