Sustained Outrage

C8 Science Panel secrecy?

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The C8 Science Panel, from left to right, Tony Fletcher, Kyle Steenland and David Savitz.

The announcement about Thursday’s C8 Science Panel event was pretty clear:

Event is for press only. A public meeting date will be scheduled at a later time.

All of the DuPont lawyers and PR people who attended must not have gotten the memo.  Neither did the plaintiffs’ lawyers, but at least they were there with one citizen, a representative of the class of residents whose drinking water was polluted by DuPont’s C8 emissions.

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It was a pretty good week for open government in West Virginia.

Only two agencies violated the five-day notice requirement for meetings published in the State Register.  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 asterick in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

This week’s violators:

— W.Va. Division of Natural Resources Whitewater Commission.  Come on guys — your meeting notice came out today, and the meeting was Wednesday. Kinda makes it hard for the public to attend.

Town of Whitehall, Council. This meeting was also yesterday.

Science panel to meet press, not public

Just got an announcement from the C8 Science Panel that they will have a press conference next Thursday at 9:30 a.m. to talk about the immune effects study that I’ve already written about (It is STILL not on the panel’s Web site, but is available from the Gazette).

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OSHA comes through …

Well, happy Sunshine Week to the folks at the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Three days after we asked for it, OSHA has coughed up the “notice of contest” filed by Bayer CropScience to challenge the citations and fines issued following the August explosion that killed two workers at the company’s Institute plant.

The letter is posted here. It really doesn’t say much, and it’s only two pages long — well, one page, really. It bumps over to the second page only so Bayer’s high-powered lawyer, Robert Gombar, can copy some folks on the notice.

It’s nice to know someone at OSHA has a copy of the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Or maybe the U.S. Department of Labor got Attorney General Eric Holder’s new memo directing all executive branch departments and agencies to administer Freedom of Information Act requests with a presumption of openness. Holder’s memo overrides the Ashcroft memo, so-named for the former attorney general who gave agencies more leeway to deny FOIA requests.

“By restoring the presumption of disclosure that is at the heart of the Freedom of Information Act, we are making a critical change that will restore the public’s ability to access information in a timely manner,” Holder said. “The American people have the right to information about their government’s activities, and these new guidelines will ensure they are able to obtain that information under principles of openness and transparency.”

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It’s Sunshine Week, so you would think West Virginia government agencies would be on their best behavior…

And indeed, there appear to be only two open meetings violations in today’s edition of the State Register.  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 asterick in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

This week’s offenders:

— The Glenville State College Board of Governors’ Executive Committee.

— The state Division of Natural Resources, for a public hearing on a deer farm license in Jackson County. The hearing was held last night, and the meeting notice wasn’t published until today.

C8 Science Panel secrecy

We reported this morning about the latest study from the C8 Science Panel, the group of three scientists getting paid to examine whether DuPont Co.’s toxic chemical is making people sick. I’ve posted the report here.

What I didn’t get into in that story is that, while the study was filed in Wood Circuit Court, the C8 Science Panel hasn’t done a darned thing to let Mid-Ohio Valley residents know about it.  They haven’t issued a press release, or held a community meeting, or even sent out a notice about it with their fancy new e-mail system that’s touted on their Web site.

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OSHA secrecy?

I reported yesterday about Bayer filing its appeal of the citations and fines issued to it by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over the August explosion that killed two Institute plant workers.

In the process, I asked OSHA officials for a copy of the “notice of contest” filed by Bayer’s lawyers. But the usually helpful OSHA regional spokeswoman, Leni Uddyback-Fortson, wouldn’t give it to me. She said OSHA policy was such documents were part of their “investigation file” and not released to the public or the press.

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We reported last week that the federal Chemical Safety Board was going ahead with a public meeting to discuss its investigation of the August explosion that killed two workers at Bayer CropScience’s plant in Institute.

Now, the journal Chemical & Engineer News has provided some more details of how the safety board plans to deal with claims by Bayer — and perhaps the U.S. Coast Guard — that some information about the explosion and fire should be kept from the public in the name of anti-terrorism.

Among the interesting stuff in the latest report from journalist Jeff Johnson are details on the agreement between the board and the Department of Homeland Security on the April 23 public meeting:

“We have been told by DHS officials that chemical plant safety will outweigh security issues unless there is a clear security issue that should not be disclosed,” Bresland says. “We are confident we can work this out with DHS, but we want to be transparent to the public about what we can and can’t show,” Bresland says. Hence, he says, if DHS objects to information in the slides, CSB will black out parts of the actual slides used at the meeting.

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sw09_ad_button1.jpgHere’s another commentary for Sunshine Week:

By Jerry E. Stephens

Stephens is a resident of Edmond, Oklahoma.

The Pentagon has for many years had a policy restricting the media coverage of the coffins containing the bodies of returning service members. The policy was, arguably, implemented so as to protect the privacy of our military families. That’s a noble consideration. But it may also intentionally or otherwise shield Americans from the true costs of our overseas military involvement.

President Obama has directed a review of the policy. The principal change in policy seems to be some type of family choice whether there is media coverage or not.

But has anything really changed? Ralph Begleiter, a faculty member at the University of Delaware and a former CNN correspondent, has long fought the media ban. He has suggested that “people who die make that sacrifice not solely for the[ir] families but also for the nation.”

I agree. Begleiter is speaking for me when he speaks of the sacrifices of our military. And by their families as well.

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The journal Chemical & Engineering News added to its coverage of the secrecy surrounding the investigation of the fatal August explosion at Bayer CropScience’s plant in Institute, with an editorial defending the public’s right to know.

The editorial follows up on a story last week in the journal, which is published by the American Chemical Society. Sustained Outrage had a summary of that article, by veteran journalists Jeff Johnson, here.

Editor-in-chief Rudy M. Baum acknowledges that “it may well be that it is not in our national security interest for details of the layout of Bayer’s Institute facility to be discussed at a public meeting” and that “it may well be that the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 would be violated if [the Chemical Safety Board] were to hold such a hearing. “

“… There are circumstances where the public’s right to know needs to be balanced against the need to limit the distribution of information that could be misused by terrorists or criminals.”

But, based on the situation in Institute, Baum is far from convinced that’s what’s going on with Bayer’s efforts to block the CSB meeting and shield other information about the fatal explosion and fire from Kanawha Valley residents:

“Bayer’s overall handling of the accident suggests that the company is using the national security argument to shield itself from unwanted scrutiny of its practices at the Institute plant. That simply should not be countenanced.”