If you report on agriculture-related environmental issues, you may find useful a new geodata tool available free to the public online. Monsanto has bought The Climate Corporation (for $930 million), which compiles weather, soil, and crop data down to the field level.
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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 a chance that Congress could pass legislation strengthening the Freedom of Information Act before it adjourns. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a fix-FOIA bill (S 2520) November 20, 2014, setting up the possibility of full-Senate floor action. The Society of Environmental Journalists has urged Congress and the President to support such legislation.
EPA has issued a "clarification" of its SAB scientist-muzzling policy, which acknowledges that SAB members are free to talk to reporters — mostly — as long as they are speaking for themselves. Still, the Society of Professional Journalists wrote EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy December 1 declaring their dissatisfaction with the clarification.
A coalition of journalism groups, including SEJ, is calling on the U.S. Forest Service to make clear in its directives that journalists, documentarians, and media photographers do not need permits to take pictures in National Forest Wilderness or other public lands.
It was news when a leak of methyl mercaptan killed four workers at a DuPont chemical plant in La Porte, Texas, November 15, 2014. Maps and data are available to any environmental journalists who want to know about similar hazards near them, thanks to Amanda Frank at the Center for Effective Government.
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.
Power company Pacificorp has gone to court to prevent the Interior Department from disclosing how many birds are found dead at its wind-energy turbine sites. AP reporter Dina Cappiello has been writing an investigative series on the birds, including eagles, killed at wind farms in the U.S. The series found that federal regulators have not prosecuted or penalized wind-energy companies when their turbines kill birds and — the government has helped keep the scope of bird mortality secret.
It seemed like good news when Baker Hughes, one of the world's largest oilfield services companies, announced in Oct 2014 that it would start disclosing all the chemicals it used in its fracking operation. Now Halliburton, an even larger oilfield services company, is buying Baker Hughes. In a $34.6 billion merger. Or is it a hostile takeover?