EPA’s Website Overhaul Continues: Climate Resources Left Out of the Update to the “Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments” Website

Posted on Posted in Blog

By members of EDGI’s Website Monitoring Team: Toly Rinberg, Andrew Bergman, and Eric Nost

 

In the first example of returned content since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began overhauling its climate change website on April 28, a new website providing content about energy policy for state, local and tribal governments has replaced a previous website, which hosted both climate and energy resources. Large portions of climate resources that were formerly found on the previous website have not been returned, and thus have ultimately been removed from the current EPA website (though many of these resources can still be found in the January 19 snapshot of the EPA website). The new website launch was done without an accompanying news release and the decision not to include particular climate resources was not explained.

It’s been nearly half a year since the EPA’s website overhaul began. Certain subdomains, like “epa.gov/climatechange” and “epa.gov/climate-impacts”, have remained removed and continue to redirect to a notice page, which states that the EPA website is being updated “to reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt.”

 

Which Web resources are missing?

As detailed in our access assessment report, the previous 380-webpage site [1], removed during the start of the EPA’s website overhaul on April 28, was titled “Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments” and hosted at the subdomain “epa.gov/statelocalclimate”. This site described a support program offering assistance to states, municipalities, and tribal governments around energy efficiency, renewable energy, and climate change policy. The website remains archived on the EPA’s January 19 snapshot, but, as it does not appear on the current version of the EPA’s website and since previous URLs now redirect to the new website’s main page, access to its contents has been significantly reduced.

The new websitewhich is only 175 webpages [1] and is titled “Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments” and hosted at the subdomain “epa.gov/statelocalenergy”was launched in late July [2] and focuses only on energy policy and resources. While some webpages were moved from the previous website to the new one, others were excluded from the new website entirely, and others still were moved, but altered significantly. The “/statelocalclimate” website URLs now all redirect to the new website’s “epa.gov/statelocalenergy” main page URL. This makes it difficult for users to find the appropriate resources, even if a particular previous webpage was moved to the new website.

Unlike the previous website, the new website’s main page does not link to the “State Climate Action Framework”, “Local Climate Action Framework”, “Climate Showcase Communities”, and “Tribes & Climate Change Action” pages, which no longer have live counterparts on the new website. As one representative example, the “Climate Change Risks and State Adaptation” page, which does not appear on the new website, had an “Examples of State-wide Adaptation Strategies” section aggregating and linking numerous climate resources. In fact, the new website’s main page makes no mention of “climate”, unlike the previous main page, which contained the word “climate” 17 times within the body of the page. In upcoming posts, we will more comprehensively depict how the usage of terms like “climate” has changed across the entire subdomain, what pages are missing, and which pages are available but are no longer linked to.

Certain Web resources, such as all previous Web “Tools”, including the AVoided Emissions and geneRation Tool (AVERT), appear to have been entirely moved from the “/statelocalclimate” to the “/statelocalenergy” subdomain. Some energy policy information was also moved to the new website. For example, the “Assessing the Multiple Benefits of Clean Energy: A Resource for States” page was moved, with very few changes, from the “/statelocalclimate” to the “/statelocalenergy” subdomain.

 

Changes across EPA.gov

A similar type of change to the EPA website occurred when the Clean Water Rule website was removed and a new website focusing on the “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule was launched. The previous website provided information and resources about clean water and the Clean Water Rule, while the new website focuses solely on explaining the history of the definition of WOTUS and the rulemaking process. The previous subdomain, “epa.gov/cleanwaterrule”, redirects to the new website’s main page URL, “epa.gov/wotus-rule”. In this case, while the EPA did make a statement about the website launch, access to clean water Web resources were significantly reduced.

The continued removal of Web content makes it more difficult for the public and for state, local, and tribal governments to access climate-related Web resources. Moreover, without clear notice from the EPA explaining its decision to remove information and resources, website users may be confused as to why the removals were necessary: was the removed content inaccurate or is there some other kind of justified change in priority or policy? This lack of transparency in the EPA’s website overhaul process harms the public’s understanding of our government’s operations and is a concerning indicator for the possible future mishandling of Web resources to come.

 

 

References

[1] See EDGI assessment of “/statelocalclimate” and “/statelocalenergy” subdomain URLs

[2] Redirect established between July 24, 8:08 AM ET and July 27, 7:32 AM ET, according to EDGI’s website monitoring software.