Political News

Three Reporters Are Turned Away From an EPA Event

Posted May 22, 2018 6:43 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday barred reporters from three news organizations from an event at the agency’s headquarters on the effect of toxic chemicals on drinking water.

The summit, during which the EPA administrator Scott Pruitt declared that addressing the effect of a class of man-made chemicals was a “national priority,” came at a time when Pruitt is the subject of at least 12 federal investigations.

Among those denied entry from the morning session of the planned two-day event was a reporter from The Associated Press, Ellen Knickmeyer. When she requested to speak to an EPA public affairs official, she was “grabbed by the shoulders and shoved out of the building by a security guard,” according to a report from the wire service.

Also turned away were Corbin Hiar, a reporter for E & E News, and Rene Marsh, of CNN, along with a camera operator and a producer from the cable network.

Sally Buzbee, the executive editor of The AP, called the agency’s “selective barring” of reporters “alarming,” and added, “It is particularly distressing that any journalist trying to cover an event in the public interest would be forcibly removed.”

Cy Zaneski, the executive editor of E & E News, said, “Our reporter deserved to be in that room to ask smart questions of EPA officials.” And CNN said in a statement, “We understand the importance of an open and free press, and we hope the EPA does, too.”

Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the EPA, said that there had been restrictions on the number of news media representatives that could attend the event because of the size of the room. “We were able to accommodate 10 news outlets and provided a livestream for those we could not accommodate,” Wilcox said.

Not long after the barring of the journalists became a subject of discussion on social media, an adviser to Pruitt offered an apology to Knickmeyer, and the EPA announced that it would open the afternoon session to all reporters.

The episode again threw the spotlight on Pruitt, who is facing multiple allegations of unethical behavior, including the purchase of a $43,000 secure telephone booth for his office, the rental of a condominium from the wife of an energy lobbyist with business before the agency and his habit of flying first-class to places including Morocco, where the EPA has no official business.

Since taking office last spring, he has won praise from President Donald Trump and criticism from environmentalists for attempting to ease regulations on industry, including safety rules on hazardous chemicals. He has also faced criticism for operating in secrecy. Unlike his predecessors, Pruitt does not publish a daily appointment calendar, and the EPA has shut down more than 1,900 web pages on topics like climate change during his tenure.

Last month, when Pruitt was set to unveil a new initiative — the proposed rollback of a climate-change regulation on vehicle tailpipe emissions — the EPA failed to provide details on where the announcement would take place. After reporters learned that the agency planned to hold the event at an auto dealership in Virginia, the EPA canceled, and Pruitt ended up speaking at a hastily arranged gathering in a private room at the agency’s headquarters.

Pruitt has said before Congress that his penchant for secrecy and first-class travel was warranted because of threats on his safety.

Tuesday’s event on toxic chemicals appeared to be an effort to counter recent criticism of Pruitt and his policies, which critics say have been shaped by the industries regulated by the EPA. The agency invited several environmental groups to the event, in addition to reporters from select news organizations.

“With more than 200 people in the room from across the country, it’s clear that this issue is a national priority,” Pruitt said.

He went on to note the history of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl chemicals, which are widely used in products ranging from nonstick pans to firefighting foam.

“As we’ve used those chemicals over the course of many decades, there are concerns across the country about those chemicals getting into the environment and impacting communities in an adverse way,” Pruitt said.

But if the event was intended to in any way change the focus of the attention on Pruitt’s agency, it did not succeed.

“Scott Pruitt had the chance to generate the first positive press coverage of his tenure at EPA,” said Alex Formuzis, a spokesman for the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, “then decided to throw reporters out of a public meeting about widespread drinking water contamination.”