Missing EPA Endangerment Finding Web Resources Reignite Confusion: Continued Mismanagement Following the EPA Climate Change Website Overhaul

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By EDGI’s Website Monitoring Committee: Toly Rinberg, Andrew Bergman, Maya Anjur-Dietrich, and Gretchen Gehrke (For inquiries, please contact edgi.websitemonitoring@protonmail.com)

 

July 12, 2017 — On July 11, E&E News reported that resources relating to the EPA’s Endangerment Finding [1], linked from the EPA’s “Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under the Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act” page were not available.

Prior to the EPA’s climate change website overhaul, which began on April 28, 2017, an identical or very similar version of the “Endangerment” page linked to a page titled “Technical Support Document for the Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases,” which linked a 210-page technical support PDF for the Endangerment Finding. EDGI’s Website Monitoring Team can confirm that this resource, as well as other web resources like the “Legal Basis of the Greenhouse Gas Endangerment Finding” page, were not available from the current “Endangerment” page on July 11, 2017 at 1:55pm ET. A more detailed technical analysis of the missing resources can be found here.

What appears to be a very similar resource to the “Technical Support Document …” page, with what appears to be a very similar or identical hosted PDF was, however, live at a different URL on July 11. As late as 1:55pm ET, this URL was not linked from another live page on the https://www.epa.gov website, leaving it virtually inaccessible to someone browsing the EPA website.

The identical or very similar version of the “Endangerment” page, a version of which is live on the “epa.gov/ghgemissions” subdomain, and resources that linked from that page were originally hosted on the “epa.gov/climatechange” subdomain (as late as April 27, 2017 and also found on the January 19 snapshot). The EPA’s climate change website overhaul established redirects from pages on the “/climatechange/” subdomain to the EPA’s notice that it is updating its website on April 28, 2017. The “Endangerment” page hosted on the “/ghgemissions/” subdomain was live as early as May 9, 2017, suggesting that the page was potentially only switched to a new URL following the overhaul, although an exact date of the transfer has not been confirmed.

During the entire period between May 9 and July 11, as the website overhaul has proceeded, it appears that the 210-page technical support PDF for the Endangerment Finding, in addition to the other resources mentioned above, were not available from the “Endangerment” page, as seen on May 9, 2017 and June 23, 2017, for example. The lack of access to these resources likely originated from mismanagement of web resources during the EPA’s climate change website overhaul, which occurred on April 28, 2017, and not a more recent removal of content, as may be inferred from the original reporting by E&E News.

The E&E News article was updated later on July 11 to mention that the EPA technical staff were looking into the broken links on the page and would be correcting the errors. As of July 11, 2017 at 4:35pm ET, the EPA had updated the “Endangerment” page, and it appears that they have resolved all of the access issues detailed above, fixing all broken links.

While EDGI’s Website Monitoring Team appreciates the EPA’s willingness to correct errors that have been found, we believe that, especially at a time when the conversation about climate change and climate change policy is at the fore of domestic policy discussions and has become a divisive issue on the international stage, it is important to make sure that access to climate change resources remains a priority. Even if these web resources were not made intentionally inaccessible, the errors found on the “Endangerment” page represent a continuing trend in reducing access to important EPA resources that we find irresponsible.

The EPA’s climate change website was overhauled more than two months ago and poor management of web resources during and since the overhaul have left dead links and inaccessible or isolated pages, as occurred with the removal of the “Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change” portion of the website. This mismanagement impedes the public’s ability to access information. Especially when handling large website overhauls, agencies must take care to document their actions and make sure that important web resources remain available and accessible.

 

References:

[1] The EPA’s Endangerment Finding is a document produced under mandate by the Supreme Court after the ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), which required the EPA to determine whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to air pollution and public health impacts.