The Society of Environmental Journalists wrote President Barack Obama October 23, 2014, urging him to take a strong position supporting legislation that would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Bipartisan FOIA improvements may be one of the few pieces of legislation with a chance to clear the lame duck 113th Congress before control shifts to Republicans in 2015.
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"News coverage on [National Forest System] lands is protected by the Constitution," wrote U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas L. Tidwell in a November 4, 2014, memo to agency leaders, "and it is our responsibility to safeguard this right on the lands we manage for all Americans. Journalists provide a critical public service, and this agency will ensure their access in the pursuit of that public service."
It's true — some public information officers are really paranoid. High Country News reporter Tristan Baurick, trying to report on preservation of a historic chalet in Olympic National Park, found "a bizarre blockade on press freedom, the likes of which I’d never experienced outside a military base or murder scene."Region:
After proposing a directive that seemed to require permits and fees for journalists working in U.S. Forest Service wilderness lands, the USFS announced that it had never intended the restrictions to apply to journalists. Tim Wheeler, chairman of the Society of Environmental Journalists' Freedom of Information Task Force, talked with USFS Chief TomTidwell to clarify the USFS position. Here's his report.Region:
As a nationwide newspaper chain probed safety threats posed to the public by gas pipelines, an Alabama court imposed prior restraint on the Montgomery Advertiser, to prevent it from publishing the Alabama Gas Corporation's safety plan, citing homeland security and trade secrets. Now a judge has ruled that the court erred in granting a temporary restraining order.
The U.S. Forest Service is seeking to harden rules that would require a journalist to get a permit and pay a fee of up to $1,500 in order to report inside a federal wilderness. [Update -- 9/25/14: Forest Service Chief Tidwell says media don't need permit]Region:
BLM has drafted a "final" rule — but that must be approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which often serves as a backroom channel for industry to change regulations. The final product — still undetermined — is likely to be a disappointment to those who had hoped for Obama administration leadership on fracking disclosure.
More evidence of Congress' ineffectiveness comes in its ongoing failure to keep its secrets actually secret. Its official policy is to keep the Congressional Research Service from publicly releasing the handy explainers it produces at taxpayer expense. Thanks again to the Federation of American Scientists' Government Secrecy Project for unauthorized publication of these reports.Topics on the Beat:
One of the oldest tricks U.S. industry has used to hide the potential harm to public health done by chemicals it puts into the environment is to claim that their identities are trade secrets via a loophole established under the antiquated Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976. On August 21st, a coalition of groups petitioned EPA for toxic trade secrets to have an expiration date.
Just over a year after an oil-train explosion in Quebec killed 47 people, information on the threats oil trains present to public safety is starting to seep through a long blackout in which railroads convinced pliable federal regulators that the public was better off not knowing. Journalists from the AP and McClatchy FOIA'd information loose from Amtrak on Maryland and Pennsylvania, two of the states that have been reluctant to disclose.