TOOLBOX: Foreign Agents Database and More

October 22, 2008

Environmental and energy reporters looking for mischief perpetrated by government officials and the industries who influence them with money often overlook a useful tool: a federal database of registered foreign agents.

Lobbyists and other agents working for foreign governments (or other foreign entities) must under a 1938 law register with the federal government, and these registrations are public records.

So if you want to know more about the lobbying activities of oil-rich Mideast nations (or others) you can find a lot at the Justice Department's online searchable database.

Foreign nations and companies often try to influence federal decisions on oil, coal, and other energy sources — not to mention timber, mining, meat, grain, fisheries, electric power, pesticides, hazardous waste, and a host of other resource and environmental issues.

HINT: Find out whether the people doing the foreign-agent lobbying for U.S.-based lobby firms happen to be former elected or appointed federal officials.

OIL AND GAS STATISTICS

With energy prices and availability still a very hot story, it helps to have the best and latest data as background for stories. One great source every environmental reporter should have among his or her bookmarks is the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The latest example is the "Advance Summary" of the "U.S. Crude Oil, Natural Gas, and Natural Gas Liquids Reserves 2007 Annual Report," which EIA released October 16, 2008. It includes key data about proved oil and gas reserves in the U.S., as well as drilling and production activity. A more comprehensive data set will come out in December.

PESTICIDE EMERGENCY EXEMPTIONS

EPA licenses (or "registers") pesticides to protect public health and the environment — except, of course, when it has an excuse not to. "Emergencies," as perceived by agricultural producers who want to use pesticides, are one of the excuses allowed by federal pesticide law.

That's why environmental reporters may find it handy to have a database of pesticide emergency exemptions. These exemptions may often apply to specialty crops specific to local areas — and offer local stories your editors and readers may find interesting.