WatchDog TipSheet

Will Safety Trump Secrecy in Oil-by-Rail?

Should firefighters and residents know whether trains loaded with explosive oil are routed through the heart of residential districts? Many railroads say no, claiming it is a security issue. But on June 18, 2014, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) dismissed that claim, saying that oil train routing was not sensitive security information. Yet the railroads are fighting back.

"Who Gets A Press Pass?" Report Explores Media Access

Experienced journalists know that a press credential is often critical to gaining physical or virtual access to news events and information. It's an aspect of information access rarely covered by the news media themselves. A new report from the Digital Media Law Project at Harvard looks systematically at who gets a press card and who does not.

Ashtracker Database Helps Journos Dig Up Stories on Coal Ash Problems

Local reporters can find information about coal-ash situations in their own areas using a newly improved database compiled by the Environmental Integrity Project which goes well beyond anything previously available because it includes large amounts of painstaking research by EIP. The site is important for its focus on contamination of groundwater that people may drink by the toxic heavy metals in coal combustion wastes.

When Is a Policy Not a Policy? When Reporters Want To Talk to EPA Staff

For some years now, under multiple administrations, journalists who have called EPA scientists and other experts asking to talk to them about matters large and small have almost universally been told something like, "I'm not allowed to talk to news media without Press Office permission." Yet EPA officials maintain they do not have a press policy. SEJ's WatchDog filed June 10, 2014 the first of what will be an ongoing series of FOIA requests to get to the bottom of this ironic situation.

Judge Orders Exxon To Produce Records on Leaky Arkansas Pipeline

ExxonMobil lost a bid to keep federal regulators and prosecutors from getting records which might show criminal negligence in its operation of the pipeline that spilled oil into the Arkansas community of Mayflower in March 2013. The judge also threw out Exxon's motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the company.

SEJ Objects to EPA "No Attribution" Presser on Carbon Rule

SEJ objected strenuously last week to  the ground rules for a telephone press briefing on U.S. EPA's carbon emissions rule for existing power plants. In a June 5, 2014, letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the Society of Environmental Journalists objected to the "truncated, anonymous 'background' tele-briefing for news media" held on the June 2 roll-out day. The text of EPA's June 10 response to SEJ's letter is here.

"Journalist's Toolbox" Catalogues Vast Gumshoe Resources

If you are a serious journalist and have not yet discovered the "Journalist's Toolbox," you are in for a treat. The website offers useful sources for a wide range of topics of interest, especially to investigative reporters. Topics include protecting sources, privacy, data visualization, digital verification, transcription tools, rights-free photos, mobile journalism, public records, copy-editing, and more.

Reporters Curious About Tar Sands Not Very Welcome in Canada

Reporter Emily Atkin of the Climate Progress blog told recently of flying into Fort McMurray, Alberta to see the tar sands and being hassled for some 45 minutes by "security" officials because she was a journalist — including being told "We might have to send you back to the States."

Will EPA Go Further in Pushing Fracking Fluid Disclosure?

The agency is exploring some of its legal options for improving transparency about fracking fluid. One sign that EPA might be thinking of using its existing Clean Water Act legal authority came when the publication DeSmogBlog published on May 28 a leaked EPA draft suggesting it was considering doing precisely that.

You Can Hide Oil Trains from the Public, But Not from Terrorists

As 100-car trains of explosive crude oil snake through U.S. cities and river gorges, the railroad industry continues to tell the public they are being kept secret from terrorists. But now a series of articles by Rob Davis for the The (Portland) Oregonian seems to have caught the railroads and the feds in their own contradictions.

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