After the Associated Press wrote about flooded toxic waste sites in Houston following Hurricane Harvey, and the EPA's lack of proper attention, the agency lashed out at the reporter in a bizarre and personal fashion.
Michael Biesecker and Jason Dearen, reporters for the Associated Press, published a damning piece Sunday about multiple toxic waste sites in Houston that have been flooded in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and the concerns that residents in the vicinity of the Superfund sites have about dangerous pollutants leaching into the surrounding soil and water.
The authors also noted the lack of proper attention to the issue from the Environmental Protection Agency, saying that "the EPA had not yet been able to physically visit the Houston-area sites."
And while AP journalists were able to access and observe specific sites themselves, "The EPA did not respond to questions about why its personnel had not yet been able to do so."
The EPA has now responded, in a truly galling and bizarre statement that unleashes a personal attack on one of the reporters, and which fails to actually address the substance of the article in any way.
The statement, from the Office of the Administrator but unsigned by any specific employee of the agency, repeatedly calls out Biesecker by name (though not Dearen, his co-author), complaining about the AP report in telling and petulant language.
And it attempted to shame Biesecker for the impact his investigative report would have on first responders — conveniently ignoring the far more dire impact the actual subject of the report would have for those people.
Despite reporting from the comfort of Washington, Biesecker had the audacity to imply that agencies aren’t being responsive to the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey. Not only is this inaccurate, but it creates panic and politicizes the hard work of first responders who are actually in the affected area.
If toxic sludge and hazardous waste are seeping into the surrounding land where those first responders are working, and where thousands of residents are living, alerting people to that fact is hardly attempting to create a "panic," but rather to ensure that citizens are fully informed of the dangerous ripple effects from the storm of which they may not otherwise have been aware.
Also, the report was not actually written entirely from the "comfort of Washington," as is clear to anyone who actually reads it and cares about facts.
The statement goes on to provide what it calls the "truth" about the situation: "The EPA has already conducted initial assessments at 41 Superfund sites – 28 of those sites show no damage, and 13 have experienced flooding." It insists that this information was "left out of the original story."
The AP's original news alert did not go into detail, but the later report did, in fact, note that the EPA had conducted the aerial imagery and had confirmed flooding at the 13 specific Superfund sites.
So while the secretive author of this wildly inappropriate statement from the EPA attacks a reporter for "misleading the public" and engaging in "yellow journalism," the agency itself seems quite comfortable twisting the facts to protect their own image in what is quickly shaping up to be public relations nightmare, and potentially a human rights disaster, in Houston.
The EPA declined a request by Politico to provide the name of the author of the statement, with spokesperson Amy Graham only saying that the statement was "pretty self-explanatory." Politico did receive a follow-up email from associate administrator Liz Bowman, to whom one quote in the full statement was attributed.
"We understand you are very focused on our press release; we hope you will apply the same focus to the facts, which include that a national reporter from a wire service publishing inaccurate and misleading stories about the agency and it’s staff on the ground," Bowman wrote. "We think that is more important than who drafted a press release."
Contrary to Bowman's pompous statement, Trump's EPA, led by long-time EPA antagonist and climate change denier Scott Pruitt — who is wholly uninterested in anyone's opinions on how his agency handles natural disasters — apparently cares more about smearing the name of a reporter trying to do his job to bring the truth to the people than they do about actually protecting those people.