The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is barring reporters from attending the second day of an event on drinking water pollution.
Journalists from The Associated Press, Politico and other outlets said EPA staff at the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters blocked them from entering the National Leadership Summit on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on Wednesday. EPA communications staff had told news outlets in advance that the sessions would be closed to journalists.
The decision to ban reporters follows a high-profile incident Tuesday in which an AP reporter, Ellen Knickmeyer, was allegedly shoved by an EPA guard when she tried to enter the event.
Knickmeyer and journalists for E&E and CNN were not invited to opening remarks at the event on Tuesday morning even as invitations were extended to reporters from other news outlets, including from The Hill. Those journalists then went to the EPA headquarters to demand entry.
The EPA later apologized to Knickmeyer and allowed journalists to enter for the afternoon session Tuesday.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox defended the decision to bar reporters entirely from Wednesday’s session, saying it isn’t a meeting covered by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) or otherwise appropriate for media attendance.
“The National Leadership Summit on PFAS scheduled is not a federal advisory committee event,” he said in a statement.
“The purpose of this event is for EPA’s state, tribal, and federal government partners and national organizations to share a range of individual perspectives on the Agency’s actions to date and path forward on PFOA/PFAS. The Agency looks forward to hearing from all stakeholders on these crucial issues.”
Some news outlets have argued that the meeting is subject to FACA, a law that puts certain transparency requirements on organized councils or events that agencies convene to solicit advice. Among other requirements, meetings covered by FACA must be open to the public.
FACA states that “any committee, board, commission, council, conference, panel, task force, or other similar group, or any subcommittee or other subgroup” meant to provide an agency advice is covered.
Mariah Blake, a journalist with Crown Publishing, reported that EPA staff and security guards were “very cordial” in turning away reporters Wednesday.
Miranda Green contributed.