EHS OutLoud Blog

EPA: A Change in the Climate

by Sandy Smith
Mar 10, 2017

The climate has changed at EPA, and it’s decidedly more chilly than it has been in the past. And that’s true of most federal agencies.

I’m a journalist. My self-given title is editor-in-chief of the EHS Today brand. My company refers to me as a “content director.” But what I am, deep in my heart, is a journalist.

As a journalist, it’s my job to bear witness to what’s happening in the industry I cover (occupational safety and health) and, more broadly, what’s going on in our country and in our world that impacts that industry. I know, I know… occupational safety and health isn’t an “industry.” Not like oil and gas or manufacturing or construction. But for my purposes, we’ll call it an industry.

And the name of our brand – EHS Today – stands for environment, health and safety. Therefore, as a journalist, it’s my job to provide information and analysis of trends in EHS as they apply to workers, the workplace and the communities in which work is performed.

I rely on a number of sources for my information, not the least of which is the federal government. Agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Department of Transportation, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of Labor and the list goes on and on.

Much of the information I share with you from these agencies comes by way of press releases. More often than not, we make additional phone calls to provide more details or research to what is contained in the press releases, but the start of articles about compliance, enforcement, new rules, etc., comes from these press releases.

So when an administration purposefully shuts the press out of the equation by silencing press offices, it’s a problem for me. When members of my profession are called liars who create “fake news,” it’s alarming to me. It scares me as a journalist and it scares me as a citizen who is impacted by decisions being made by the government. I’m not saying the decisions themselves necessarily scare me, but the fact that I am being denied full disclosure is a problem and it makes me wonder what, exactly, the employees of those agencies are doing if they are not allowed to send out press releases, release reports, work on new regulations and projects, conduct research, enforce federal laws or any of the other tasks for which they were hired to do.

And more than that, it impacts how I do my job. It impacts how I share news with you. It impacts the sources for the news I share with you.

For example, I’m working on an article right now about the response to remarks made March 9 by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who denied the impact of carbon dioxide on climate change during a segment on CNBC’s program “Squawk Box.”

Pruitt said, “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see … We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

From the response to his comments from some of the brightest scientific minds in the world and some of my sources at EPA and other federal agencies, the only disagreement seems to be between Pruitt and, well, pretty much the entire scientific community and everyone who works at the agency he’s been tasked to lead.

In the interest of fair play, I sent a request for comment on his remarks to a generic email address at EPA, which is how I’ve been directed to seek information and comment since Jan. 20. I didn’t receive any response to my last request – which sought a comment about the recent release of emails sent between Pruitt’s office when he was attorney general of Oklahoma and energy companies that indicated an uncomfortably close relationship between the two – and I don’t expect any response to today’s request. (Editor's note: I did receive a response from an EPA spokesperson.)

This lack of response from EPA is troubling and it doesn’t comfort me to know that I am one of hundreds of journalists who are being shut out. Misery, in this case, does not love company. As journalists, we feel it is our job – our “calling” – to share information. If we are good journalists, we try to tell both sides of the story. We try to keep it real.

From my perspective, “fake news” comes from a news organization that only provides the news the administration wants you to hear.  “Fake news” is the carefully orchestrated and controlled messaging from an administration that is more interested in image than truth. “Fake news,” frankly, is denying that climate change exists.

And we’re not interested in fake news at EHS Today.

So we’re going to do our best to continue to cover the “E,” the “H” and the “S” in our name. There is little news coming out of EPA and zero news coming out of OSHA, but that will not stop our efforts to provide you with news and analysis:

  • On a state level, agencies continue to work toward environmental and occupational safety and health compliance and we will share what they are doing with you.
  • We know that associations continue to work for their members and for their professions, and we will share what they are doing with you.
  • Experts in the field of risk management, occupational health and safety, environmental management, wellness and other disciplines continue to provide analysis and we will share what they are writing with you.
  • Organizations continue to release reports about worker health and safety, sustainability, workplace wellness and the environment, and we will share those with you.

We are forced to change the way we cover news. In the end, it will make us better journalists. In the end, we will develop an even wider range of information sources. In the end, to quote Shakespeare, the “truth will out.”

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Apr 12, 2017

Why does EPA not disclose basis for PM2.5 regulations? Since EPA funded the research, does copyright protection of authors and reviewers still apply? Why can't I see these documents?

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