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FOIA To The Rescue?

FOIA. In this day of ubiquitous acronyms, there may be no more important yet little-known term than this.

It’s short for the Freedom Of Information Act. I won’t pretend to be an expert, as I’ve never utilized it, and in fact only in the past year started to really pay attention to it and how it gives us behind-the-scenes glimpses of that forever-running passion play in DC.

But for a journalist doing an in-depth story on anything related to the government, it’s their bread and butter, their ticket to the truth. And so it is all ours, because FOIA ensures access to federal agencies’ records is open to anyone – all you have to do is ask, in writing.

There is, of course, a catch: FOIA requests can be turned down, based on nine exemptions and three exclusions, including that old chestnut “national security,” as well as “Records or Information that Could Reasonably be Expected to Interfere with Enforcement Proceedings.”
It’s this exemption that is of particular interest to us now, as it’s the one (apparently) that the Bush administration is using to deny a FOIA request made by online newsletter Greenwire.

As Greenwire’s Darren Samuelsohn explains, The White House Office of Management and Budget has rejected attempts to uncover the EPA’s sealed "endangerment finding" documents, which reportedly reveal greenhouse gas emissions do in fact pose a health threat, making them fair game for regulation. The EPA has maintained they don’t have the right to regulate such emissions, as famously demonstrated when it denied California a waiver to regulate vehicle emissions.

The more jaded among us have read this as EPA putting money (the influence of the U.S. auto industry) ahead of Americans’ health, a supposition pretty much substantiated with incoming EPA chief Lisa Jackson’s recent comments: “Science will be the backbone of what EPA does.”

Jackson’s implication, of course, is that science has NOT been the backbone of what the EPA does (at least for, say, the past 8 years).

Greenwire plans to sue for release of the full endangerment finding document, though it may not come to that with Jackson and company soon taking the stage. So this particular secretive drama should all be out in the open soon. But there will be others, despite the “fully open” promise of Obama.

And FOIA will be there to help – most of the time.

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“FOIA To The Rescue?”