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

June 5, 2013

  • Aftershocks of the April 17, 2013, ammonium nitrate explosion in West, Texas, continue — including investigations by news organizations as well as state and federal agencies. A major multistate investigative project by the Associated Press could only get data for 28 of the 50 states, but within those states it found that more than 600,000 people live within a typical blast zone and more had family in schools and hospitals within one.

  • NC's Senate is considering an industry-sponsored bill that would extend restrictions on undercover investigations beyond livestock operations to include other categories of industry. The state's Chamber of Commerce supports it, saying industries beyond agriculture want protection from the reporting of workplace abuses.

  • Styrene (used to make plastic packaging) was listed in June 2011 as "reasonably anticipated" to be cancer-causing in the biennial federal Report on Carcinogens. Industry not only challenged, but also mounted a political campaign, persuading a powerful House Appropriations subcommittee chairman to withhold spending for the report until NTP reconsidered the styrene listing.

  • The fracking industry loves to argue there's no proof its gas-extraction methods cause pollution. But it works hard in Pennsylvania to keep secret any evidence that might prove the question — one way or the other. Existence of its database was reported by Marie Cusick of WITF in Harrisburg, via NPR's StateImpact Pennsylvania.

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!