Wyoming Makes Reporting Environmental Disasters Illegal

from the ag-gag-embiggened dept

Techdirt has written several times about so-called "ag-gag" laws, which have the strange effect of making it illegal for members of the public to expose animal abuse on farms. Slate has a fascinating report about how Wyoming is bringing in its own kind of ag-gag law that is so wide in its reach that it could make taking photos in Yellowstone illegal:

photos are a type of data, and the new law makes it a crime to gather data about the condition of the environment across most of the state if you plan to share that data with the state or federal government.
The specificity of that restriction sounds absurd. Why on earth would anyone want to prevent environmental data being gathered? Here's why:
The state wants to conceal the fact that many of its streams are contaminated by E. coli bacteria, strains of which can cause serious health problems, even death.
The reason the state is trying to do that is because the E. coli in question comes from cows, and cows have clout in Wyoming:
Acknowledging that fact could result in rules requiring ranchers who graze their cows on public lands to better manage their herds. The ranching community in Wyoming wields considerable political power and has no interest in such obligations, so the state is trying to stop the flow of information rather than forthrightly address the problem.
The law is framed broadly: it makes it a crime to "preserve information in any form" about "open land" if there is any intention to submit it to a federal or state agency. That means that if you discovered a major environmental disaster in Wyoming, no matter how life-threatening, you had better keep information about it to yourself. As the Slate post points out:
By enacting this law, the Wyoming legislature has expressed its disdain for the freedoms protected by the First Amendment and the environmental protections enshrined in federal statutes. Today, environmentally conscious citizens face a stark choice: They can abandon efforts to protect the lands they love or face potential criminal charges.
Now that's what I call an ag-gag law.

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Filed Under: ag gag, animal rights, cows, environment, free expression, photographs, wyoming, yellowstone


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 7:58am

    This is obviously unconstitutional. Whatever it means nowadays. Next clear violation?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anon, 14 May 2015 @ 12:57pm

      Re:

      >This is obviously unconstitutional. Whatever it means nowadays. Next clear violation?

      But if you widely publish the information for all to see, then it's clearly protected. And publications are clearly protected. First amendment and all that... So the law essentially makes it illegal to secretly report disasters only to the authorities?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 2:28pm

      Re:

      I agree, can't a resident of Wyoming sue the legislators who voted in favor of such an obviously unconstitutional law for legal damages for the defendant fees and wasted taxpayer funds for the prosecution of whomever is effected by this law?

      I think /that/ would send a nice clear message.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Pragmatic, 15 May 2015 @ 7:48am

      Re:

      States' rights advocates hop in to promote this in 3...2...1... isn't that what states' rights are about?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 14 May 2015 @ 9:57am

    The state wants to conceal the fact that many of its streams are contaminated by E. coli bacteria

    Bullshit in streams leads to bullshit in legislature.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jimmy (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 9:58am

    Media

    "No officer, I preserved this data so I can share it with the media outlets. The local government is too corrupt to be properly concerned about this environmental hazard."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      jupiterkansas (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 10:06am

      Re: Media

      If you give it to a local media outlet, would it be illegal for them to report it, considering the government is likely a subscriber?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:10am

        Re: Re: Media

        As long as the media isn't owned by the government, I don't think it'd be a problem.

        Though I'd bet on a lawsuit settling that question.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 11:30am

        Re: Re: Media

        If you give it to a foreign newspaper, it would not. A newspaper, in Canada, for example, is not subject to an American laws for what they publish. A Canadian newspaper would only be subject to Canadian laws for what they publish.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:06am

    The state wants to conceal...

    Its worse that they, they wish to remain ignorant of environmental problems, so that they do not have to do anything about them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:10am

    That's pretty horrifying on so many levels. If you were to find some environmental disaster that you KNEW would kill someone, wouldn't not reporting it make you guilty of negligence resulting in death?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 10:11am

    Easy workaround

    the new law makes it a crime to gather data about the condition of the environment across most of the state if you plan to share that data with the state or federal government.


