Sustained Outrage

Secret meetings, Aug. 13, 2010

It’s a good week for open government in West Virginia. Only one meeting listed in today’s edition of The State Register violated the public notice requirements of the state’s open meetings law.

That agency responsible? The Putnam County Solid Waste Authority.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

Secret meetings, Aug. 6, 2010

It’s a good week for open government in West Virginia. Today’s issue of the State Register contains no meetings that violate the public notice provisions of the state’s open meetings law.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

Secret meetings, July 30, 2010

Today’s issue of The State Register contained two meetings that violated the public notice requirements of West Virginia’s open meetings act.

One meeting was of the Consolidated Public Retirement Board and the other was the WVDEP’s meeting on the water pollution plan for the Cheat River watershed.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.


Another installment of some work that drew our attention this week.

In the wake of the publication of a staggering amount of classified information related to the war in Afghanistan by Wikileaks, Propublica.org talked to Neil Sheehan, the former New York Times reporter (and Pulitzer Prize winner for his book about Vietnam, A Bright Shining Lie) who was on the receiving end of the Pentagon Papers leak. Propublica also provided a reading list to help put the leak into context.

The Obama administration is looking to make it easier for the FBI to gain certain information about e-mails and Internet activity without a court order, the Washington Post reported. The agency currently uses what are called national security letters, which require the recipient to turn over certain information and to keep the request a secret, the article notes. If the words “electronic communication transactional records” are added to the list of things the FBI can ask for, then companies may be forced to turn over information regarding who an e-mail was sent to, a user’s browser history and the time and date it was sent, but not, government lawyers say, the contents of the e-mail.

One outcome of the recently passed financial reform legislation was exempting the Securities and Exchange Commission from almost all Freedom of Information Act requests, according to this story by Fox Business. Under the new law, the SEC would not have to disclose records or information resulting from “surveillance, risk assessments, or other regulatory and oversight activities.” “Given that the SEC is a regulatory body, the provision covers almost every action by the agency, lawyers say,” the article states. “Congress and federal agencies can request information, but the public cannot.”

EPA moves faster to get toxic pollution data out

For years, one of the biggest problems with data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory was that it seemed hopelessly out of date.

Historically, figures publicly released lagged about two years behind. Companies reported annual releases the following July. EPA took months to compile it into various reports and make it available.

That all might be changing, according to this news release issued this morning by President Obama’s EPA Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson:

As part of the Obama Administration’s continuing commitment to open government, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published the latest data on industrial releases and transfers of toxic chemicals in the United States between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2009. EPA is making the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data available within weeks of the reporting deadline through its Web site and in the popular tools, TRI Explorer and Envirofacts. The database contains environmental release and transfer data on nearly 650 chemicals and chemical categories reported to EPA by more than 21,000 industrial and other facilities.

The new data is available here, and can be downloaded as raw data that you can analyze with a spreadsheet or database manager on your PC.  But most folks might prefer to look up their local chemical plant’s emissions via EPA’s TRI Explorer system here.

Jackson said:

It is vital that every community has access to information that impacts their health and environment.  The data we’re releasing provides critical insights about pollution and polluters in the places where people live, work, play and learn. Making that knowledge available is the first step in empowering communities to protect the environment in their areas.

EPA adds:

The preliminary dataset includes more than 80 percent of the data expected to be reported for 2009. EPA will continue to process paper submissions, late submissions, and to resolve issues with the electronic submissions. The agency will update the dataset in August and again in September so citizens will have complete access to the information. EPA encourages the public to review and analyze the data while EPA conducts its own analysis, which will be published later this year.

Creation of the TRI program has a close tie to West Virginia, as EPA explains here:

In 1984, a deadly cloud of methyl isocyanate killed thousands of people in Bhopal, India. Shortly thereafter, there was a serious chemical release at a sister plant in West Virginia. These incidents underscored demands by industrial workers and communities in several states for information on hazardous materials. Public interest and environmental organizations around the country accelerated demands for information on toxic chemicals being released “beyond the fence line” — outside of the facility. Against this background, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was enacted in 1986.



