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New Report Shows Pattern Under Trump of Federal Agencies Removing Public Information Prior to Environmental Proceedings

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FEBRUARY 25, 2021

CONTACT: For media inquiries, including interviews with report authors, please contact EDGI communications coordinator Shannan Lenke Stoll, ShannanStoll.edgi@gmail.com.

New Report Shows Pattern Under Trump of Federal Agencies Removing Public Information Prior to Environmental Proceedings

February 25, 2021 — Today, the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) releases Access Denied: Federal Web Governance Under the Trump Administration. The report examines the Trump administration’s management of federal websites related to environmental regulation and makes recommendations for the Biden administration moving forward. Currently, there are few policies governing website content.

Access Denied highlights the need to address these policy gaps. It’s the most comprehensive report yet from EDGI’s website monitoring program, which has monitored federal environmental websites ever since Trump took office in January 2017, documenting more than 1,000 changes.

Websites are how federal agencies communicate with the public, and changes to them can impact public participation in environmental regulatory processes. The information that’s available—or unavailable—on federal websites matters for the health of democracy and the environment.

EDGI’s Access Denied report shows:

  • Half of the website changes related to regulations were removals of information, 10% were reductions in navigability, 15% were language changes, and 25% were additions of information.
  • The majority of removed information provided context for regulations and most were resources geared toward specific non-expert audiences. 
  • Over 80% of the information removals observed occurred just prior to or during active regulatory proceedings.
  • EDGI observed important changes to websites related to the Clean Water Rule, Clean Power Plan, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and Greater Sage Grouse Resource Management Plans, among others.

“Most dramatically, we uncovered a pattern of information being deleted or made less accessible just before or during a regulatory process—like a public comment period for the proposed repeal of critical environmental protections,” says Gretchen Gehrke, EDGI’s web monitoring coordinator and lead author of Access Denied. “That’s a staggering finding. It means that under Trump, federal agencies with a vested interest in the outcome of a proceeding were undermining the public’s ability to understand and get involved in them.”

“We’re at a pivotal moment when the public’s confidence in federal information resources and the democratic processes that they underpin has been eroded,” says Marcy Beck, a member of EDGI’s website monitoring team and co-author of Access Denied. “In this report, we recommend a fresh set of web governance policies we believe will assist the Biden administration in regaining and retaining the public’s trust.”

View the report: Access Denied: Federal Web Governance Under the Trump Administration

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The Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) analyzes federal environmental data, websites, institutions, and policy. We seek to improve environmental data and information stewardship and to promote environmental health and environmental justice.