    No problem, then. Simply gather the data without planning to share it with state or federal governments. Instead, put it up on the web somewhere and make a HUGE stink in the media about it. That seems like it would be perfectly legal under the law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:43am

      Re: Easy workaround

      The bill is written so weirdly that this actually works.

      "(d) As used in this section:
      (i) "Collect" means to take a sample of material, acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form from open land which is submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government;"

      According to this bill, if you don't submit it to the government or intend to submit it, you didn't collect it; so you're not in violation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 9:19pm

      Re: Easy workaround

      "make a HUGE stink"

      pun intended?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:13am

    Those damn terra-rists are gonna get what they deserved for protecting their so called 'mother nature' and 'first amendment'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Votre (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 10:24am

    And they wonder why some people consider them hicks?

    Wow! You can't report a major health or environmental issue to the federal government if you're in Wyoming - according to Wyoming law?

    I had no idea Wyoming seceded from the United States. Thanks for sharing!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 10:31am

      Re: And they wonder why some people consider them hicks?

      They didn't make reporting it illegal. They made collecting the data with the intention to report illegal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 12:19pm

        Re: Re: And they wonder why some people consider them hicks?

        Still a first amendment violation. Taking photos is protected expression, particularly when you have an audience for them.

        “to achieve First Amendment protection, a plaintiff must show that he possessed: (1) a message to be communicated; and (2) an audience to receive that message, regardless of the medium in which the message is to be expressed.”
        - Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group 1995 (from here)

        Photography with the express intent to distribute to federal and state agencies (or anyone else) falls squarely within that ruling.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:31am

    First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom... to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." It's this part of the First Amendment which is most offended by this.

    The Fourteenth Amendment means that states can't abridge this right either.

    If anyone here is from Wyoming: You need to find out who voted for this, and make sure to never vote for them again, even if you generally agree with them on certain issues. They've shown themselves to be willing to blatantly trample your rights and the environment, to pander to a special interest group. They're not fit to be elected dogcatcher.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 10:37am

      Re:

      I suspect a big part of how this happened is that there are so few people in Wyoming. The population of the entire state is a little more than half a million people. And about half of that population is employed be the agricultural industry.

      My guess is that at least 25% of the population thinks this kind of law is a good thing because they think it will help them to keep their jobs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sorrykb (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 11:51am

      Re:

      It looks like almost everyone in the Wyoming legislature voted for it.
      https://legiscan.com/WY/bill/SF0012/2015

      Don't miss this section at the end of the bill:
      (f) Resource data collected in violation of this section in the possession of any governmental entity as defined by W.S. 1-39-103(a)(i) shall be expunged by the entity from all files and data bases, and it shall not be considered in determining any agency action.
      It would appear that even if you did manage to share your data with the news media, Wyoming state officials and agencies would be required to pretend it didn't exist.

      Congratulations, people of Wyoming. Willful ignorance is now the law of the land.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 9:25pm

        Re: Re:

        So how does a state government expect to force the federal government to destroy said data. And exactly how is said government going to prevent the federal government from imposing sanctions (sovereign immunity?).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 8:42am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "So how does a state government expect to force the federal government to destroy said data."

          I may have missed it, but I don't see anything in the law that requests or requires the feds to destroy any data they receive. Probably because that would just get the feds to respond with the legally enforceable answer of "fuck off".

          But the law does allow the state to punish the people who gathered and reported the data to the feds (assuming that it survives the inevitable constitutional challenge, which I think is highly unlikely).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:32am

    we like our constituents blind, deaf and dumb

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:45am

    the Feds are even worse

    It's not just the state of Wyoming that acts this way, the federal government also restricts 1st-Amendment rights on public property such as National Parks and US Forest Service lands.

