Public comments are a critical component of environmental decision-making, and a cornerstone of democratic participation in federal rule-making.
The public comments submitted by EDGI’s Website Governance Project (formerly Website Monitoring Team) offer a perspective based on the need to ensure the presence of publicly accessible website information relevant to environmental proceedings or rulemakings at hand. Promoting transparency and public participation extends beyond the logistics of the rulemaking process to include access to information and data. Removed and reduced access to pertinent information constrains the public’s ability to effectively participate in the rulemaking process, undermining public understanding of implementation options, and, in turn, impairing the ability to impact decisions in the public’s interest.
June 8, 2023 This comment and a related oral comment were delivered to the FOIA Advisory Committee. The comment urges the FOIA Advisory Committee to guide agencies to preserve key features of FOIAonline as agencies launch independent FOIA portals, particularly: (1) the public posting of completed requests, (2) the ability to search for completed requests, including across multiple agencies, and (3) the preservation of public access to the records that have already been made public through FOIAonline.
April 25, 2023 This comment and a related oral comment were delivered to the Chief FOIA Officers Council. The comment petitions the Chief FOIA Officers Council to maintain and improve the public accessibility of records released through FOIAonline when agencies launch independent FOIA portals, especially through (1) maintaining the public availability of all previously released documents, (2) enhancing the search functionality to support discovery of already released records, and (3) developing a browser-based viewing system to view records prior to download.
March 10, 2023 Comment Title: “Comments by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative on Broadening Public Engagement in the Federal Regulatory Process.” This comment urges the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to address information policy gaps that will undermine efforts to broaden public engagement in regulatory affairs, particularly the lack of requirements for regulatory and related information to be shared through agency websites.
(Docket No. 2021-13640) July 28, 2021 Comment Title: “Protecting Public Information is a Critical Component of Federal Scientific Integrity.” Stronger public information policies are necessary for stronger scientific integrity policies. This comment underscores that relationship by providing specific examples of federal website information management decisions during the Trump administration that were at odds with scientific integrity and undermined public trust. The comment then relays a series of recommendations to promote and protect the free flow of scientific information from the government to the public, and utilize websites as a vehicle for building public trust in the government by facilitating greater environmental, scientific, and civic literacy.
August 10, 2020 Comment Title: “Build on the strong foundation of NCA4:
Recommendations for increasing information accessibility, enhancing framing,
and ensuring information utility of the NCA5.” This comment supports the themes and framework proposed for the NCA5, and recommends enhancing the overall framework with a
climate justice lens, more substantial discussion of mitigation strategies and potential
effects, and using language commensurate with the climate crisis we are facing. We also recommend including more regional and sub-regional analyses in order to provide information that is resonant and actionable for diverse audiences.
(Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090-8411) July 20, 2020 Comment Title: “Legal Certainty and Certain Death: FWS DEIS sacrifices migratory birds for regulatory relief.” EDGI’s comment addresses the dissonance between the anticipated impacts of three proposed action alternatives and the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) assignment of Alternative A–codifying the interpretation in the DOI Solicitor Opinion M-37050 that the MBTA does not prohibit incidental take–as the agency’s proposed action. EDGI urges the agency to promulgate Alternative B, rescinding M-37050 and codifying the long-standing interpretation represented in M-37041 that the MBTA prohibits incidental take, and then pursue a permit structure to better regulate incidental take. EDGI also urges the agency to make informational resources regarding migratory birds and incidental take publicly accessible through the FWS website and to restore previously removed resources.
(Docket No. EPA-HQ-OA-2018-0259-9322) May 11, 2020 Comment Title: “Addressing the Undermining of Science-Based Decision-Making by the EPA.” While this Supplemental Notice resolves some of the ambiguities of the original proposal (See Public Comment 2 below) , EDGI recommends its rejection. The notice vastly expands the scope of the proposed rule, actively dissuades public input, makes agency decision-making vulnerable to political persuasion, exploits the concept of transparency, and provides an avenue for unwarranted dismissal of high quality science.
(Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090) March 25, 2020 Comment Title: “ Public Access to Federal Information Relevant to Incidental Take under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is Insufficient for Engagement in Rulemaking and for the Public Record.” EDGI’s comment addresses a) removals, omissions, and revisions of Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) resources on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) websites, including those related to incidental take, that constrain the public’s ability to effectively participate in the rulemaking process, along with b) incomplete and selective information in the proposed rule document.
(CEQ-2019-0003) March 12, 2020 Comment Title: “Public Comments on the Proposed Changes to the National Environmental Policy Act. ” Submitted by the Environmental History Action Collaborative (EHAC) and members of the Website Monitoring Team, EDGI’s comments finds that the majority of the proposed rule changes are at cross-purposes with the original intent of NEPA, and urges rejection of proposals that: (a) minimize the substantive elements of NEPA; (b) arbitrarily limit the scope and length of EIS review; (c) reduce public participation in the NEPA process; (d) expand categorical exclusions; (e) limit the consideration of indirect and cumulative effects, and (f) restrict judicial review.
(Document No. 2020-03189) March 9, 2020 EDGI’s comment supports this Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) effort to make data from federally funded research more available and accessible, with comments that focus on the importance of version-control, data accessibility, and facilitation of data utilization.
(Docket No. EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0149) April 16, 2019 Comment Title: “EPA Must Provide More Accessible and Informative Resources for Authentic Public Comment.” EDGI’s comment focuses on removals of and reductions in access to online resources directly relevant to the proposed redefinition of Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA) that constrain the public’s ability to effectively participate in this rulemaking process, to understand the impacts of the proposed changes to which aquatic resources would be designated as jurisdictional, and to track CWA implementation.
(Docket No. EPA-HQ-OA-2018-0259) September 10, 2018 Comment Title: “EPA’s Proposed Rule Uses the Idea of Transparency to Reduce Real Transparency and Delay Protecting Environmental and Public Health.” EDGI’s comment focuses on how the proposed rule contorts ‘transparency’ to reduce public involvement, increase secrecy, dismiss and hide evidence of harms, and delay regulatory action on matters of public health and environmental justice. True transparency requires participatory science that contextualizes evidence by incorporating information about data provenance, including the scientific and political contexts within which studies are designed and executed.
(Docket No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0355-14998) April 26, 2018 Title: “Accessible Information is Essential for Meaningful Public Commentary.” EDGI’s comment points to the substantial amount of information relevant to the Clean Power Plan and its proposed repeal that was removed from the EPA website over the course of the previous year. For the public and regulated bodies to understand the feasibility of implementing the CPP, they must have continued access to comprehensive information about the purpose and scope of the Plan, the basis for calculating its costs and benefits, technological considerations, and proposed implementation strategies. March 12, 2020 Comment Title: “Public Comments on the Proposed Changes to the National Environmental Policy Act. ” Submitted by the Environmental History Action Collaborative (EHAC) and members of the Website Monitoring Team, EDGI’s comments finds that the majority of the proposed rule changes are at cross-purposes with the original intent of NEPA, and urges rejection of proposals that: (a) minimize the substantive elements of NEPA; (b) arbitrarily limit the scope and length of EIS review; (c) reduce public participation in the NEPA process; (d) expand categorical exclusions; (e) limit the consideration of indirect and cumulative effects, and (f) restrict judicial review.