One way to deal with bad press is to make it illegal. Exposés of inhumane conditions at feedlots and slaughterhouses are being made illegal by state legislatures that pass "ag gag" laws. Now a case in Utah is challenging whether industrial agriculture's claims of secrecy trump the eating public's right to know. Image: Sows in 7'x2' Smithfield Foods gestation crates. By Humane Society of the US [CC], 2010.
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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Integrity, Columbia University, and City University of New York have just published some 20,000 pages of hitherto unpublished letters, e-mails, presentations, and meeting minutes from the oil and chemical industries in a public database, called "Exposed: Decades of Denial on Poisons."
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It seemed like good news when Baker Hughes, one of the world's largest oilfield services companies, announced in Oct 2014 that it would start disclosing all the chemicals it used in its fracking operation. Now Halliburton, an even larger oilfield services company, is buying Baker Hughes. In a $34.6 billion merger. Or is it a hostile takeover?
Yes, the pipeline is publicly regulated. Yes, the March 2013 rupture of Exxon's Pegasus Pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas, quite publicly polluted people's yards and homes. Yes, it is publicly known that there were defects and poor maintenance on the pipeline. But 900,000 pages of documents that might show Exxon's neglect are being claimed as "confidential" by the company as it tries to defend against a class-action lawsuit.
For decades, Congress has refused to release taxpayer-funded reports by the Congressional Research Service. Fortunately, the Federation of American Scientists' Government Secrecy Project gets them and releases them. Here are some new explainers that may be of use to environmental journalists.
Federal agencies are still grinding forward on decisions about disclosure of often-toxic ingredients pumped into the ground during "fracking" to produce gas and oil. Significant decisions may come eventually from the Interior Department, the EPA, and the Obama White House. But don't bet on any courageous decisions until after the November election.
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Here are some recent explainers of interest to environmental journalists from the CRS, which Congress does not allow to be released to the taxpaying public who paid for them. The WatchDog thanks those who leaked them and the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy for publishing them.Topics on the Beat:
The National Bridge Inventory is a data tool that environmental and energy reporters can use to make their beat relevant to a wider audience. Compiled by the Federal Highway Administration, it can provide leads on stories like the use of federal highway funds, poor bridge maintenance, and even the pollution of water bodies with lead paint.