Board objects to EPA press office action

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The National Association of Science Writers sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week to comment on an unusual and restrictive press office episode that affected science reporters at several environmental news organizations.

The matter was brought to the attention of NASW's Information Access Committee, who worked to draft a letter to EPA Associate Administrator Liz Bowman. With the board's approval, the letter was sent Friday.

March 23, 2018

Liz Bowman
US EPA Associate Administrator
William Jefferson Clinton Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Mail Code: 1701A
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Ms. Bowman,

On March 20, 2018, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox refused to respond to questions from news reporters regarding EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s stated plans to make agency science more transparent.

Instead, the EPA Press Office circulated an article on this topic by the Daily Caller, a partisan publication, as a press release. Wilcox referred reporters to Mr. Pruitt’s comments published in that article. She would not provide any further information about the plan, Scott Waldman of E&E News reported.

As board members of the National Association of Science Writers, we represent professional science journalists and communicators who promote and practice impartial and accurate journalism. Our association also advocates for the free flow of science news.

With the March 20 “press release,” EPA effectively limited its discussion of a major science policy story to a handpicked, partisan outlet. It also encouraged journalists to learn details about this story from a published article, which can never be a basis of responsible news reporting.

When reporters contact the EPA Press Office asking for information regarding the activities of a taxpayer-funded organization, those queries should be answered swiftly by knowledgeable staff. The same holds when journalists request public documents from an agency.

Since being incorporated in 1955, NASW has been committed to its charter to "foster the dissemination of accurate information regarding science through all media normally devoted to informing the public."

The activities described above both conflict with our profession’s ethics and effectively block the dissemination of information about a potentially significant policy change at the U.S. EPA.

We request that you take steps immediately to prevent this unprofessional and unethical behavior from occurring again.

Sincerely,
The Board and the Information Access Committee of the National Association of Science Writers