This special issue of SEJ's WatchDog celebrated "Sunshine Week," the national reminder that freedom of information and open government are essential for a working democracy. Lots of info is available for environmental reporters about pollutants and hazards that can harm people. Our Sunshine toolbox is ... well ... full of flashlights — environmental databases that can help you see things. Categories include chemicals, disasters, energy, health and pollution. Shine on!
The availability of government data has soared over the last decade — offering a huge opportunity for watchdog journalists to find stories that advance the public interest. The environmental beat is the Saudi Arabia of data (yes, that means vast, rich, accessible, and untapped reserves).
The Senate Energy Committee last November approved a different version of the bill which seems to include an exemption from fees and permits for "news gathering." But whether it will pass on the floor or get reconciled with the House bill in an election year is unknown.
Scientist Jonathan Lundgren (left), who has been researching the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on Monarch butterflies, filed a whistleblower complaint and lost. And, Lundgren claimed his supervisors at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service told him not to talk to news media and punished him when he did.
The reports aren't released to the taxpayers who funded them but the Federation of American Scientists' Government Secrecy Project publishes leaked copies. Here are 17 of the latest, from air to water, food to fuel, and much more.
Grants and contracts are a key way that the agency extends the reach of its work into the world beyond agency offices. They may include an engineering project to clean up a Superfund site, an environmental education and outreach program, snow-plowing agency parking lots, expert studies, and computer services.
Maine passed a law in 2015 that allowed railroads to keep oil-train routing information from the public — over the governor's veto. In the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting's Pine Tree Watchdog, Dave Sherwood reports how the provision was a bait-and-switch.
Bad as it is, the Flint drinking water disaster is hardly uncommon. Even though the law requires authorities to tell the public of dangerous levels of lead in drinking water, they often don't.
Not everybody loves freedom of information. Those who do celebrate "Sunshine Week" annually in hopes of educating the public about why they need to know what their governments are up to. This year, Sunshine Week will get extra oomph from the fact that the Freedom of Information Act is turning 50 years old.