Editorial: Darts and laurels

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 23, 2009

Laurels to greater openness and transparency in government. As part of a spate of orders his first week in office, President Obama signed a memo instructing government agencies faced with requests under the Freedom of Information Act to err on the side of disclosure. This is a departure from the Bush administration’s approach, as formulated under then-Attorney General John Ashcroft who said that his department would defend agencies if they could come up with a reason not to release information.
Obama said that government could not keep information confidential just because its release might be embarrassing, reveal errors and failures, or harm the personal interests of government officials.
Obama also reversed another Bush order. The Presidential Records Act, which governs the National Archivs and the presidential libraries, requires most ex-presidents’ papers to become public after 12 years. As the time was approaching when the records from his father’s administration were due to become public, Bush signed an order allowing the president, vice president, ex-presidents, and their heirs and ex-vice presidents to compel the archives to keep their records sealed.
We’ll see how steadfastly the new guidelines are followed as the administration begins dealing with specific cases and sensitive disclosures ó like where all that $700 billion in bailout money is going.
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Dart to the rapid approval of a controversial state environmental permit that will help the owners of an open-pit phosphate mine near Pamlico Sound to expand their operations, devouring more wetlands. The approval came just four days after Gov. Beverly Perdue’s administration took office. It enables Canadian-owned PCS Phosphate to significantly expand its operations in Beaufort County, as water-quality regulators in the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued a long-pending permit. The phosphate operation generates jobs for the county and pays substantial taxes, and that’s no small matter in a struggling economy. But, as the News & Observer previously reported, the mining expansion impacts almost 5 miles of streams and will damage more than 3,900 acres of wetlands. Economic benefits have to be balanced against protecting North Carolina’s environment.
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Laurels to a significant drop in traffic fatalities in North Carolina, as reported by the N.C. Department of Transportation. The number of people killed in car accidents dropped 18 percent between 2007 and 2008. The bad news is that the decline apparently didn’t come because we’re becoming better drivers. Experts attribute the drop to fewer miles traveled because of the recent rise in gas prices and the slumping economy.