SEJ Speaks on FOI Issues

Information on SEJ's actions advocating access to environmental information from 2010 to the present are listed below in reverse chronological order. Previous years are archived: 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, and 2002 (the year SEJ's Freedom of Information Task Force was formed).

 

August 12, 2014
SEJ Protests EPA's Scientist "Don't Talk" Policy

An April 4, 2014 memo (not made public at the time) from EPA's chief of staff made clear that members of the agency's many science advisory panels are not to talk to the news media or Congress without permission. In an August 12th letter, SEJ was joined by SPJ, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Union of Concerned Scientists' Center for Science and Democracy, the American Geophysical Union, and the Society for Conservation Biology in protesting the policy. The groups urged EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy "to clarify that members of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) and the twenty other EPA science advisory committees have the right and are encouraged to speak to the public and the press about any scientific issues, including those before these committees, in a personal capacity without prior authorization from the agency."

July 8, 2014
SEJ Urges Obama To Stop PIO Spin at Fed Agencies

SEJ, SPJ and 36 other journalism groups wrote a letter July 8, 2014, calling on President Obama to stop the excessive controls and political spin of information at many federal agencies. The groups wrote, "We ask that you issue a clear directive telling federal employees they're not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so. We believe that is one of the most important things you can do for the nation now, before the policies become even more entrenched."

June 5, 2014
SEJ Objects to EPA "No Attribution" Presser

The Society of Environmental Journalists has objected to the Environmental Protection Agency's "no attribution" ground rule for a press teleconference that was part of its June 2, 2014, roll-out of its carbon emissions rule for existing power plants. The background briefing — which supplemented Administrator Gina McCarthy's on-record statement — made questions difficult on this complex rule.

Coverage:

April 9, 2014
SEJ "Condemns" Military Treatment of Blade Reporters

SEJ sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, condemning "in the strongest terms" the treatment of two Toledo Blade journalists March 28 by military police outside a Lima, Ohio, tank plant. The journalists were on public property when they were detained by military police. Photographer Jetta Fraser's camera was confiscated, even though she was taking pictures of what was in plain public view. Fraser was held in handcuffs, and military police threatened sexual violence against her.

April 8, 2014
SEJ Objects to Capitol Police Detention of Energy Reporter

SEJ sent a letter to U.S. Capitol authorities objecting to the March 28, 2014 incident in which Bloomberg BNA reporter Ari Natter was briefly detained by a Capitol Police officer in the hallway of the Russell Senate Office Building. Natter was trying to ask a question of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy at the time. The letter was sent to Terrance W. Gainer, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, and others. Gainer oversees the Capitol Police.

March 18, 2014
SEJ Wants To Know Who's in Charge at EPA

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said she wants to run an open agency. So why do reporters have to wait days — or weeks — to talk to agency sources after they call the press office? As 300,000 residents of Charleston, WV, faced a drinking water crisis in January 2014, it took EPA a week to find an official who could talk to the Charleston Gazette. EPA is supposed to be the main federal agency responsible for enforcing the Safe Drinking Water Act. SEJ executive director Beth Parke and Joseph Davis, director of the SEJ WatchDog Project, write an op-ed looking for answers.

 


January 20, 2014
SEJ, SPJ Urge EPA, CDC to End Press Office Obstacles in Public Health Crises

Journalists had trouble overcoming EPA and CDC press office obstacles and getting access to agency experts and officials during this month's drinking water contamination crisis in Charleston, WV. SEJ and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) sent a letter of complaint on January 20, 2014 to heads of both agencies and their press offices, urging them to adopt specific practices to end press office stonewalling and increase transparency, especially in times of crisis.

 


August 7, 2013
SEJ Calls CHP's Media Treatment "Unacceptable"

On July 23, 2013, the California Highway Patrol arrested Steve Eberhard, a photojournalist for the biweekly Willits News, allegedly for "trespassing" on the overpass construction site where protesters had chained themselves to construction equipment. SEJ wrote CHP's commissioner August 7, 2013, stating CHP's "treatment of the media at the CalTrans construction site in Willits, CA, is unacceptable" and "directly contravenes the right to gather news that derives from the First Amendment."

 


May 14, 2013
SEJ Condemns DOJ for AP Phone Records Grab

SEJ strongly condemned the Department of Justice’s overly broad investigation of the Associated Press’ newsgathering operations as an infringement of First Amendment press freedoms. The DOJ secretly seized telephone records for more than 20 phone lines used by AP journalists and offices, including cell and home phone lines of more than 100 journalists, obtaining the names of sources and confidential information about the newsgathering operations.

 


April 9, 2013
SEJ Objects to Threatened Arrest of Reporter at Ark. Oil Spill

The March 29, 2013, spill from ExxonMobil's Pegasus Pipeline near Mayflower, Arkansas is a big deal for several reasons. But the most important thing about the Mayflower spill may be that ExxonMobil and the federal agencies involved seemed to be trying to keep news media from getting close enough to see what is going on. SEJ protested the media treatment by Exxon, EPA, and PHMSA in the incident.

 


April 9, 2013
SEJ Reiterates Need for Greater EPA Openness with the Media

As the Obama administration's secrecy and unresponsiveness to the media has escalated, and with Gina McCarthy's nomination to head the EPA facing confirmation, SEJ sent a statement to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee requesting they ask some hard questions and address this ongoing problem.