    The U.S. Forest Service has tightened restrictions on media coverage in vast swaths of the country's wild lands, requiring reporters to pay for a permit and get permission before shooting a photo or video in federally designated wilderness areas.

    Under rules being finalized in November, a reporter who met a biologist, wildlife advocate or whistleblower alleging neglect in 36 million acres of wilderness would first need special approval to shoot photos or videos even on an iPhone.

    Permits cost up to $1,500, says Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers, and reporters who don't get a permit could face fines up to $1,000.

    First Amendment advocates say the rules ignore press freedoms and are so vague they'd allow the Forest Service to grant permits only to favored reporters shooting videos for positive stories.


    http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2014/09/forest_service_says_media_need.html

    h ttps://roadtrippers.com/stories/national-forest-service-will-soon-fine-photographs-1000-for-taking-p ictures

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Machin Shin (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 11:50am

      Re: the Feds are even worse

      "Permits cost up to $1,500, says Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers, and reporters who don't get a permit could face fines up to $1,000."

      This is a prime example of why I am loosing faith in the government (or well, pretty much totally lost it actually). A permit cost $1,500 but not having it gives you a $1000 fine? So basically I can save $500 by breaking the law?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 12:12pm

        Re: Re: the Feds are even worse

        Not necessarily. It might even be something like a typical city filming permit, where the police will cordon off a section of the street to keep out the public during filming of a movie or TV show.

        The "word on the street" was that as long as you didn't set up a tripod with a big, expensive looking camera in a national park, you were probably safe ignoring the photography permit requirement.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          beltorak (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 12:57pm

          Re: Re: Re: the Feds are even worse

          > ... as long as you didn't ... you were probably safe ignoring ...

          Seems to me this is *exactly* how we get into selective enforcement problems....

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 10:47am

    Unconstitutional

    This is so obviously unconstitutional, if I lived in Wyoming, I'd go out and purposely violate the law just so they could try and prosecute me and have it overturned by the court.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 11:18am

      Re: Unconstitutional

      You'd have to do it right, though. I mean, if you just went onto random people's land and started taking samples, you probably would be guilty of trespassing even if this law was found invalid.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 8:47am

        Re: Re: Unconstitutional

        That should be easy. 48% of the land in Wyoming is owned by the federal government (it has the fifth largest amount of public lands of the all the states), and most of that land is both accessible to the public and used by the agricultural industry.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:17pm

      Re: Unconstitutional

      unless you were arrested and the police conveinently forgot about you, until you starved to death in a jail cell.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 10:50am

    Recognition of government

    So it's official? The US is a plutocracy? It must be if a law so blatantly aimed at preserving the wealth of a very few of Wyoming's 1/2 a million citizens at the expense of the health of the rest can even be contemplated seriously, much less enacted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    andy, 14 May 2015 @ 11:02am

    HAHAHQA

    Maybe someone can use the new trade laws to charge the state trilli0ons for not acknowledging the fact that their cows are infested with ecoli thus causing issues elsewhere around the world, we can only hope that this crazy tpp law comes into force and America can be bankrupted and start actually being run by its people and not corporations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 11:16am

      Re: HAHAHQA

      I don't think most countries could object to E. coli pollution in Wyoming rivers - why would an Australian company care? It would be more likely that a foreign-owned ranching company would use the TPP to object to any proposed regulations that would increase their costs, preventing us from ever fixing the problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 12:05pm

    BS anyone?

    What's next? Are they going to make it illegal to point out what famous person owns a publicly visible house?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 12:08pm

    All I can say is I want what they are smoking. ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    beltorak (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 1:00pm

    wait. did they just make it illegal to report illegal activity to the authorities?

    i... i swear i ... is it... did....

    wut??!?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:22pm

      Re:

      you ever hear the one about how complaining to your local government officials about local city official screw-ups equates paper terrorism to those same officials for pointing out their scandals

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 1:20pm

    Small Government

    This is something to think about for all those (primarily Libertarians) who constantly cheer for "small government!!". You see, much like an investment porfolio, a government functions best when it is larger, and has more diverse interests represented. For example, voters in NYC would not be in favor of Wyoming's gag law, but their opinions don't matter to the state of WY, and thus small government also means small-minded.

