Environmental Science & Technology Online News
September 28, 2005


Government miserly even about routine data, SEJ survey finds.

The U.S. federal government is now requiring reporters to use time-
consuming Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to obtain
information that had been freely available for years, according to a
new report from the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), a
membership organization of journalists covering environmental issues.

For A Flawed Tool -- Environmental Reporters' Experiences with the
Freedom of Information Act, SEJ surveyed 55 members and found that
excessive delays in releasing routine information, such as underground
mine inspection reports and Superfund cleanup data, are common. The
government's ability to respond to the journalists' requests for
information under FOIA began to deteriorate after September 11, 2001,
SEJ reports.

The U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. EPA, the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration
are the agencies that most frequently won't release routine data
unless a FOIA request has been filed, the SEJ finds. Some FOIA
requests take up to one year to fulfill; often, they are stalled while
the agency haggles with the journalist over whether the filing fee
should be waived, even though the law states that fees shouldn't be
levied for reporters. SEJ is calling on Congress to ensure that
agencies are complying with FOIA.