 


November 15, 2012
SEJ Backs Member Threatened by DOI Official

SEJ wrote US DOI Secretary Ken Salazar about the Election Day incident of intimidation in Colorado, when the Secretary threatened to "punch out" SEJ member Dave Philipps, senior investigative reporter with the Colorado Springs Gazette. Doing his job as a journalist (after unsuccessful attempts to contact Salazar through official channels), Philipps asked Salazar about the BLM wild horses issue, including sales to buyer Tom Davis, who is now under investigation for shipping the protected animals out of state in violation of brand inspection laws. In the letter, SEJ said "Such a threat was intemperate and uncalled for, and went well beyond the bounds of civil discourse. It disrespected the role of journalism and journalists in a democratic society, as well as their public audience." SEJ also connected the dots between the ongoing difficulty environmental journalists have gaining access to Obama administration officials and the necessity of posing their questions when the opportunity does arise.

 


September 25, 2012
SEJ Petitions Cambodia To Investigate Journalist's Murder

SEJ joined Internews' Earth Journalism Network in signing onto a letter/petition calling for an investigation into the murder this month of Cambodian journalist Hang Serei Oudom, a reporter with the local newspaper Vorakchun Khmer Daily. Oudom had reportedly been covering illegal logging activities. Details.

 


June 19, 2012
SEJ Supports Public Disclosure of Crop-Subsidy Recipients

SEJ supported an amendment filed by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) and cosponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that would have required public disclosure of the identities of recipients of crop insurance subsidies. The amendment was never offered on the floor — after Senate leaders reached a deal on which of nearly 250 filed amendments would be offered. SEJ takes positions on freedom-of-information issues affecting environmental journalists through its Freedom of Information Task Force, under a long-standing mandate from the SEJ board of directors.

 


February 6, 2012
SEJ Condemns Ejection of Filmmaker from Energy & Environment Hearing

SEJ strongly objected to the ejection of Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox from the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing concerning the Environmental Protection Agency’s policies and the enforcement of water quality issues surrounding natural gas drilling or "fracking." In a letter addressed to Honorable U.S. Representative Andy Harris, Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, SEJ stated "Journalists come in all stripes, and documentary filmmakers have a long and storied history of informing the public about important policy matters, especially the sorts of environmental protection issues Mr. Fox covered in his film, 'Gasland.'"

  • Text of February 6, 2012, SEJ letter to Rep Andy Harris, Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology: MS Word or PDF.
  • Full story: WatchDog of February 8, 2012.

 


January 27, 2012
SEJ Asks EPA To Return to Openness with Journalists

SEJ wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, after a spate of unreturned phone calls and ignored emails, in an attempt to get the agency to resume quarterly conference calls to discuss access issues. The calls abruptly ended late last year after Adora Andy's departure from the agency. The letter also addressed the fact that "we continue to hear on an almost daily basis from SEJ members in a variety of news outlets that they get the run-around when trying to schedule interviews, gather basic information, or get answers to important questions for their stories. While it’s clear to us that members of the major, national media organizations have quality access to you and to top EPA insiders, our members who are working for small newspapers and radio stations or toiling away as freelancers are hit with repeated hurdles when they try to do their jobs."

 


September 2, 2011
SEJ Calls for Improvement to EPA Science Policy

SEJ submitted formal comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on its draft Scientific Integrity Policy, dated Aug. 5, 2011. The letter stated "SEJ finds the proposed policy lacking in a number of important areas. It also falls short of what is needed to achieve EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s previously stated goal for transparency that 'promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing.'"

 


August 19, 2011
SEJ Comments on "Unacceptable" NOAA Science Policy

In formal comments, SEJ stated that the section of NOAA guidance policy requiring advance public affairs approval of media interviews — and minders sitting in on those interviews — thwarts open communication between scientists and reporters, which is "unacceptable in a free society."

 


June 29, 2010
SEJ Urges NRC To Improve Openess

SEJ made some cogent suggestions to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as part of an open-government exercise. One of the first suggestions was that NRC should lose the "minders" that babysit agency people while they talk to reporters. SEJ also asked that the NRC's press operation to do its job: keeping reporters and the public apprised of real news.

 


June 4, 2010
SEJ Writes USCG About Media Access on Gulf Coast

Following the Deep Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, SEJ sent a letter to U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen expressing deep concern that "journalists are being prevented from doing their Constitutionally protected jobs: to provide information to the public about the mammoth oil disaster playing out on the Gulf Coast."

 


March 24, 2010
SEJ Comments on How To Make EPA More Open

SEJ has urged the US Environmental Protection Agency to open up its press-relations procedures and abandon Bush-era restrictions as a way of furthering President Obama's declared open-government goals. Under his "Open Government Initiative," President Obama ordered federal agencies to establish open-government web pages where agencies could solicit public input on how to improve openness. EPA solicits comments on its OpenGov page and OpenEPA/Share Your Ideas. SEJ, on behalf of its member environmental journalists, offered eight suggestions.

 


March 19, 2010
SEJ Urges Congress to Pass "Faster FOIA" Bill

SEJ wrote Congressional leaders expressing support for the bipartisan "Faster FOIA" bill introduced this week. The bill (S 3111) would establish an advisory panel to examine agency backlogs in processing FOIA requests — and make recommendations for faster processing and reduced backlogs. It was introduced by Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX).

 


February 24, 2010
SEJ Urges White House To Lose the "Minders"

SEJ wrote White House Communication Director Dan Pfeiffer asking for an end to the practice of requiring permission from the press office at federal agencies before reporters can talk to federal employees — and requiring Saddam-style PIO "minders" to sit in on interviews. More than a dozen other journalism groups have complained about the practice to the FDA and other agencies.