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

May 22, 2013

  • Canada's Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault will be investigating the muzzling of Canadian scientists — a perennial complaint of SEJ's Canadian members who can not freely interview tax-funded scientists about subjects like climate. SEJ has twice urged Environment Canada to end such media policies, receiving no answer.

  • In the wake of the Justice Department's chilling seizure of AP phone records, the Department asserted that a Fox reporter violated the law by reporting the news. The unprecedented assertion was made by FBI agent Reginald B. Reyes in a search warrant application that was ultimately approved by a judge, allowing Reyes to snoop through the phone records of Fox News correspondent James Rosen.

  • An EPA initiative to protect American consumers from toxic chemicals, especially endocrine disruptors, has run into a brick wall put up by the Obama White House three years ago due to secret urging of the chemical industry — even though the law requires information and arguments on which federal regulations are based to be open and on the record.

  • 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.

May 8, 2013

  • Explosions from ammonium nitrate fertilizer, like the one in West, Texas that killed 15 people in April 2013, are only one of many hazards posed to communities from dangerous materials under the purview of EPA and other agencies. Toxic inhalation hazards could kill tens of thousands of people if released in crowded areas. Here are several tools to help you find local facilities that handle toxic, explosive, flammable, corrosive, and otherwise hazardous materials.

  • SEJ members have complained a lot over many years about difficulties getting information and interviews from US EPA. SEJ officers and FOI watchdogs have talked to EPA about the problems for a long time, too. If a regular call to a line press officer brings poor results, try explaining your problem to the boss — here are their numbers!

  • 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.

  • InsideClimate News' Lisa Song notes that US EPA's website had originally shown 1,149,460 gallons of oil recovered from the 2010 Enbridge spill near Kalamazoo, Michigan. Sometime in mid-March 2013, she reports, that number was removed from the EPA site and replaced by one much lower, the amount Enbridge claims was spilled.

April 24, 2013

  • News stories about the April 17, 2013, explosion of a fertilizer storage plant in the town of West, Texas that killed 15 people have so far focused on the plant operator's risk-disclosure failure, instead of the likely fact that government agencies knew the nature and magnitude of the hazard — or should have known. The bigger story is the regulatory failure — and industry's decades-long campaign to keep the public ignorant of the threats they face. Photo: AP/LM Otero/Available through Creative Commons.

  • Seattle-based InvestigateWest published a feature package last summer documenting illegal parkland conversions in Michigan, New York City, and Oklahoma. They could not cover all the other states — that was left for you to do, with the assistance of their database of some 40,000 federal grants under the Land and Water Conservation Fund.