Dem senator presses EPA over reporter 'intimidation'

Dem senator presses EPA over reporter 'intimidation'
© Greg Nash

A Democratic senator is pressing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after it limited which reporters were allowed to cover part of a chemical summit on Tuesday, with the senator blasting what he called the agency's "disturbing treatment of journalists."

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall Democrats vow to force third vote on Trump's border wall emergency declaration Overnight Defense: War powers fight runs into impeachment | Kaine has 51 votes for Iran resolution | Trump plans to divert .2B from Pentagon to border wall MORE (D-N.M.) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA employees push 'bill of rights' to protect scientific integrity EPA's independent science board questions underpinnings of numerous agency rollbacks Overnight Energy: Rate of new endangered species listings falls | EPA approves use of 'cyanide bombs' to protect livestock | Watchdog says EPA didn't conduct required analyses MORE after a number of media outlets pushed back on the agency on Tuesday, with at least one reporter saying she was forcibly removed from the EPA's chemical summit.

"This intimidation of journalists seeking to cover a federal official presiding over important policy-making is unacceptable," Udall, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for the EPA, wrote in his letter.

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Udall went on to urge Pruitt to take a number of steps to rectify the situation, including making a public apology to The Associated Press reporter who said she was forcibly removed from the event.

"Publicly explain and apologize to the excluded media organizations, particularly the AP journalist who was grabbed and shoved," Udall wrote. "[And] [d]irect EPA staff to allow unbiased press access to EPA events and announcements in the future to ensure information that belongs to the public can get to the public."

Journalists from CNN, the AP and E&E News were barred from attending the two-day event Tuesday before the agency reversed course following outcry.

EPA staff initially blamed the restrictions on a lack of space in the room, despite a handful of assigned reporter seats remaining vacant when Pruitt began to speak.

While a handful of reporters from publications, including The Hill, were invited to attend Pruitt's opening remarks and the first portion of the panel Tuesday, other outlets were not allowed to attend.

"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.

The EPA later reversed course following media outcry and allowed all reporters to attend the second half of the chemical summit, stating that the first half was available on livestream.

"EPA is opening the second portion of today PFAS Leadership Summit to press. The first portion was available via livestream," a 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."