The watchdog group Center for Effective Government offers data tools that partly offset government failures to protect people from dangerous materials that poison or injure people, burn, or explode. They are also tools for journalists trying to inform their communities.
- SEJ Publication Types:Visibility:
Congress does not release reports done by the Congressional Research Service to the public, even though taxpayers fund them. Thanks to the Federation of American Scientists' Government Secrecy Project, you can read them anyway.Topics on the Beat:Region:
As Congress limps toward revisions of the badly broken Toxic Substances Control Act, it's clear that only a small fraction of the roughly 84,000 chemicals in commerce in the U.S. have actually been tested for health effects. Now an environmental health group has rated some household cleaning products firms.
Since U.S. oil production started booming, the news has been full of tanker trains blowing up. Under a May 2014 emergency order, the Federal Railway Administration increased requirements that railroads disclose oil train routes. But a new regulation issued May 1, 2015, leaves the public — and firefighters — with less information about the risks they face. Photo: The latest oil train derailment and explosion, today, in ND/Curt Bemson via AP.Topics on the Beat:
In response to the WatchDog's request for the U.S. EPA's press policy, EPA seems to be saying that it doesn't have one. Or that paradoxically EPA staff can talk to reporters but are forbidden to talk to reporters. Or that EPA does not respond to requests for information. Even though the WatchDog finally got a partial response to its June 10, 2014, FOIA request for EPA policies on news media access to EPA employees on April 29, 2015, nothing was revealed. Puzzled? So are we.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), representing Florida Department of Environmental Protection employee Barton Bibler, is calling for an investigation by the DEP's Inspector General into whether the term "climate change" is actually forbidden to be used by state employees — and whether this violates Florida's open government law.
You have to give the U.S. EPA some credit. The agency has done quite a bit to let the public know about some of the toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. EPA on March 27, 2015, published a database of nearly 700 of those chemicals, which is a good start and shows how open-source and non-governmental efforts can overcome industry efforts to hide data on toxics.
Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi has published a story detailing the unfolding of the Obama spin-control saga and the resulting uneasy standoff. Several SEJ members are mentioned, as is Tom Reynolds (pictured), Associate Administrator for EPA's Office of Public Affairs, who justified press office chaperoning of agency experts and portrayed the typical reporter as inexperienced and ignorant.
The U.S. EPA has been stonewalling a June 2014 SEJ request for documents describing its policies for dealing with news media. Now SEJ is appealing the long delay in responding to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by calling it what it is — a denial of information.
There used to be a searchable, online database of oil and chemical spill reports that reporters could turn to in an emergency to get insight into important breaking news. But ham-handed security efforts have sabotaged the public's right to know. Right now, emergency responders are working on a spill of a cancer-causing fuel additive known as MTBE. But news reporters probably couldn't get much if any helpful information from the database today (we checked).