"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:Visibility:
While EPA and local utilities make much data available online, the Environmental Working Group has compiled a tap water database that is much easier to use. It gathers data from the states as well as from EPA, and compiles city-by-city rankings of the best and worst drinking water quality. It also explains the health significance of contaminants and lists contaminants not regulated by EPA.
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.
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.
Under law, Pennsylvania was supposed to publish a report outlining climate change impacts on the state by Spring 2012. But the Department of Environmental Protection says it is still being reviewed, and nobody will say when it might be published.
Here's more evidence of why documents should be leaked to reporters: a Powerpoint obtained by LA Times' Neela Banerjee shows EPA's Region 3 staff argued a year ago for continuing its investigation of fracking pollution around Dimock, PA — as EPA HQ announced it was ending its study of Dimock wells. Now there's an echo in Pavillion, WY.
The fracking industry loves to argue there's no proof its gas-extraction methods cause pollution. But it works hard in Pennsylvania to keep secret any evidence that might prove the question — one way or the other. Existence of its database was reported by Marie Cusick of WITF in Harrisburg, via NPR's StateImpact Pennsylvania.
While a Tennessee governor vetoed "ag-gag" legislation in that state, bills criminalizing the collection of information about abuses in livestock operations are still being pushed in other states — and the mechanism may be extended to stifle reporting on other environmental abuses.
The unanimous decision turned down a FOIA request by a California resident for records in Virginia. According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, only a "handful" of states have similar residents-only restrictions to their FOI laws. But the doctrinal impact of the decision is likely to be large, since the court held, among other things, that the First Amendment conveys no right of access to government information.