Save the Data: Is EPA Citizen-Science Portal in Danger Under Trump?
Site in question contains a 'data warehouse' covering air, water, and ground pollution data, plus much more
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is assuring the public that a valuable citizen-linked and searchable portal that stores information on climate change, public health, and pollution will still be available after Friday, April 28.
Fresh off Saturday's global March for Science, researchers and scientists sounded the alarm on Sunday and Monday, as word spread that President Donald Trump's administration was preparing to shut down the EPA's Open Data web service by the end of the week.
Journalists and science advocates immediately launched a call to "scrape" records from the service, after open-data scientist and tech CEO Bernadette Hyland wrote on Medium that her company had received word the site would go dark at 12:00pm on Friday in the event of a government shutdown.
In her post on Sunday, Hyland noted that the service "includes detailed toxic chemical information, a 30-year history of toxic chemical releases reported by industrial and federal facilities, collected and curated by the EPA's flagship Toxics Release Inventory Program." That program, according to the EPA, "supports informed decision-making by communities, government agencies, companies, and others."
Author and software engineer David Wood further explained on Twitter that the site "contains a data warehouse of [seven] EPA databases and represents air, water, ground pollution data, [and] import/exports of toxic chemicals."
Scrapping such records, Andrew Griffin wrote at The Independent, would "mean that citizens will no longer be able to access information on their environment and climate, keeping them from researching potentially fatal changes to their area."
The public outrage was palpable:
WE PAID FOR THAT DATA. IT'S OURS. https://t.co/vrpPd04WmC
— Lila Ralston (@epicdemiologist) April 24, 2017
— Mark Johnson (@ecohydrologist) April 24, 2017
— Andy Revkin (@Revkin) April 24, 2017
— EPA Climate Center (@EPAcIimatectr) April 24, 2017
The news was especially pertinent as it came in the wake of Earth Day, when tens of thousands across the globe marched against the anti-science Trump administration and in support of what Greenpeace's Tim Donaghy called "the values of the scientific method—openness, curiosity, collaboration, and respect for evidence."
But on Monday, Alex Howard of the Sunlight Foundation noted online that should the service go offline, it may not be permanent. "Remember," he wrote, "when the U.S. government 'shut down' in March 2014, a lot of government websites & data went offline."
The Hill's Timothy Cama confirmed that an EPA spokesperson told him the site "isn't shutting down, just won't get updated during a gov't shutdown" and the official EPA Twitter account on Monday posted:
Rumors about the website https://t.co/LrKulKdA6t are wrong. It's open, working & not going anywhere. This website & the EPA belong to you.
— U.S. EPA (@EPA) April 24, 2017
A new pop-up message also appeared on the Open Data site late Monday morning, pledging the data would still be available after Friday:
— Timothy Cama (@Timothy_Cama) April 24, 2017