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

April 4, 2012

  • EPA's upcoming rulings on confidentiality for data going into the companies' GHG calculations will be important. Those determinations may impact whether companies' reporting is accurate — and whether they can ever be held accountable for their emissions.

  • An initiative involving some 35 nations aims to solve many complex revenue-reporting problems, including improving the flow of information across national borders. But solutions can't even begin until individual nations get a grip on accurate data about extractive industries within their own borders. The results could illuminate key environmental policy issues.

  • One sign of problems came when Interior's Inspector General office launched what seemed to be a ham-handed investigation, later dropped, into activities of the scientist who sounded the alarm on polar bears losing habitat to global warming. Now Interior has fired one of its scientific integrity officers — who is defending himself by saying he was just doing his job.

  • The Right-To-Know Network has been around since 1989. Today, with a modern and searchable Web interface, it offers access to some data that reporters would be hard put to find anywhere else. Most important is its collection of Risk Management Plans — which chemical plants are required to maintain to prevent, prepare for, and respond to toxic disasters.

March 21, 2012

  • The Coast Guard defines "security zones" to protect certain sensitive facilities in its bailiwick. It does sometimes grant permission for boats to transit these zones. We suggest journalists interested in such maritime investigations contact their local Coast Guard district or station first.

  • At, search several databases with a single search-term entry, potentially speeding discovery of information. It includes data on lobbying registrations, political action committees, contributions to candidates, travel reports, foreign agents registrations, and more. But some open-government advocates consider it merely a down payment on a more comprehensive system.

  • On December 27, 2012, EPA submitted to the Office of Management and Budget its proposal to alter the interpretation of the Toxic Substances Control Act to require disclosure of the identities of the chemicals subject to health-effects studies before they are used in manufactured products. On January 20, 2012, a secret meeting took place between OMB officials and chemical industry lobbyists. We don't know what they talked about, but we do know that the meeting took place and who attended it.

  • The Mexican Senate on March 13, 2012, approved a constitutional amendment making attacks on journalists a federal crime — which would help journalists bypass possibly corrupt local police officials. The measure must now be approved by a majority of Mexico's state legislatures.

March 7, 2012

  • Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (pictured) signed the so-called "Ag Gag" bill into law March 2, 2012, making it a crime to obtain access to an agricultural facility "under false pretenses" — without defining "false pretenses." Does this apply to hidden cameras? Animal rights activists have often resorted to hidden cameras — and shared with news media photos and videos of shocking cruelty to animals.

  • Congress still refuses to publish unclassified reports on subjects of general public interest done by the Congressional Research Service, even though they are funded by taxpayer dollars. Here are several, courtesy of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy.