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EPA security forcibly removed a reporter from a public event on toxic chemicals

“She said she was not hurt, but she was actually physically touched,” one source told VICE News.

by Alex Lubben
May 22 2018, 6:44pm

Security guards at the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters grabbed an AP reporter and forcibly removed her after she tried to attend a public summit on toxic chemicals, according to multiple sources.

“When the reporter asked to speak to an EPA public-affairs person, the security guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building,” according to the Associated Press, which later identified the reporter as Ellen Knickmeyer.

Erik Olson, a senior director at the National Resources Defense Council who was at the event, also confirmed the AP account. “She said she was not hurt, but she was actually physically touched,” Olson told VICE News.

Reporters from CNN and E&E News, a media organization that covers energy and environmental issues, were also denied entry to the event, which EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox characterized as a procedural decision.

“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 live stream for those we could not accommodate,” Wilcox said in an statement emailed to VICE News. In a separate statement to Axios, Wilcox wrote that the EPA was “unaware of the individual situation that has been reported.”

During the event, however, seats for the press were vacant, Olson said. A reporter from the Wall Street Journal decided to watch the live stream instead of attending in person, and a seat marked for a Hearst reporter was unoccupied, according to the Hill. Reporters from Politico, The Wall Street Journal, CBS, and the Hill were present.

Wilcox later followed up with VICE News saying the morning session, during which EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt gave a keynote speech, was not open to all members of the press but was available via live stream.

All reporters, however, will be allowed in at the afternoon sessions, according to Wilcox.

Pruitt’s EPA is known for being closed off to the press. Most recently, the agency announced its rollback of car tailpipe emissions standards at an event where most major media outlets weren’t invited. Pruitt also almost never takes questions after the few public events he holds, and instead prefers to give interviews selectively to conservative news outlets, like Breitbart and the Washington Times.

Wilcox hasn’t been shy about his aversion to E&E News and the AP, either. “This has already been written numerous times and reiterates my opinion of E&E News," Wilcox said in an email to E&E News in response to questions about Pruitt’s use of a personal email address last week. E&E News did not immediately provide a statement in response to VICE News’ request for comment.

Wilcox also called an AP reporter a “partisan hack” in a phone interview with VICE News last year.

The EPA held Tuesday’s conference as a public forum to discuss the use of controversial carcinogenic chemicals Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (commonly referred to as PFAS), which have leached into water supplies. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have pushed the EPA to release scientific findings on these chemicals’ toxicity, which the EPA’s internal emails suggest were suppressed to stave off a “public relations nightmare.”

“The Environmental Protection Agency’s selective barring of news organizations, including the AP, from covering today’s meeting is alarming and a direct threat to the public’s right to know about what is happening inside their government,” AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said in an emailed statement to VICE News. “It is particularly distressing that any journalist trying to cover an event in the public interest would be forcibly removed.”

CNN also criticized the EPA as having “selectively excluded” media outlets from attending.

But reporters weren’t the only ones excluded from the conference. The EPA also denied requests to attend from people who had drank water contaminated by chemicals as well as public interest groups, the Intercept reported.

Cover image: In this Thursday, April 26, 2018, file photo, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt listens to questions as he testifies before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)