As the Trump administration has taken power, a lot of valuable information from US government agencies has been erased. Useful info is being scrubbed from the USDA and the Department of Education, and there are clear indications that the EPA is next. But we now have a snapshot of what the EPA website looked like the day before Trump took office. And it’s all thanks to FOIA requestors.
GIF of an EPA animation from 1974
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has come under unprecedented threat in recent weeks. Republicans have gone so far as to introduce a bill that would eliminate the EPA entirely. But people are pushing back. And after individual efforts to backup the website, along with plenty of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the EPA just posted a snapshot of the site as it existed on 19 January 2017, the day before Trump was sworn in.
— Russ Kick / MemHole2 (@thememoryhole2) February 16, 2017
It’s unclear how many FOIA requests were filed for the site, but we know that it was at least three. Under US federal law, agencies are required to publicly post any documents that get three or more requests. “Documents” is a catchall term under FOIA that can include anything from videos to websites. If just one person makes a request, those documents are only sent to the person who asked for it and it’s up to that party to make it public.
“The genius of this approach is that, because they were required by federal law to post the mirror site (because it’s a frequently requested record), it’s harder now to force it down,” writer and anthologist Russ Kick told Gizmodo over email. Kick is the founder of The Memory Hole, a one-man operation that posts government documents.
Kick wasn’t one of the requestors in this case, but he noticed it this morning after the EPA posted the mirror site yesterday.
“I must admit that I didn’t file a FOIA request for the site. That tactic hadn’t occurred to me, but I love it,” Kick said.
The EPA’s mirror website makes it clear that it’s just a snapshot, and that links could very well die at some point. But it’s better than nothing.
“This is not the current EPA website,” the site reads. “To navigate to the current EPA website, please go to www.epa.gov. This website is historical material reflecting the EPA website as it existed on January 19, 2017. This website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.”
Unfortunately, there are elements of the website that aren’t backed up because of size constraints. Those elements can still be found at the links below:
- AirNow images: Available at https://cfpub.epa.gov/airnow/index.cfm?action=airnow.main
- Radiation Network graphs: Available at https://www.epa.gov/enviro/radnet-overview
- Historic Air Technology Transfer Network information: Available at https://www.epa.gov/technical-air-pollution-resources
- EPA’s Searchable News Releases: Available at https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/search
Coincidentally, I filed my own FOIA request back in September to see if the EPA has purchased any new domain names from September 2015 to September 2016. The agency told me that it hadn’t, but that didn’t preclude them from using a subdomain of EPA: https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/.
I guess it’s time for everyone to submit FOIA requests for every US federal agency’s website if they want to save data before Trump can get his hands all over them.