Scott Pruitt, who filed legal challenges against Environmental Protection Agency rules fourteen times, working hand in hand with oil and gas companies, is now head of that agency. What does that mean about the safety of climate data on the EPA’s websites? Here is an inside report:
• Dawn Reeves, EPA preserves Obama-Era website but climate change data doubts remain, InsideEPA.com, 21 February 2017.
For those of us who are backing up climate data, the really important stuff is in red near the bottom.
The EPA has posted a link to an archived version of its website from Jan. 19, the day before President Donald Trump was inaugurated and the agency began removing climate change-related information from its official site, saying the move comes in response to concerns that it would permanently scrub such data.
However, the archived version notes that links to climate and other environmental databases will go to current versions of them—continuing the fears that the Trump EPA will remove or destroy crucial greenhouse gas and other data.
The archived version was put in place and linked to the main page in response to “numerous [Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)] requests regarding historic versions of the EPA website,” says an email to agency staff shared by the press office. “The Agency is making its best reasonable effort to 1) preserve agency records that are the subject of a request; 2) produce requested agency records in the format requested; and 3) post frequently requested agency records in electronic format for public inspection. To meet these goals, EPA has re-posted a snapshot of the EPA website as it existed on January 19, 2017.”
The email adds that the action is similar to the snapshot taken of the Obama White House website.
For example, it says the page is “not the current EPA website” and that the archive includes “static content, such as webpages and reports in Portable Document Format (PDF), as that content appeared on EPA’s website as of January 19, 2017.”
It cites technical limits for the database exclusions. “For example, many of the links contained on EPA’s website are to databases that are updated with the new information on a regular basis. These databases are not part of the static content that comprises the Web Snapshot.” Searches of the databases from the archive “will take you to the current version of the database,” the agency says.
“In addition, links may have been broken in the website as it appeared” on Jan. 19 and those will remain broken on the snapshot. Links that are no longer active will also appear as broken in the snapshot.
“Finally, certain extremely large collections of content… were not included in the Snapshot due to their size” such as AirNow images, radiation network graphs, historic air technology transfer network information, and EPA’s searchable news releases.”
One source urging the preservation of the data says the snapshot appears to be a “smart” move on EPA’s behalf, given the FOIA requests it has received, and notes that even though other groups like NextGen Climate and scientists have been working to capture EPA’s online information, having it on EPA’s site makes it official.
But it could also be a signal that big changes are coming to the official Trump EPA site, and it is unclear how long the agency will maintain the archived version.
The source says while it is disappointing that the archive may signal the imminent removal of EPA’s climate site, “at least they are trying to accommodate public concerns” to preserve the information.
A second source adds that while it is good that EPA is seeking “to address the widespread concern” that the information will be removed by an administration that does not believe in human-caused climate change, “on the other hand, it doesn’t address the primary concern of the data. It is snapshots of the web text.” Also, information “not included,” such as climate databases, is what is difficult to capture by outside groups and is what really must be preserved.
“If they take [information] down” that groups have been trying to preserve, then the underlying concern about access to data remains. “Web crawlers and programs can do things that are easy,” such as taking snapshots of text, “but getting the data inside the database is much more challenging,” the source says.
The first source notes that EPA’s searchable databases, such as those maintained by its Clean Air Markets Division, are used by the public “all the time.”
The agency’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) Jan. 25 began a review of the implications of taking down the climate page—a planned wholesale removal that was temporarily suspended to allow for the OGC review.
But EPA did remove some specific climate information, including links to the Clean Power Plan and references to President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan. Inside EPA captured this screenshot of the “What EPA Is Doing” page regarding climate change. Those links are missing on the Trump EPA site. The archive includes the same version of the page as captured by our screenshot.
Inside EPA first reported the plans to take down the climate information on Jan. 17.
After the OGC investigation began, a source close to the Trump administration said Jan. 31 that climate “propaganda” would be taken down from the EPA site, but that the agency is not expected to remove databases on GHG emissions or climate science. “Eventually… the propaganda will get removed…. Most of what is there is not data. Most of what is there is interpretation.”
The Sierra Club and Environmental Defense Fund both filed FOIA requests asking the agency to preserve its climate data, while attorneys representing youth plaintiffs in a federal climate change lawsuit against the government have also asked the Department of Justice to ensure the data related to its claims is preserved.
The Azimuth Climate Data Backup Project and other groups are making copies of actual databases, not just the visible portions of websites.