AP Photo/Jason Dearen
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The Environmental Protection Agency on Sunday released a lengthy statement condemning a recent Associated Press report that said the regulator was nowhere to be found at dangerous, potentially toxic sites submerged by flooding in Houston.
On Saturday, the AP reported that the EPA was not present at at least five flooded so-called Superfund sites, or locations that the EPA designated as “being among America’s most intensely contaminated places.” Following flooding in Houston last week, many observers worried that chemicals could’ve further contaminated the flood water near the Superfund sites.
In a fiery and personal statement on Sunday, the EPA dubbed the story “incredibly misleading,” saying it “creates panic and politicizes the hard work of first responders who are actually in the affected area.”
“Through aerial imaging, EPA has already conducted initial assessments at 41 Superfund sites – 28 of those sites show no damage, and 13 have experienced flooding,” the statement said. “This was left out of the original story, along with the fact that EPA and state agencies worked with responsible parties to secure Superfund sites before the hurricane hit. Leaving out this critical information is misleading.”
But the EPA’s statement raised eyebrows particularly because of the personal criticisms it leveled against the report’s author, Michael Biesecker, attempting to undermine the report’s credibility by saying Biesecker wrote the story “from the comfort of Washington.”
The statement said Biesecker has a “history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story,” citing a sensational Breitbart News story that said EPA administrator Scott Pruitt met with Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris. The AP’s original report relied on the public schedule released by the EPA, but corrected its story when the formal meeting was canceled.
“Once again, in an attempt to mislead Americans, the Associated Press is cherry-picking facts, as EPA is monitoring Superfund sites around Houston and we have a team of experts on the ground working with our state and local counterparts responding to Hurricane Harvey,” EPA associate administrator Liz Bowman said. “Anything to the contrary is yellow journalism.”
The Associated Press responded to EPA’s statement Sunday evening, saying its reporting “was the result of on the ground reporting as well as AP’s strong knowledge of these sites and EPA practices.”
“We object to the EPA’s attempts to discredit that reporting by suggesting it was completed solely from ‘the comforts of Washington’ and stand by the work of both journalists who jointly reported and wrote the story.”
Read the AP’s full response below:
“AP’s exclusive story was the result of on the ground reporting as well as AP’s strong knowledge of these sites and EPA practices. We object to the EPA’s attempts to discredit that reporting by suggesting it was completed solely from ‘the comforts of Washington’ and stand by the work of both journalists who jointly reported and wrote the story.”
EPA says this story was reported from “comfort of Washington.” Photos, video, details in report suggest otherwise. https://t.co/oTeqOw8c6X
The EPA’s attack on @mbieseck is ridiculous, unprofessional and unfounded. Great reporting from him and @JHDearen (who went to the sites!) https://t.co/E6p6gyV2OU
The New Yorker’s Talia Lavin noted that Sunday’s statement wasn’t far out of line with the EPA’s communications shift following Trump’s inauguration and appointment of director Scott Pruitt.
I’ve been subscribed to EPA news alerts for over a year now. Since the election, the shift is absolutely nuts. 1/
(this is a short dumb thread) Pre-election: studious, quotidian stuff re: projects, initiatives etc. Scientific studies.
Post-election? Mostly press clips praising Pruitt, news of Pruitt’s various trips.