The SEJ WatchDog


 

 


 

Searchable archives of the biweekly WatchDog TipSheet's story ideas, articles, updates, events and other information with a focus on freedom-of-information issues of concern to environmental journalists in both the U.S. and Canada are posted here on the day of publication. Journalists are eligible for a free email subscription; send name and full contact information to the SEJ office. WatchDog TipSheet is also available via RSS feed.


Latest WatchDog TipSheet Items

October 23, 2013

  • Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens are at risk from potential dam disasters, yet state and federal agencies hold to a policy that amounts to "out of sight, out of mind." The biggest danger, apparently, is that the public might find out about the dangers, and criticize insufficient dam safety measures, inconvenience private dam owners, depress real estate values, or demand public spending that is politically painful for those in office.

  • You may call that government official a "source" — but to the Obama administration he or she is an "Insider Threat" subject to lie detector tests, wiretapping, and criminal prosecution. That's the conclusion of a new report by former Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie, published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

  • A key set of tools for reporters probing dam issues at any level, local to national, are the available databases on various kinds of dams, levees, and impoundments. The WatchDog in this issue presents a special "Reporters' Toolbox" on these data sets. We hope at least to help reporters find and access them.

October 9, 2013

  • If you have a FOIA request pending, it is likely to be on hold. Moreover, the people who could verify this are not answering the phone. Want to file a new FOIA request? Good luck. The federal government is shut down, and as of now there is no sign that it will go back to work.

  • A U.S. district judge on October 2, 2013, brushed aside claims by EPA and the Luminant Corp. that information related to pollution from the company's coal-burning power plants was "confidential business information" — which seems to be a growing excuse for withholding public-interest information.

  • OpenTheGovernment.org publishes an annual report on quantifying government secrecy with specific numeric indicators. This year it began with a bombshell statement — saying it could not really guarantee all of its numbers because nobody could any longer trust what the US government tells its citizens in this area.

  • When the Oregon government refused to tell her about oil trains, Eugene Weekly environment reporter Camilla Mortensen (pictured) learned about them from a train-hopping local cinematographer. Now you can roam the freight yards with your camera and know what you are looking at. And/or download the UN Number app.

September 25, 2013

  • On Saturday, October 5: At 9:00 a.m. SEJ FOI Task Force Chair Tim Wheeler of the Baltimore Sun will moderate a session on overcoming obstacles put up by agency press offices to reporters who want to interview government officials. At 10:45 a.m. WatchDog Editor Joe Davis will present a hands-on session with tips for sleuthing dam and levee stories using federal databases like the National Inventory of Dams and the National Levee Database.

  • Incoming EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy may have signaled an opening in the agency's long-troubled relations with the news media during her September 20, 2013, announcement of EPA's carbon rule at the National Press Club.

  • News broken this month by Politico revealed the existence of a Koch brothers fund that quietly handed out some $250 million to conservative causes during the 2012 elections. Under U.S. law, such groups are tax-exempt, can raise unlimited amounts of money, and do not have to disclose their donors.

Pages