It’s been a busy first few weeks for Rafael Moure-Eraso, the new chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, as a story in the latest issue of Chemical and Engineering News (subscription required) explains:

Just four days after taking the helm of the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), new chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso found himself in Portland, Conn., running a nighttime community meeting. There, he presented the final report on CSB’s investigation of an explosion that took place in February at the construction site of the Kleen Energy power plant where six workers died.

It was Moure-Eraso’s first CSB public meeting, as well as fellow new board member Mark A. Griffon’s. Neither of them even had time to unpack his Washington, D.C., office before leaving for Connecticut. With their arrival on the board, CSB will have its full complement of five members, which hasn’t happened in three years.

The two hit the ground running, and the pace is unlikely to slow for them, the other board members, or CSB’s 40-person staff as they face a record number of active investigations. The most recent addition to the board’s docket came in late June, when it accepted a congressional request to investigate the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. This study promises to be one of CSB’s largest: Moure-Eraso estimates that it will take two years to complete and will cost $2.5 million.

Still, Moura-Eraso made time to visit the Kanawha Valley this week, meeting with officials from Bayer CropScience, citizens from People Concerned About MIC, and with Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper. It was Carper, of course, whose complaint that the CSB was stalling its final report on the August 2008 explosion and fire at Bayer’s Institute plant prompted Moura-Eraso’s visit.

Moura-Eraso stopped by the Gazette newsroom this morning, and told us:

We wanted to show the flag and to say that we are on the job.

Again this morning Moura-Eraso promised the board would have its final report on that 2008 explosion and fire — which killed two plant workers — ready for release at a public meeting in the Kanawha Valley this fall, probably in September, according to Carper.

Continue reading…

Secret meetings, July 23, 2010

Today’s issue of The State Register contains two meeting that did not comply with the public notice requirements of the West Virginia open meetings law.

The offenders? The West Virginia Health Care Authority and the state Public Service Commission’s Tower Access Assistance Fund Review Committee.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

In response to a letter last week from Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, the new chairman of the federal Chemical Safety Board is coming to Charleston next week to discuss his agency’s investigation of the August 2008 explosion and fire at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute.

Obama appointee Rafael Moure-Eraso hopes to meet with Carper and with representatives of  the community group People Concerned About MIC. Moure-Eraso also plans to meet with officials from the Bayer plant.

In an interview this afternoon, Moure-Eraso told me:

We want to let the people of the valley know we are concerned about these issues … I want to meet with Mr. Carper and explain to him what we are doing and where we are in the process.

Moure-Eraso said board members and staff are circulating a draft version of the agency’s final report on the explosion and that a final version would be made public at a meeting in the Kanawha Valley sometime this fall.


Secret meetings, July 16, 2010

We’ll take a look today at two week’s worth of State Register open meetings reports, to make up for missing last week.

Last week, the State Register listed only one meeting that violated the public notice requirements of the West Virginia open meetings law. The agency involved was the Raleigh County Public Defender Corp.

This week, the State Register listed two meetings — by Appalachian EMS Inc. and the 11th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Corp. — that violated the public notice provisions.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

Photo by Tom Hindman, Charleston Daily Mail, via AP.

Next month, it will be two years since a huge explosion and fire ripped through the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, W.Va., killing workers Barry Withrow and Bill Oxley.

And it’s already been more than a year since the U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued its draft findings and delivered frightening testimony to a Congressional committee, warning that the Aug. 28, 2008, incident could have been worse than Bhopal.

But the people of the Kanawha Valley still haven’t seen a final report from the CSB — and Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper is none too happy about that. In a short but stern letter this week, Carper demanded that new CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso keep his agency’s commitments to the people of this area:

Uncertainty and fear understandably ran rampant that evening and many, many questions are yet to be answered. Such answers are due and owed to the families and surrounding community.

I am gravely concerned that we are fast approaching the two-year anniversary of this tragic and avoidable incident. Despite assurances and promises made by the CSB, no opinions, final conclusions, or the promise to meet with the people have yet to take place. I am respectfully requesting that the CSB keep their promises.

With all due respect, the families and the people in the community deserve better.