Journalists hurrying to get up to speed on environmental or energy issues can get objective background from reports by the Congressional Research Service (an arm of the Library of Congress), which does not release them to the taxpaying public that funded them. We thank the Federation of American Scientists' Government Secrecy Project for publishing them.
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Three GOP-backed House bills attacking science at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are unlikely to become law in the current Congress — or the next. The Obama administration has threatened to veto all three, which the House passed in November along party lines. None is likely to muster enough support to override a veto.
There is still hope (and perhaps time) for this Congress to pass a bill strengthening the Freedom of Information Act. The Senate Judiciary seems likely to mark up a revised FOIA reform bill Thursday, November 20, 2014. After that will come a push to bring it to the Senate floor and eventually reconcile with a FOIA bill already passed by the House.
On a 229-191 party-line vote, the GOP-controlled House passed a bill reining in EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) — authorizing conflicts of interest for its members and gagging them in communications about subjects they are expert on. Science integrity and environmental groups had opposed the bill, which the House passed on November 18, 2014.
The growing number of threats and assaults against employees of federal land agencies in the West is certainly the public's business. But efforts to document it by High Country News using the Freedom of Information Act have been thwarted by the Bureau of Land Management's central FOIA office. Veteran journalist Ray Ring tells the sad tale in HCN.
The Society of Environmental Journalists wrote President Barack Obama October 23, 2014, urging him to take a strong position supporting legislation that would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Bipartisan FOIA improvements may be one of the few pieces of legislation with a chance to clear the lame duck 113th Congress before control shifts to Republicans in 2015.
"News coverage on [National Forest System] lands is protected by the Constitution," wrote U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas L. Tidwell in a November 4, 2014, memo to agency leaders, "and it is our responsibility to safeguard this right on the lands we manage for all Americans. Journalists provide a critical public service, and this agency will ensure their access in the pursuit of that public service."
It's true — some public information officers are really paranoid. High Country News reporter Tristan Baurick, trying to report on preservation of a historic chalet in Olympic National Park, found "a bizarre blockade on press freedom, the likes of which I’d never experienced outside a military base or murder scene."Region:
After proposing a directive that seemed to require permits and fees for journalists working in U.S. Forest Service wilderness lands, the USFS announced that it had never intended the restrictions to apply to journalists. Tim Wheeler, chairman of the Society of Environmental Journalists' Freedom of Information Task Force, talked with USFS Chief TomTidwell to clarify the USFS position. Here's his report.Region:
As a nationwide newspaper chain probed safety threats posed to the public by gas pipelines, an Alabama court imposed prior restraint on the Montgomery Advertiser, to prevent it from publishing the Alabama Gas Corporation's safety plan, citing homeland security and trade secrets. Now a judge has ruled that the court erred in granting a temporary restraining order.