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.
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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.
A coalition of journalism groups, including SEJ, is calling on the U.S. Forest Service to make clear in its directives that journalists, documentarians, and media photographers do not need permits to take pictures in National Forest Wilderness or other public lands.
It was news when a leak of methyl mercaptan killed four workers at a DuPont chemical plant in La Porte, Texas, November 15, 2014. Maps and data are available to any environmental journalists who want to know about similar hazards near them, thanks to Amanda Frank at the Center for Effective Government.
There is still hope (and perhaps time) for this Congress to pass a bill strengthening the Freedom of Information Act. The Senate Judiciary seems likely to mark up a revised FOIA reform bill Thursday, November 20, 2014. After that will come a push to bring it to the Senate floor and eventually reconcile with a FOIA bill already passed by the House.
On a 229-191 party-line vote, the GOP-controlled House passed a bill reining in EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) — authorizing conflicts of interest for its members and gagging them in communications about subjects they are expert on. Science integrity and environmental groups had opposed the bill, which the House passed on November 18, 2014.