Media push back against EPA limiting reporters at chemical summit

A number of media outlets are pushing back at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for limiting the reporters allowed to cover part of its chemical summit on Tuesday — including one reporter who says she was forcibly removed from the event.

Reporters from CNN, The Associated Press and E&E News were among a group of journalists barred from attending a two-day-long event kicked off at EPA headquarters Tuesday morning.

While a handful of reporters from publications including The Hill were personally invited to attend EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittPelosi seizes on anti-corruption message against GOP Al Gore: Trump has had 'less of an impact on environment so far than I feared' Understanding EPA’s fuzzy math MORE's opening remarks and the first section of the panel, other outlets not invited were not allowed to attend the National Leadership Summit on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), hazardous chemicals linked to cancer.

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Media representatives in attendance included those from Politico, The Wall Street Journal and CBS.

Corbin Hiar, a reporter for E&E News, tweeted that he was not told why the reporters were "selectively" shut out of the meeting.

"This morning's PFAS Leadership Summit at @EPA headquarters is open to the press... just not to reporters from @EENewsUpdates, @AP or @CNN. We've all asked the agency's press office why we're being selectively shut out and have gotten no responses," he tweeted.

AP reporter Ellen Knickmeyer tweeted that the group of reporters were turned away at the door.

"The @AP, @CNN and E&E all showed up to cover this @EPA meeting on widespread, dangerous contaminants in many drinking water systems around the country. We were all turned away at the door of the EPA building."

The AP later reported that guards blocked their reporter from entrance and grabbed the reporter by her shoulders to remove her from the building after she asked to speak to an EPA public affairs spokesperson.

When asked about the reporter's removal, an EPA spokesperson at first cited space constraints.

"This was simply an issue of the room reaching capacity, which reporters were aware of prior to the event. We were able to accommodate 10 news outlets and provided a livestream for those we could not accommodate.” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement.

However, a handful of assigned reporter seats remained vacant by the time Pruitt began speaking, including one for a Wall Street Journal reporter who decided to watch the event via the livestream instead. A seat marked for Hearst Media was left open. Another publication was invited to the event but declined to send a reporter after learning that Pruitt would not be taking questions. CBS was the only major news outlet recording the event on video from the back of the room.

EPA later announced Tuesday afternoon that reporters would now be able to attend in person the second half of the summitt, which ends at 5:30 p.m.

"EPA is opening the second portion of today PFAS Leadership Summit to press. The first portion was available via livestream. This will start at 1:00 PM and last until 5:30 PM and you can enter via the East Entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue NW," an agency spokesperson said in a statement.

The meeting on Tuesday was significant due to the hot-button topic of PFAS as debate rages between the EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) over acceptable levels of the chemicals in drinking water.

Reports last week indicated that the EPA is fearing a "public relations nightmare" following expected new recommendations from the Department of Health and Human Services that acceptable drinking water levels for PFAS are much lower than the EPA's current standards.

ATSDR has not yet released its minimal risk level suggestions for PFAS found in drinking water. Pruitt said Tuesday that the EPA is expected to get its own targeted list out by the fall.

The chemical has been linked to thyroid disease and testicular cancer.

Reporters who were allowed to come to the event in the morning were also originally limited to only an hour of attendance. The entire summit spans two days. Journalists were at first not invited to stay through panel presentations, discussions and closing remarks regarding better regulating PFAS exposure and development of a cohesive federal standard.

EPA spokespeople maintained at the time that limiting reporter attendance was not in violation of the Federal Advisory Committees Act — which has a special emphasis on open meetings and public input.

"In this meeting, stakeholders will be providing their individual perspectives on these critical issues. This event is not subject to the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act,” Wilcox said without delving into details why. 

The agency has come under fire in the past for limiting reporter involvement. The administration did not invite reporters to the agency's rollout of its new science transparency rule at the end of April at EPA headquarters. Earlier in the month Pruitt also avoided reporter scrutiny by barring most outlets from attending a highly anticipated announcement at the White House that the administration would be reconsidering Obama-era vehicle emission standards.

Pruitt rarely grants one-on-one interviews with reporters outside of right-wing media or local outlets. Additionally, reporters are rarely notified of Pruitt's meeting and trips outside of D.C., frequently only learning of them through his Twitter account.

--Updated at 12:47 p.m.