Keeping government open and accountable

Government decisions should be transparent

The National Environmental Policy Act, the nation’s oldest federal environmental law, is rooted in transparency. Communities rely on NEPA to better understand how large projects, like pipelines and highways, could affect their lives and livelihoods. NEPA exists to keep neighbors informed, and also to allow them as stakeholders to suggest alternatives that make the projects better.

But it only works when government agencies are fully committed to transparency and public engagement. At every step of the way, we work to ensure NEPA functions as a tool for communities, and we are fighting in court to preserve the right for our neighbors to speak up in the NEPA process.

We often use Freedom of Information laws hand-in-hand with NEPA to help our communities be informed about government proposals. But too often government agencies make it hard for people to fully understand what their federal, state and local governments are doing, or want to do, and how public funds are paying for it. In some cases, governments withhold important records from the public by charging large fees or giving citizens the run-around. We are committed to challenging any government obstinance that keeps citizens in the dark. 

Many government agencies treat citizen requests like a nuisance, and that’s profoundly wrong. Knowing what our government is doing is the foundation of our democracy. Citizens have an absolute right to participate in government decisions.

Kym Hunter, Senior Attorney and leader of SELC’s Government Accountability Team

Too many barriers

Getting copies of public records should be as simple as asking for them. Attending government meetings should just require you showing up. And voicing concerns and alternatives for major infrastructure projects should be easy. But when government agencies are doing the bidding of construction interests or high-dollar lobbyists, sometimes they try to shut down public participation. SELC has gone to court time and time again to ensure stakeholders have the information they are entitled to, and are allowed to participate in the process. That’s just good governance, and SELC is committed to ensuring transparency. 

Challenging lawmakers

As state legislatures push bills on behalf of utilities or industries to protect their operations and potential wrongdoing from public disclosure, we are fighting both in public and behind-the-scenes to make sure the government is serving the public first. Statehouses are also debating bills prohibiting watchdog groups from using cost-effective drones to photograph utility pipelines and to track pollution. We are digging into these new restrictions to ensure our partners and clients have access to the tools they need to hold polluters accountable.