Will McCarthy Face Questions on EPA Press, Openness Practices?

April 10, 2013

President Obama's nominee for EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, faces a confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Thursday, April 11, 2013. The Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) has urged committee members to ask McCarthy about her commitment to open government and whether she will fix EPA's "badly broken" news media policies.

SEJ hopes McCarthy's tenure, should the Senate approve her, will be a chance for a "fresh start" on practices that have for years frustrated journalists who cover EPA. During the Bush administration, EPA not only stonewalled reporters, but also stonewalled the EPW committee itself, even when information was subpoenaed or requested under oath. In an April 9 letter to committee members, SEJ urged them to hold McCarthy to the "unprecedented level of openness" that President Obama declared as his goal.

It's not a given that a McCarthy administration at EPA would be more open than that of her predecessor, Lisa P. Jackson. As recently as September 2012, McCarthy defended the tight grip EPA's press office exerts over interviews between journalists and agency scientists.

"Reporters covering issues before the EPA have been routinely denied interviews with agency scientists or other experts on staff," SEJ wrote EPW committee members ahead of the hearing. "Instead, journalists are required to submit questions by email to the public information office, and what they get in reply are often 'talking points' delivered on a 'not for attribution' basis, with no one to be named taking responsibility for the statement.  In the rare cases when an interview has been granted, public information 'minders' are present or on the line monitoring the conversation."

"We urge you to ask Ms. McCarthy to commit to fulfilling that part of the agency’s mission," SEJ wrote. "We hope you ask her to pledge to answer reporters’ questions more quickly and directly, without resorting to 'talking points' emailed 'not for attribution' from the press office."

"As journalists, we have no political agenda," SEJ added. "We are working on behalf of our readers, viewers and listeners to produce timely, accurate and complete reporting on a host of important environmental and health issues... ."


 

This is one of the stories in the April 10, 2013 issue of SEJ's biweekly WatchDog. Find the rest of the stories and past issues here.