Terrorism Fears Thwart Journalists' Reporting

Davis, Joseph A.
June 2004
Nieman Reports;Summer2004, Vol. 58 Issue 2, p18
The article explains the consequences of a change in regulations made by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) aimed at protecting information about the nation's energy infrastructure from terrorists to reporters. This rule blocks journalists from reporting certain information about pipelines, transmission lines, hydroelectric dams and other energy facilities. Whether this protection of information resulting in the public being safer remains an open question and a difficult one to assess with reporters unable to obtain critical information. The FERC has jurisdiction over dams and hydropower, oil and gas pipelines, electric power plants and the grid connecting them, and many other aspects of the nation's energy infrastructure. Within a moth after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, FERC started to remove previously public information from its Web site. By January 2002, it began regulatory proceedings to excise entirely from the public record a whole class of information called Critical Energy Infrastructure Information (CEII). On February 23, 2003, the rule was finalized. The rule allowed companies and utilities to claim protection for disclosure of information when they initially submit it to FERC. In the past year energy companies have proposed building up to 30 liquefied natural gas terminals along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts of the U.S. The rush to build such terminals might prove hard to reconcile with the administration's concerns over terrorism. Until recently, such terminals were rare in the U.S. partly because of safety and economics. In an era of terrorism, press and public access to information about energy infrastructure hazards might well be needed more, not less. The CEII rule has the potential for hiding information the public needs to ensure its own safety.


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