In late April 2017, a pop-up window on the Environmental Protection Agency’s official web site led to fears that the agency planned to shutter its website containing data on millions of facilities, as well as climate-related findings.

Federal contractor Bernadette Hyland first made the allegation that the EPA intended to shut down opendata.epa.gov. in a 23 April 2017 editorial on Medium:

Our company 3 Round Stones, Inc. was notified by EPA that “we need to be ready to turn-off the EPA Open Data web service by noon on April 28, 2017 — the last day of the current continuing resolution. If Congress does not pass a budget, we will be facing a government shutdown and won’t be able to give technical direction to continue any work.”

Hyland also cited “numerous conversations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Information (OEI), and various technical contractors who support them” for her statement.

An agency spokesperson, JP Freire, responded to our queries via e-mail:

The web site is not shutting down. The source of the message was a contractor who was unauthorized and misinformed. You can find out more about the person here. The message was removed after about two hours and replaced with a message that stated that the data would continue to be available.

The message linked to a story in the conservative news site the Washington Free Beacon saying that Hyland was spreading “fake news.” (For context, this site has also suggested that expenses by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign could be linked to allegations regarding her use of a private e-mail server and published a study arguing that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) paid female staffers less than their male counterparts without taking into account pay differences between the various positions in her staff.)

 The following day, visitors to the site reported seeing a pop-up making the same allegation:

The EPA also addressed the issue online, tweeting:

Rumors about the website http://opendata.epa.gov/ are wrong. It’s open, working & not going anywhere. This website & the EPA belong to you.

The pop-up on the open data site was also replaced with one promising that it would remain open after 28 April 2017:

We contacted Hyland seeking comment; she has yet to respond to us.  However, she defended her statement in a different interview, saying that the attention it generated online represented the best “social media working in a positive way to have a positive outcome that I’ve ever personally experienced.”

Sources:

@EPA. “Rumors about the website http://opendata.epa.gov/ are wrong. It’s open, working & not going anywhere. This website & the EPA belong to you.” Twitter. 24 April 2017.

Hyland, Bernadete. “US EPA Confirms Continuity of Open Data Service on 28-Apr-2017.” Medium. 23 April 2017.

Gallucci, Maria. “The EPA won’t be shutting down its open data website after all.” Mashable. 24 April 2017.