The federal government offers a launch pad for a range of journalistic projects, giving you one-click shopping for online state data portals where they exist. These portals bring together links to data from multiple agencies in a single state. Now, the nonprofit Center for Data Innovation has catalogued and rated state open-data policies.
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In an August 15 email, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Chief of Staff Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming said EPA Science Advisor Bob Kavlock would review complaints from journalism (including SEJ) and open-government groups that scientists on EPA advisory panels were being told not to answer news-media or congressional inquiries without permission.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded belatedly on August 11, 2014 to 38 journalism groups, including SEJ, that had complained on July 8, 2014, about Obama administration press offices blocking journalists' access to federal officials. But it was a "non-response," according to SPJ president David Cuillier.
Journalists: if you haven't been paying attention to federal advisory committees, maybe it's time to start. These panels are a major back door through which industry exerts quiet influence on government regulators — but they are kept available to scrutiny by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and the Sunshine Act.
Journalism and science groups, including SEJ, protested an August 12, 2014, "don't talk" memo from EPA's chief of staff. The memo makes it clear: members of the agency's many science advisory panels are not to talk to the news media or Congress without permission. Attached to the memo was an "EPA Policy" restricting communications between Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) committee members and parties outside EPA.
Pressure to bring a bipartisan power-boost bill for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Senate floor mounted June 26, 2014, when a coalition of some 50 groups urged action. The bill would narrow a broad exemption that has in some cases shielded from disclosure almost anything not published in official and final form.
If you want to interview an EPA official about a drinking water pollution catastrophe or a controversy about air pollution from fracking, the press office may do its best to stop you. Examples abound. But, there are ways for journalists to push back. Read about them here.
SEJ is hardly alone in complaints about EPA's press office gagging agency employees who might talk to reporters. In a July 8, 2014 letter, 38 journalism groups called on President Obama to stop the political spin of information at many federal agencies. Reminding Obama of his still-unkept promise to run the most transparent administration in history, the groups complained about widespread "politically driven suppression of news and information."
SEJ and five other journalism groups sent a letter July 8, 2014 objecting to a bill up for debate on the US Senate floor this week that could restrict the ability of journalists to report on stories in National Parks, National Forests and other public lands. Photo: Fern Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Courtesy U.S. NPS.Region:
Federal data, though sometimes hard to get, can provide many local stories for environmental journalists. Case in point: AP and Climate Desk journalists got data from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on high-risk oil and gas wells on federal and Indian lands from 2009 to 2012. Some 40 percent of the high-risk wells had not been inspected. BLM says it does not have enough inspectors. See AP's exposé and Climate Desk's map showing the counties with the most uninspected wells.