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

July 30, 2014

  • The federal government has not only done very little to protect the public from the mass-casualty threats chemical facilities present to neighboring communities, they've focused efforts on keeping the public from knowing about those threats or the government's own failures to keep them safe. Now the U.S. EPA has signaled that it is about to revise a key rule governing chemical facility safety and security.

July 17, 2014

  • It's not like you can't figure these things out. Trains full of explosive crude oil, for example, may be obvious as a string of 100-odd identical black tankers rolls through populated areas. The number on the DOT-required diamond-shaped flammability placard on each car probably has the number 1257 on it. But it's not just crude oil that's an issue.

  • The National Bridge Inventory is a data tool that environmental and energy reporters can use to make their beat relevant to a wider audience. Compiled by the Federal Highway Administration, it can provide leads on stories like the use of federal highway funds, poor bridge maintenance, and even the pollution of water bodies with lead paint.

  • SEJ is hardly alone in complaints about EPA's press office gagging agency employees who might talk to reporters. In a July 8, 2014 letter, 38 journalism groups called on President Obama to stop the political spin of information at many federal agencies. Reminding Obama of his still-unkept promise to run the most transparent administration in history, the groups complained about widespread "politically driven suppression of news and information."

  • A sloppily written provision that could have opened the door wider for federal land managers to charge fees or require permits for news photography died in the Senate July 10, 2014, along with the "Bipartisan Sportsmen's Bill" to which it was attached. SEJ and other media groups had objected to the language. According to the AP, the bill "would have opened more federal lands to hunters and other sportsmen, increased funds for shooting ranges and blocked government curbs on bullets and fishing gear containing lead."

June 25, 2014

  • Federal data, though sometimes hard to get, can provide many local stories for environmental journalists. Case in point: AP and Climate Desk journalists got data from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on high-risk oil and gas wells on federal and Indian lands from 2009 to 2012. Some 40 percent of the high-risk wells had not been inspected. BLM says it does not have enough inspectors. See AP's exposé and Climate Desk's map showing the counties with the most uninspected wells.

  • Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced a bill that would add a balancing test and sunset to the "deliberative process" exemption in the current FOIA law. That exemption shields from disclosure records documenting internal policy debates within agencies before final decisions are made. Prospects for the Senate bill are improved by the fact that Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and a related bill has already been passed by the House.

  • SEJ members aren't the only ones who find federal agency press offices to be hard to get call-backs, on-record interviews, or simple information from. Many health writers have the same problem. In the latest issue of Harvard's Nieman Reports, Jenni Bergal paints a broad canvas of the problems many journalists have in getting from agencies key information that affects the public interest.

  • Should firefighters and residents know whether trains loaded with explosive oil are routed through the heart of residential districts? Many railroads say no, claiming it is a security issue. But on June 18, 2014, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) dismissed that claim, saying that oil train routing was not sensitive security information. Yet the railroads are fighting back.

June 11, 2014

  • Experienced journalists know that a press credential is often critical to gaining physical or virtual access to news events and information. It's an aspect of information access rarely covered by the news media themselves. A new report from the Digital Media Law Project at Harvard looks systematically at who gets a press card and who does not.

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