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

August 27, 2014

  • One of the oldest tricks U.S. industry has used to hide the potential harm to public health done by chemicals it puts into the environment is to claim that their identities are trade secrets via a loophole established under the antiquated Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976. On August 21st, a coalition of groups petitioned EPA for toxic trade secrets to have an expiration date.

August 13, 2014

  • Journalism and science groups, including SEJ, protested an August 12, 2014, "don't talk" memo from EPA's chief of staff. The memo makes it clear: members of the agency's many science advisory panels are not to talk to the news media or Congress without permission. Attached to the memo was an "EPA Policy" restricting communications between Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) committee members and parties outside EPA.

  • Journalists: if you haven't been paying attention to federal advisory committees, maybe it's time to start. These panels are a major back door through which industry exerts quiet influence on government regulators — but they are kept available to scrutiny by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and the Sunshine Act.

  • The Obama White House released a new rule reversing its ban on lobbyists in government.  The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) rule allows registered lobbyists to participate as members on panels covered by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The rule change was forced by a court decision.

  • Just over a year after an oil-train explosion in Quebec killed 47 people, information on the threats oil trains present to public safety is starting to seep through a long blackout in which railroads convinced pliable federal regulators that the public was better off not knowing. Journalists from the AP and McClatchy FOIA'd information loose from Amtrak on Maryland and Pennsylvania, two of the states that have been reluctant to disclose.

  • White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded belatedly on August 11, 2014 to 38 journalism groups, including SEJ, that had complained on July 8, 2014, about Obama administration press offices blocking journalists' access to federal officials. But it was a "non-response," according to SPJ president David Cuillier.

July 30, 2014

  • Four journalists and a food writer have had their notes subpoenaed in a company's $1.2-billion defamation lawsuit against ABC News for calling its product, a common hamburger additive, "pink slime."

  • If you want to interview an EPA official about a drinking water pollution catastrophe or a controversy about air pollution from fracking, the press office may do its best to stop you. Examples abound. But, there are ways for journalists to push back. Read about them here.

  • Here are some recent explainers of interest to environmental journalists from the CRS, which Congress does not allow to be released to the taxpaying public who paid for them. The WatchDog thanks those who leaked them and the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy for publishing them.

  • Pressure to bring a bipartisan power-boost bill for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Senate floor mounted June 26, 2014, when a coalition of some 50 groups urged action. The bill would narrow a broad exemption that has in some cases shielded from disclosure almost anything not published in official and final form.