Access to legislatures is critical to journalistic coverage of government — at least if government is to be accountable and democratic. So it caused a stir when Arizona House Speaker David Gowan (R) banned reporters from the floor unless they passed extensive background checks.
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The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) lobbied successfully to pass and preserve the "Halliburton Loophole," which exempts the oil and gas industry from the law requiring disclosure of toxic fracking chemicals.
Reflexive secrecy has been a hallmark of government efforts to deal with highly hazardous chemical facilities in recent decades. Another reminder of that secrecy came in an April 11, 2016, piece in Greenwire by Sam Pearson. Photo: The fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that exploded in 2013, killing 15 people, by Shane Torgerson, courtesy of Wikipedia.
If you are an environmental reporter, it is only a matter of time before a reader asks you, "What's up with pentachlorophenol?" Or a grouchy editor demands to know, "What's the difference between trichloroethylene and trichloroethane?" Help is on the way. Read on.Topics on the Beat:
In 2011, EPA produced — and subsequently buried — a draft report on fracking contamination at Pavillion, Wyoming. Now one of the authors of the original draft has co-published a review of the research in the independent journal Environmental Science & Technology. The new study, based on FOIA'd documents, links fracking and polluted wells.
The Project on Government Oversight FOIA'd FEMA/DHS in 2006 for documents that might reveal hanky-panky with billions of dollars in Hurricane Katrina recovery contracts. In December 2015, DHS finally wrote POGO to say that disclosing the records would constitute an "unwarranted invasion of privacy."
Tens of millions have been spent on lobbying and advertising by the mainstream food industry to defeat a series of state-by-state measures requiring food labels to disclose GMO content. Now, Vermont is poised to implement a GMO-labelling law.
The Senate March 15, 2016, unanimously passed a bill (S 337) improving the 50-year-old Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). But the appearance of bipartisan consensus may belie a rocky road to final enactment in a highly politicized election year.Topics on the Beat:
This special issue of SEJ's WatchDog celebrated "Sunshine Week," the national reminder that freedom of information and open government are essential for a working democracy. Lots of info is available for environmental reporters about pollutants and hazards that can harm people. Our Sunshine toolbox is ... well ... full of flashlights — environmental databases that can help you see things. Categories include chemicals, disasters, energy, health and pollution. Shine on!
The availability of government data has soared over the last decade — offering a huge opportunity for watchdog journalists to find stories that advance the public interest. The environmental beat is the Saudi Arabia of data (yes, that means vast, rich, accessible, and untapped reserves).