WatchDog TipSheet

Congress Could Still Pass FOIA Reform

There is still a chance that Congress could pass legislation strengthening the Freedom of Information Act before it adjourns. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a fix-FOIA bill (S 2520) November 20, 2014, setting up the possibility of full-Senate floor action. The Society of Environmental Journalists has urged Congress and the President to support such legislation.

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Free Speech for Science Advisors? EPA Loosens the Leash

EPA has issued a "clarification" of its SAB scientist-muzzling policy, which acknowledges that SAB members are free to talk to reporters — mostly — as long as they are speaking for themselves. Still, the Society of Professional Journalists wrote EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy December 1 declaring their dissatisfaction with the clarification.

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J-Groups Call on Forest Service To Drop Permit Requirements

A coalition of journalism groups, including SEJ, is calling on the U.S. Forest Service to make clear in its directives that journalists, documentarians, and media photographers do not need permits to take pictures in National Forest Wilderness or other public lands.

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Got Methyl Mercaptan? Group Maps Chemical Risks Data

It was news when a leak of methyl mercaptan killed four workers at a DuPont chemical plant in La Porte, Texas, November 15, 2014. Maps and data are available to any environmental journalists who want to know about similar hazards near them, thanks to Amanda Frank at the Center for Effective Government.

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FOIA Bill Could Still Pass Lame Duck

There is still hope (and perhaps time) for this Congress to pass a bill strengthening the Freedom of Information Act. The Senate Judiciary seems likely to mark up a revised FOIA reform bill Thursday, November 20, 2014. After that will come a push to bring it to the Senate floor and eventually reconcile with a FOIA bill already passed by the House.

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House Passes Bill That Helps Silence Science on EPA Advisory Board

On a 229-191 party-line vote, the GOP-controlled House passed a bill reining in EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) — authorizing conflicts of interest for its members and gagging them in communications about subjects they are expert on. Science integrity and environmental groups had opposed the bill, which the House passed on November 18, 2014.

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Pacificorp Claims the Birds Its Turbines Kill Are Trade Secret

Power company Pacificorp has gone to court to prevent the Interior Department from disclosing how many birds are found dead at its wind-energy turbine sites. AP reporter Dina Cappiello has been writing an investigative series on the birds, including eagles, killed at wind farms in the U.S. The series found that federal regulators have not prosecuted or penalized wind-energy companies when their turbines kill birds and — the government has helped keep the scope of bird mortality secret.

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Did Halliburton Buy Baker Hughes Silence on Fracking Chemicals?

It seemed like good news when Baker Hughes, one of the world's largest oilfield services companies, announced in Oct 2014 that it would start disclosing all the chemicals it used in its fracking operation. Now Halliburton, an even larger oilfield services company, is buying Baker Hughes. In a $34.6 billion merger. Or is it a hostile takeover?

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Washington Cities Map Crude-By-Rail Routes. Other States?

Here's an idea: let people know where 100-car trainloads of crude oil might be threatening their safety. After the July 2013 Lac-Mégantic disaster that killed 47, people might want to know about this. And the Federal Railroad Administration officially agrees — saying railroads can't hide this information. Now the Association of Washington Cities has an online map for that.

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Exxon Claims 900,000 Pages of Secrets on Arkansas Spill

Yes, the pipeline is publicly regulated. Yes, the March 2013 rupture of Exxon's Pegasus Pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas, quite publicly polluted people's yards and homes. Yes, it is publicly known that there were defects and poor maintenance on the pipeline. But 900,000 pages of documents that might show Exxon's neglect are being claimed as "confidential" by the company as it tries to defend against a class-action lawsuit.

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