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 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.

  • We told you so. But now a Harvard study also says it: the FracFocus registry designed and operated by the drilling industry (and its close friends) fails to meet the public's right to accountability and complete disclosure of chemicals pumped into underground formations that may impact people's drinking-water wells.

  • Government rulemaking takes place with everything on the record in a public docket, right? Well ... actually not. EnergyWire reporter Mike Soraghan revealed in an April 12, 2013 story that presidential aide Heather Zichal met more than 20 times with industry groups lobbying on the proposed rule for fracking on federal lands.

April 10, 2013

  • The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, saying that agencies had 20 days to respond to FOIA requests, stating "what documents would or wouldn’t be handed over and why," according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. 

  • The March 29, 2013, spill from ExxonMobil's Pegasus Pipeline near Mayflower, Arkansas is a big deal for several reasons. But the most important thing about the Mayflower spill may be that ExxonMobil and the federal agencies involved seem to be trying to keep news media from getting close enough to see what is going on. Read SEJ's letter protesting the media treatment, and EPA's response.