environmental journalism

Navajo leader backs banning environmentalists from reservation; native journo questions MSM coverage

The last time I saw Marley Shebala, she was at the airport. She couldn't get her ATM card to work. She was facing a series of flights home to Arizona. And she was nearly cashless after a week at a journalism seminar. It was the week I was losing my job at the P-I, and I was about to go on unemployment. But I gave her $20 anyway. She'd been so cool to have as a partner in learning at the New York Times Institute on the Environment.

[caption id="attachment_5311" align="alignright" width="73" caption="Marley Shebala"]Marley Shebala[/caption]

I've run into Marley over the years at a number of journalism events and had come to understand that I could always look forward to provocative questions and exciting comments  from her. She's a pistol of a reporter for the Navajo Times and, as High Country News put it, an "undaunted muckraker."

So I was really glad to see her comment in a piece the other day by The Daily Yonder on Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr.'s support for the Hopi Tribal Council’s recent unanimous decision to ban environmentalist groups from their reservation in Arizona.

The tribal leaders, you see, are angry about the greens' efforts to shut down the the Navajo Generation Station, a coal-fired power plant near Page, Arizona.

EPA to redouble Clean Water Act enforcement

You wouldn't guess it from a late-Friday Google News search, but in my book, this qualifies as big news: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promised today to redouble its efforts to  enforce the Clean Water Act.

The EPA's announcement today comes in reaction to an excellent New York Times series that we've paid homage to before, and which documented how polluters have systematically violated the Clean Water Act for decades, often with little or no retribution.

What's really significant is that agency is promising to go after some of the most prolific sources of stormwater, including city streets and feedlots.  We've been harping on this topic for years now, and it's great to get the heft of the NYT into the picture. The paper reports EPA is likely to go after "mining companies, large livestock farms, municipal wastewater treatment plants and construction companies that operate sites where polluted stormwater has run into nearby lakes and rivers." About time.

Here's what EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had to say in the agency's press release:

Updating our efforts under the Clean Water Act will promote innovative solutions for 21st century water challenges, build stronger ties between EPA, state, and local actions, and provide the transparency the public rightfully expects.

It should be pointed out that reporters had documented parts of this story before the Times. Yours truly, along with Lisa Stiffler, Lise Olsen and others at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, did that in the Puget Sound region earlier this decade.

SEJ didn't single out journo who questioned Al Gore

There's been a lot of back and forth in the last few days about the incident at the recent Society of Environmental Journalists' conference in which a journalist trying to question Al Gore saw his microphone cut off.

Lots of folks out in the blogosphere are saying SEJ censored a journalist. I'm here to tell you it ain't so, and explain that at journalism conferences and press conferences, where lots of journos are waiting with questions, we just don't give other journos carte blanche to dominate the microphone. I'll also point out how the supposedly censored filmmaker could have been a lot more effective.

[caption id="attachment_5035" align="alignright" width="150" caption="This Gore mug's a little dated, but at least I am sure it's in the public domain."]This Gore mug's a little dated, but at least I am sure it's in the public domain.[/caption]

(Full disclosure: I'm a member of SEJ's board of directors. So I'm predisposed to defend the organization. But I'm also a journalist who, were I to mar my body with a tattoo, would have "Question Authority" stamped indelibly onto my wrist or forehead or some other conspicuous place. Also consider that I came on the environment beat in the late 1980s amid an explosion of stories about this new threat called global warming. I asked a lot of skeptical questions before finally seeing by 1997 that the science was being proved out.

Gourmet magazine's demise a blow to environmental journalism

Claiming that I subscribed to Gourmet magazine for its environmental reporting would be akin to saying I want to pick up Playboy for the articles. (Note to wife: I don't subscribe to Playboy. But if I did....)

No, let's face it: I started plunking down cash for a monthly copy of the super-glossy mag a couple of decades ago because I was -- and remain -- a foodie. A few minutes perusing Gourmet's faaaabulous images of a summer picnic in Tuscany or a Parisian dinner party inspired me to do something really special in the kitchen.

gourmet-coverBut I have to say that I'd noticed in recent years that Gourmet has been a leader in exploring the environmental consequences of the food we eat.