    Think of all the studies that show diversified thinking results in better decisions. Small gov't ignores that.

    Think about a resource-extraction state, like Alaska. Do you think Alaska is "balanced" in their governance when choices are between protecting the environment, and extracting more oil or trees? Well, since most people in the state are paid either directly or indirectly by resource extraction, they get lots of "drill baby drill", and nothing else.

    Ever see a mining town that was anti-mining? Iowa is corn first, WY is cows first, Alaska is resource extraction first, and damn the consequences. Great!

    This is not an argument for "one world government", much as a stock porfolio diversity plan does not need thousands of stocks. A dozen or more provides adequate diversity. A nation as diverse and as large as the USA has plenty of diversity built-in. But distilled down to the state level, local priorities may be biased by local enterprise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 2:41pm

      Re: Small Government

      Oh, no. You have this completely backwards. They can get away with this sort of thing because government is so large and has its fingers in so many pies that hardly anyone is going to base their votes off of this.

      Voters in NYC would not be in favor of this law, but the law only applies to unincorporated areas, so they also wouldn't be likely to base their votes off of this.

      When you elect your Senator or the President, are you going to base your vote on environmental laws, or copyright, or gay marriage, or NSA surveillance, or taxes, or Social Security, or immigration, or gun control, or asset forfeiture, or the TSA, or Obamacare, or No Child Left Behind, or campaign finance laws, or farm subsidies, or transportation funding, or something else? The more things the government is doing, the more you have to hold your nose and vote for someone who agrees with you on only some of them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 3:13pm

        Re: Re: Small Government

        But many people are made to believe that every problem in society can be cured by having more government -- more laws, more agencies, more enforcement. And by that rationale, if enlarging the government fails to solve the problems it was designed to cure, or creates additional problems no one anticipated, then the solution to over-government is not less government, but even more.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 6:16pm

          Re: Re: Re: Small Government

          Conservatives say the favor small government, you know ... small enough to fit in a vagina.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 1:31pm

    Laws of the "greatest" country in the world

    Kill or attack one person and face jail (as it should be). Kill, maim, bankrupt, destroy the life of 1000 people and get riches.
    People are horrified about a serial killer who has killed 10 people, but supports laws that protect those killing many more. Brilliant.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    KRA, 14 May 2015 @ 5:33pm

    Federal lands?

    Since Yellowstone is a national park, I would think it's under federal jurisdiction. Can the state pass a law about what people can do on federal land? What about on private property? Can I take water samples from my own stream and do what I want with them?

    Part of what makes this story so sad--aside from the bought-and-paid-for politician angle--is the fact that there is clearly no government oversight of these lands, since it's the citizen scientist who's under attack in this law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 5:49pm

    Conflict Potential

    This looks tailor made for a court case on conflicting legislation.
    Let's say I work on a pipeline (many of which flow through Wyoming) and I witness a spill. Every pipeline worker must have training on reporting Abnormal Operating Conditions, and the law is quite clear regarding mandatory reporting.
    A state law that prohibits data collection and reporting vs. a federal law that requires reporting on the exact same incident sounds like a good opportunity to sit back and open up some popcorn.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    justme, 14 May 2015 @ 7:48pm

    So let say. .

    You came across someone growing pot on open land in Wyoming and you take pictures, giving them to the police would get you arrested! And even if the police received those pictures, they would be required to destroy them and forget about it, or they are violating this law??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    FUCK YOU, 15 May 2015 @ 2:53pm

    DICKHEADS ARE IN WYOMING

    Let me be the first to call everyone who supported this preposterous legislation a true treasonous bastard against the principles on which the United States of AMERICA was founded.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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