Wyoming has implemented a law that will make it virtually impossible for citizen watchdog groups, whistleblowers, and even concerned private citizens to collect data evidence of pollution outside of city limits.
The law, signed by Governor Matt Mead (R) makes it illegal to collect data, outside of city boundaries, on all lands public, private or federal. It cites “data collection” as meaning “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.”
Essentially if you live in or visit Wyoming, taking a picture of a polluted stream as a concerned citizen for the purpose of informing the EPA, National Forestry Service or any other agency could land you a $5000 fine and up to a year in jail.
Some are touting the law as a way to protect ranchers from scientists and whistleblowers from crossing their lands to collect evidence of wrongdoing, as those lands are private and should be protected from trespass.
The reality of the law is far more simple. It’s a broad overreach that makes any data collected evidence of a trespassing crime, whether a rancher can prove trespassing or not, rather than evidence of an environmental crime.
The Wyoming chapter of the Sierra Club told Think Progress that the obtuse language of the law impedes citizen science throughout the state:
“We are deeply concerned that this poorly written and overly vague bill will prevent concerned citizens and students from undertaking valuable research projects on public lands, out of fear of accidentally running afoul of the new law (the scope of which no one clearly understands) and being criminally and civilly prosecuted. There is no need for this new bill, and we can only conclude that it is an attempt by private landowners to scare people away from valid research efforts on public land.”
Denying science is a horrible practice that Republicans embrace on a daily basis; making science illegal is a terrifying step in a direction that can only lead to the unmitigated destruction of our nation and our planet.