EPA reverses course, lets reporters into hearing after outcry

In a reversal following media outcry, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it would allow all representatives from the media to attend the second half of a chemical summit that previously barred all press.

An EPA spokesperson announced Tuesday afternoon that media will now be able to attend in person the later portion of the National Leadership Summit on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) being held at EPA. 

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

The decision follows immense media scrutiny over the EPA's limitation of reporters allowed to cover an hour of its chemical summit Tuesday morning — 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 completely from attending the two day event kicked off at EPA headquarters Tuesday.

While a handful of reporters from publications, including The Hill, were personally invited to attend EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade Democrats, scientists slam Trump administration actions on scientific boards Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits MORE's opening remarks and the first section of the panel, other outlets not invited were not allowed to attend the summit on hazardous chemicals linked to cancer.

Media representatives in attendance included 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," she tweeted.

The AP later reported that guards blocked their reporter from the 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 originally 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.

But reporters who were allowed to come to the event were also originally limited to only an hour of attendance. The entire summit spans two days. No journalists were initially invited to stay through the panel presentations, discussions and closing remarks regarding better regulating PFAS exposure and development of a cohesive federal standard.

EPA spokespeople at first maintained 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. 

Members of Congress piped up on the news of reporters being barred from covering the discussion on the chemicals.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) tweeted, "Dear @EPAScottPruitt: What are you afraid of the public finding out about water contamination?"

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneNRC eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors Democratic chair: Medicare negotiating drug prices not moving before August Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid MORE (D-N.J.) also tweeted about the reports: "#PollutingPruitt has no interest in transparency. These reporters have every right to attend this summit on contaminants. #BootPruitt

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.