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Sunday, July 8, 2007

TNT's Zeeck Explains Why Public Access to Pipeline Records Matters

Dave Zeeck, Executive Editor of the Tacoma News Tribune, provides one of the best explanations we've seen of why public records must be open when he answers a question from a judge in the case to obtain pipeline records.

These records show details about the 22,000 or so miles of pipelines--loaded with extremely explosive petroleum products--crisscrossing Washington state, including many residential areas. Want to know if a gasoline pipeline in your neighborhood is leaking because of poor maintenance by a profit-focused corporation? Just trust the government and the corporation. They never make mistakes. What could go wrong? A leak in Bellingham that explodes in a giant fire ball and kills an 18-year old and two 10-year olds playing in a park? That could never happen.

But it did.

Dave Zeeck's point is that maybe relying solely on state regulators and giant pipeline corporations to make sure the pipelines are safe isn't such a good idea. If the public can see the records, the public is another set of eyes to make sure things don't, say, explode and kill people.

The Public Records Act agrees with the idea that the public gets to maintain control over the agencies which we created and who work for us. In fact, it's why the law exists. The Public Records Act explains how access to public records allows the public to control our agencies:

"The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created. This chapter shall be liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed to promote this public policy."