Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 23, 2017

Contact:  Amy Atwood, (503) 504-5660, atwood@biologicaldiversity.org
Stuart Pimm, Ph.D., (646) 489-5481, stuartpimm@me.com
Nick Surgey, (608) 628-1668, nick@prwatch.org

Scientists Use 'Beetlejuice Provision' to Protect Data From Trump

Records Requests Seek to Preserve Hundreds of Data Sets on Wildlife, Oil Industry, Climate Change, Sea-level Rise

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity, along with noted conservation biologist Stuart Pimm and the Center for Media and Democracy, launched an effort today to prevent hundreds of environmental data sets on government websites from being removed by the Trump administration.

To preserve or resurrect what has already been removed by the administration, the centers and Dr. Pimm submitted three separate Freedom of Information Act requests for data sets to eight federal agencies: the Army Corps of Engineers, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and the departments of agriculture, commerce, energy and interior. 

Under the Freedom of Information Act, when federal agencies receive requests for the same records three or more times, they must make the records freely available to the public on their websites, a rule known as “the Beetlejuice provision.”

“By removing or hiding hundreds of data sets containing critical information about the climate, wildlife and the health of our oceans, Trump and his cronies are blatantly trying to conceal the truth from the American people,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Thankfully our scientists have the Freedom of Information Act to keep this vital information in the light of day.”

Today’s legal requests seek hundreds of data sets on energy usage, renewables, oil and gas projections, coal reserves, climate data, sea-level rise, human population, environmental justice and the status of scores of endangered and threatened species and other wildlife. More specifically, they seek information relating to conservation of aquatic systems, residential energy consumption and Endangered Species Act “Section 7” consultations, a step taken by federal agencies to avoid jeopardizing listed species.

Media outlets have reported on the loss and vulnerability of federal data relating to some of today’s most pressing environmental issues, pointing out the disappearance of data sets from agency websites under the Trump administration and documenting scientists’ efforts to save them. 

“The U.S. government produces and maintains some of the most important information that scientists use in their research,” said Dr. Stuart Pimm, a Duke University professor and research scientist — and a founder of conservation biology — and the second requester of data. “Along with the Herculean efforts of volunteer scientists around the country, I’m doing what I can to protect this information because it’s critical these data remain available to academic institutions for scientists and future generations.”

With today’s requests the centers and Dr. Pimm are invoking a provision of the Freedom of Information Act that was part of the 2016 amendments to the Act designed to ensure free public access to information on agency websites. They have requested data covering, among other subjects, preservation of species monitoring data and surveys, water quality and flows, weather patterns, sea-level rise and energy production (such as oil and gas well data and coal reserves).

“In dark times such as these, thank goodness for the Freedom of Information Act,” said Nick Surgey with the Center for Media and Democracy, the third data requester.  “Because we have the law on our side, Trump and the people hostile to agency missions he is installing in the federal government will not be allowed to keep this important information from public view.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

www.biologicaldiversity.org

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