When the fertilizer depot in West, Texas, blew up, some schools were damaged beyond repair. Fortunately, none of the kids died. But it raised an issue that has been obvious — and too often ignored by news media — for years. A new tool from the Center for Effective Government will help environmental journalists learn which schools in their area are near facilities that handle toxic, hazardous, explosive, or combustible materials.
- SEJ Publication Types:Visibility:
One worker was killed February 11, 2014, when a Chevron gas well exploded near Bobtown, Pennsylvania, and burned for five days. But inspectors from the state's Department of Environmental Protection were stopped by Chevron from approaching the site — thus keeping them from seeing possible safety violations. The DEP acquiesced at the time, but later cited Chevron for nine violations at the site.
"Inside Story" editor Beth Daley interviews Charleston (WV) Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. — who is recognized nationally for his reporting on coal mining, the environment and workplace safety — about his unique work on the Freedom Industries spill story. Photo: The FI tank which leaked a coal-cleaning chemical into the river on Jan. 9, 2014, contaminating the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians for weeks. Credit: Commercial Photography Services of WV via USCSB.SEJ Publication Types:Region:
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.
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.Region:
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.
Reporters scrambling to inform the 300,000 citizens of Charleston, West Virginia, about why they could not drink their tap water, what health threats it presented, and who was responsible faced a stone wall from most of the responsible government agencies in the early days of the crisis.
A key set of tools for reporters probing dam issues at any level, local to national, are the available databases on various kinds of dams, levees, and impoundments. The WatchDog in this issue presents a special "Reporters' Toolbox" on these data sets. We hope at least to help reporters find and access them.
Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens are at risk from potential dam disasters, yet state and federal agencies hold to a policy that amounts to "out of sight, out of mind." The biggest danger, apparently, is that the public might find out about the dangers, and criticize insufficient dam safety measures, inconvenience private dam owners, depress real estate values, or demand public spending that is politically painful for those in office.Topics on the Beat:
This special issue of the WatchDog focuses on the transparency of safety information related to dams, levees, impoundments, and related water-control structures. For environmental journalists, these subjects offer a goldmine of great story possibilities. These are stories that have not been covered much in the past decade, and stories that fit well at the local, state, or regional level.Topics on the Beat: