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Integrity, Columbia University, and City University of New York have just published some 20,000 pages of hitherto unpublished letters, e-mails, presentations, and meeting minutes from the oil and chemical industries in a public database, called "Exposed: Decades of Denial on Poisons."
Three major electric utilities want the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to make ratepayers pay for aging and unprofitable coal and nuclear generation plants in that state. But the ratepayers — the utilities claim — aren't entitled to know whether they might be ripped off.Region:
Environmental journalists can find important stories using data about lobbyists registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act to work for foreign firms and governments. The Sunlight Foundation and other groups have compiled some of the information into a searchable online database — a starting point for finding enviro and energy stories.Region:
Legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, a key journalist's tool, died in the final hours of the do-nothing 113th Congress — but hopes remain that the coming 114th Congress could pass the bipartisan package. The bill's Senate passage was delayed by a "hold" placed on it by retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), whose reasons were not clearly explained but were apparently due to banking interests' fears.
Journalists hurrying to get up to speed on environmental or energy issues can get objective background from reports by the Congressional Research Service (an arm of the Library of Congress), which does not release them to the taxpaying public that funded them. We thank the Federation of American Scientists' Government Secrecy Project for publishing them.Topics on the Beat:
If you report on agriculture-related environmental issues, you may find useful a new geodata tool available free to the public online. Monsanto has bought The Climate Corporation (for $930 million), which compiles weather, soil, and crop data down to the field level.
Three GOP-backed House bills attacking science at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are unlikely to become law in the current Congress — or the next. The Obama administration has threatened to veto all three, which the House passed in November along party lines. None is likely to muster enough support to override a veto.
There is still a chance that Congress could pass legislation strengthening the Freedom of Information Act before it adjourns. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a fix-FOIA bill (S 2520) November 20, 2014, setting up the possibility of full-Senate floor action. The Society of Environmental Journalists has urged Congress and the President to support such legislation.
EPA has issued a "clarification" of its SAB scientist-muzzling policy, which acknowledges that SAB members are free to talk to reporters — mostly — as long as they are speaking for themselves. Still, the Society of Professional Journalists wrote EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy December 1 declaring their dissatisfaction with the clarification.