A federal appeals court created a sweeping and dangerous precedent January 22, 2014, when it ruled the U.S. public had no right to know whether it is endangered by failures of federal dam safety agencies to do their jobs. If the ruling stands, federal agencies could withhold from disclosure almost any information showing federal failure to protect the public from infrastructure dangers.
- SEJ Publication Types:Visibility:
After the SEJ and the Society of Professional Journalists complained January 20, 2014, about federal agency press office stonewalling in the face of the Charleston, WV, drinking water disaster, the agencies responded. Read the text of their replies here.Region:
You read about the 300,000 West Virginians who don't know if they are drinking safe water — and ask "Could it happen here?" The answer is "You betcha!" Environmental journalists have many tools for discovering drinking-water disasters-waiting-to-happen in their own bailiwicks.
Reporters scrambling to inform the 300,000 citizens of Charleston, West Virginia, about why they could not drink their tap water, what health threats it presented, and who was responsible faced a stone wall from most of the responsible government agencies in the early days of the crisis.
A key set of tools for reporters probing dam issues at any level, local to national, are the available databases on various kinds of dams, levees, and impoundments. The WatchDog in this issue presents a special "Reporters' Toolbox" on these data sets. We hope at least to help reporters find and access them.
Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens are at risk from potential dam disasters, yet state and federal agencies hold to a policy that amounts to "out of sight, out of mind." The biggest danger, apparently, is that the public might find out about the dangers, and criticize insufficient dam safety measures, inconvenience private dam owners, depress real estate values, or demand public spending that is politically painful for those in office.Topics on the Beat:
This special issue of the WatchDog focuses on the transparency of safety information related to dams, levees, impoundments, and related water-control structures. For environmental journalists, these subjects offer a goldmine of great story possibilities. These are stories that have not been covered much in the past decade, and stories that fit well at the local, state, or regional level.Topics on the Beat:
When the Oregon government refused to tell her about oil trains, Eugene Weekly environment reporter Camilla Mortensen (pictured) learned about them from a train-hopping local cinematographer. Now you can roam the freight yards with your camera and know what you are looking at. And/or download the UN Number app.Region:
In 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) required publicly traded companies to disclose to their stockholders (and the public) what business risks they might face from climate change. Almost three-quarters of the companies are still ignoring the rule, and their shareholders are flying blind.
See the list of US nuclear facilities that could be endangered by dam failure, thanks to a document that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not want to release, made public by the Huffington Post. Watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsiblity filed suit August 15, 2013, under the FOIA to force the NRC to disclose more of what it knows.