MuckRock’s Earth Day Document Pre-Game Guide

Get a jump on your April 22 coverage with public records requests ideas

Written by Beryl Lipton
Edited by Michael Morisy

For all our differences, all humans share something in common: this little hunk of rock called Earth. Celebrated globally on April 22, Earth Day has been an annual awareness-raising event since 1970, marked as a time to consider our effects on the planet and ways to curb our negative influence while lauding all the loveliness that life here has to offer. We’ve put together a few ideas to help you file some public records requests for the big occasion.

Environmental Impact Statements

The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) was instituted in 1970 to put some standards around new construction. One of the new requirements is mandated Environmental Impact Statements, meant to estimate the environmental effects of a given project. Though you likely won’t receive these federal-level documents in the next month (last year’s request regarding the William Clinton Presidential Library is still awaiting response), they’re a good place to go for your questions about the effects of larger-scale schemes.

Whence water?

The great universal thirst-quencher, water, is easily taken for granted in the United States. But tragedies like the Flint water crisis have demonstrated that the cheapest solution doesn’t always leave us safe. Consider checking out the regulations and agreements involving your water, or submitting one of the requests below:

  • Any and all standards regarding contaminants applicable to distributed drinking water within the jurisdiction of this agency.
  • All requests for proposal, contracts, draft plans, or other preliminary or current materials related to the privatization of the water supply within the jurisdiction of this agency
  • All lead testing reports for all school buildings within the jurisdiction of this agency

What’s that in the air?

In addition to the Clean Air Act, states usually have their own requirements regarding the amount of emissions buildings can release into the air. The reported amounts are usually available from the state-level Department of Environment Protection or the equivalent agency. In Massachusetts, the greenhouse gas emission numbers are required reporting for facilities that release over 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, and the resulting report is made publicly-available online. There are likely similar reporting requirements in other states that may be made public upon request.

Where the Wild Things Are (or Aren’t)

A lot of wildlife has had to make way for humans, and our non-domesticated brethren are often the first casualties of outgrowth. Interested in just how many casualties there are? One place to start may be destruction reports, held by the local sheriff’s department or animal control authority.

These reports record every time wildlife or some other wayward beast is captured and killed by public officials, either in an emergency or as part of some standard operating procedure. As much as we respect our woodland friends, don’t be duped by agency claims that try to deter you from digging too much into the darkness around animal deaths; one agency tried to reject a request for a dolphin necropsy based on the animal’s privacy rights, a dubious decision that was reversed after it was revealed that it was the privacy of the group that had euthanized the dolphin, not the dolphin itself, that was being shielded.


Image via Wikimedia Commons