The Center for Public Integrity is out with a new report about fracking air pollution. A subplot that’s most interesting in the article is the stonewalling the CPI and its partners faced at the hands of the EPA. Like other federal entities, the EPA has proven to jealously covet information that actually belongs to the public, according to the CPI.
The watchdog journalism group began seeking on the record interviews with EPA officials last February but reports that, after five months, the EPA still had not provided interviews.
This despite the fact that the EPA and other federal agencies employ media officials paid by your tax dollars specifically to respond to requests for media information and interviews. More often than not, journalists find that these publicly-paid officials act as if they are private PR agents for their federal bosses rather than public servants paid to facilitate matters of public interest. Instead of helping provide public information, they often serve to delay and obfuscate. I address this phenomenon at length in my upcoming book, “Stonewalled.”
According to CPI, when they asked for on the record interviews:
Instead, EPA press officers have told us to put our questions in writing, an increasingly common response from federal agencies under the Obama administration. The process usually goes like this: A journalist calls the press office to schedule an interview but instead is told to submit written questions. Once these are in, a press officer gets answers from scientists or other officials and then crafts a written response. In most cases, nobody involved in the process — not even the EPA press officers — will agree to be quoted by name. Journalists object to this policy because clarity and accuracy are easily compromised when they’re forced to discuss complex issues through intermediaries who aren’t subject-matter experts. To ask follow-up questions, the laborious process must begin all over again, with no opportunity for the natural give-and-take of a conversation.
The CPI says that the EPA’s non-responsiveness in its Texas air pollution story is “especially troubling because it keeps taxpayers in the dark about the agency’s handling of a critical environmental issue. Concerns about the oil and gas industry’s air pollution — which contains benzene, toluene and other chemicals known to damage human health — extend far beyond Texas. Similar problems exist in the Bakken Shale of North Dakota, the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming and the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania.”
Of particular interest in the CPI story is the box that shows the lengthy, stonewalling email exchanges as CPI’s partners attempted to obtain a simple interview from the EPA.