WatchDog TipSheet

Appeals Court Radically Expands FOIA 'Safety' Exemption

A federal appeals court created a sweeping and dangerous precedent January 22, 2014, when it ruled the U.S. public had no right to know whether it is endangered by failures of federal dam safety agencies to do their jobs. If the ruling stands, federal agencies could withhold from disclosure almost any information showing federal failure to protect the public from infrastructure dangers.

EWG Database Helps Public, Journos Find Drinking Water Threats

While EPA and local utilities make much data available online, the Environmental Working Group has compiled a tap water database that is much easier to use. It gathers data from the states as well as from EPA, and compiles city-by-city rankings of the best and worst drinking water quality. It also explains the health significance of contaminants and lists contaminants not regulated by EPA.

Feds Raise Fee Barrier to FOIA about Shipbreaking of US Ship Abroad

Maritime historian Jon Ottman has been denied a fee waiver on records he's requested about an aged U.S. Coast Guard cutter that was auctioned to a shipbreaker in Mexico without, he says, being thoroughly checked for toxic and hazardous materials. Photo: America's Queen — Coast Guard Cutter Storis, courtesy US Coast Guard.

CDC, EPA Respond to SEJ Complaints about Press Office Obstacles

After the SEJ and the Society of Professional Journalists complained January 20, 2014, about federal agency press office stonewalling in the face of the Charleston, WV, drinking water disaster, the agencies responded. Read the text of their replies here.

Photog Claims Damages from CalTrans, CHP for Arrest, False Report

The California Highway Patrol lied in reports when it violated the First Amendment rights of news photographer Steve Eberhard of the Willitts News by illegally arresting him to intimidate newsgatherers at a protest site in July 2013, Eberhard says in a legal claim against CHP and Caltrans.

FAA Nixes Drones for Journos

Drones might count as new media — and certainly have journalistic uses in covering everything from prairie fires to chemical emergencies. The federal government, which devotes enormous technical resources to spying on its citizens, now says this is illegal. The Federal Aviation Administration issued the ruling, saying there was no grey area: hobbyists can legally fly video drones. But journalists can not. Image: Cade Cleavelin, a science/ag journalism senior at U of Missouri, demonstrates a DJY Phantom quadcopter at the 2013 SEJ Conference in Chattanooga, TN. © Roger Archibald.

Drinking Water Crisis Reveals Knowledge Gaps

You read about the 300,000 West Virginians who don't know if they are drinking safe water — and ask "Could it happen here?" The answer is "You betcha!" Environmental journalists have many tools for discovering drinking-water disasters-waiting-to-happen in their own bailiwicks.

WikiLeaks Exposes Secret Obama Trade Pact on Environment

Corporate lobby groups? Yeah, they can read it. Big campaign donors? They can read it, too. But can the news media and U.S. public read it? — No way! That would be un-American. Welcome to the secretly negotiated trade treaty known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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