Once Dateline Earth noted, for example, a fascinating Gourmet piece on the downsides of wheat.

Or take a look at some of the magazine's inquiring journalism regarding genetically modified organisms.

Just the other day, Gourmet Editor Ruth Reichl was on KUOW"s "Weekday" program yakking it up with host Steve Scher about food's carbon footprint and a new movement that seeks to outdo even locavores by minimizing all energy put into food production.

InvestigateWest interns working hard, kicking butt

InvestigateWest keeps me every bit as busy as I ever was when I worked
in newspapers – even during those soul-draining stretches when I
labored six or seven days a week on major newspaper projects.

Among the many duties that fall to me here at InvestigateWest, there
is one that stands out as the the most fun: working with the
incredible interns we’ve from Western Washington University in
Bellingham, which has one of the best environmental journalism
programs in the nation.

Meet these whip-smart, hardworking young journalists:

[caption id="attachment_4250" align="alignright" width="86" caption="Emily Linroth"]Emily Linroth[/caption]

* Emily Linroth  is entering her senior year at Western. She previously
served as editor of Western’s award-winning environmental journalism
magazine, The Planet. This summer, in addition to her duties as an
InvestigateWest intern, she simultaneously served as editor of Whatcom
, a Bellingham-area monthly focusing on local politics,
environmental news, and community events. Today is Emily’s last day
with InvestigateWest as a summer intern. But in the fall she will be
continuing to work on our Pacific Flyway story as an independent
study. Meanwhile, she’ll be taking classes and continuing to edit
Whatcom Watch. (I have a Warren Zevon quote on the wall of my office:
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I guess it probably applies to Emily,

Emily has done a fantastic job.

NYT helps you track down water pollution in your town

It's true that the mainstream media has plenty to apologize for, having flubbed reporting on Iraq and the financial crisis and for its tortoise-like pace in moving into the modern age of interactive journalism. (For an interesting take on that last part, and more, see Dan Gillmor's worthwhile "Eleven Things I'd Do If I Ran A News Organization." No anniversary stories or top 10 lists, for starters.)

But this week brings a powerful reminder of what the MSM can do that isn't generally possible in other quarters -- and in this case, the MSM is explicitly trying to empower citizen journalists and fellow scribes to run further with the story.

I'm speaking, of course, about the powerful package that ran this week in The New York Times on lax enforcement of our country's water-pollution rules. It's the latest installment in a series called "Toxic Waters."

Charles Duhigg's story starts with a woman whose kids got scabs and rashes and had teeth enamel eaten away by polluted drinking water. She lives just 17 miles from the state Capitol in West Virginia:

Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.

“How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes, but not clean water?” said Mrs. Hall-Massey, a senior accountant at one of the state’s largest banks.  “How is this still happening today?”

The Times wore out a lot of virtual shoe leather on this project, filing public-records requests with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and with all 50 states.

ExxonMobil "green company of the year?" Puh-leeze!

It was one thing to see ExxonMobil's ad right on the front page of The Wall Street Journal on Monday, headlined "Energy from algae" and rhapsodizing about how its research efforts could someday result in algae taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Fair enough. If a company decides to spend $600 million on research aimed at heading off disastrous levels of climate change, it can legitimately give itself a highly visible public pat on the back.

exxonmobilheaderlogo1But then I came across the Forbes piece, also published on Monday, that calls ExxonMobil the "green company of the year." Puh-leeze! (Subhead: "Oil from algae? Just a sideshow, Exxon's real thrust into green energy is a big bet on natural gas.")

One need look no further than today's headlines to see that ExxonMobil, far from being a "green" company, is pleading guilty to killing migratory birds.

OK, so obviously Forbes writer Christopher Heiman was reporting his piece long before this dead-birds case hit the news. But still, the mind reels trying to figure out how he and his editors could have come to the conclusion that ExxonMobil is somehow worthy of high praise for its environmental record.

Curtis Brainerd's "The Observatory" column for Columbia Journalism Review does a thorough job of explaining why Forbes stumbled badly here, simply based on the fact that Heiman found that natural gas is significantly better than coal from a greenhouse-gas standpoint. True enough, and it's also true that Exxon's going great guns on natural gas.