April 20, 2015, marks the fifth anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history. The story is far from over. If you are covering the legacy of the spill, SEJ is offering two special TipSheets by the Advocate's Amy Wold that will help you get the facts and background. Photo: Oiled endangered Ridley's turtle. Credit: Carolyn Cole/ LA Times; courtesy NOAA.
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There used to be a searchable, online database of oil and chemical spill reports that reporters could turn to in an emergency to get insight into important breaking news. But ham-handed security efforts have sabotaged the public's right to know. Right now, emergency responders are working on a spill of a cancer-causing fuel additive known as MTBE. But news reporters probably couldn't get much if any helpful information from the database today (we checked).
For decades, U.S. politicians have made energy independence a patriotic platitude — with one result being a ban on exporting crude oil produced in the U.S. Now some oil companies are getting exceptions to the export ban for a product called "condensate," and the Commerce Department won't say why. So a coalition of environmental groups have filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out.
After a February 16, 2015, oil train derailment and explosion in West Virginia, new concerns have arisen over the public's right to know about the dangers oil trains pose to communities. Now trackside communities have some data and maps to help them protect themselves. Image: AP Photo/ Office of the Governor of West Virginia, Steven Wayne Rotsch.
Congress keeps secret the top-notch nonpartisan explainers from the Congressional Research Service. Or tries to. Thanks to the Federation of American Scientists' Government Secrecy Project, you can read the reports your tax dollars paid for below.Topics on the Beat:
Is the State Department review of whether to permit the Keystone XL pipeline transparent? Not at all. State spokesperson Jen Psaki stiff-armed the Associated Press' Matt Lee February 3, 2015, when he asked whether all eight agencies invited to comment had done so.
The expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline in Canada by the multibillion-dollar Houston firm Kinder Morgan is, to say the least, controversial. So it did not help instill public confidence when Canada's National Energy Board on Jan 16, 2015, ruled that Kinder Morgan did not have to make public its emergency response plans for spills and fires.Region:
Nobody has ever explained why Congress refuses to release the tax-funded explainers produced by the Congressional Research Service. They are a gold standard for journalists needing quick background. Here are some recent CRS reports relevant to environmental journalists, helpfully released by the Federation of American Scientists.Topics on the Beat:
The industry got Congress in 2005 to block the public from knowing about these chemicals, which can end up in people's drinking water. But the enviro groups, led by the Environmental Integrity Project, want to use a different law to help unlock the data.
The Center for Public Integrity, Columbia University, and City University of New York have just published some 20,000 pages of hitherto unpublished letters, e-mails, presentations, and meeting minutes from the oil and chemical industries in a public database, called "Exposed: Decades of Denial on Poisons."