Friday, September 14, 2012

EPA Makes the News In the Bay

Once a month, a free print publication gets delivered to mailboxes, coffee shops and libraries across the Mid-Atlantic with the latest news about how the government and private sector are trying to protect one of America’s natural crown jewels: the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Journal looks like any other newspaper, its print and Web editions having become monthly fixtures along the eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia. And its environmental news has even expanded, syndicated into larger daily publications like The Baltimore Sun.

And like many newspapers, it has written about the impact of possible budget cuts on environmental regulation. “Chesapeake cleanup funding at risk in federal budget battle,” one such headline blared.

There’s just one catch: the newspaper’s chief financial backer is also one of its frequently covered subjects: the U.S. government.

For two decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has quietly funded the Bay Journal as an experiment in educating the public about environmental issues. Between 2005 and 2010 alone, the federal agency has given $3.5 million to the newspaper’s founding organization, the nonprofit Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, in part to help print and distribute the newspaper, according to documents reviewed by the Washington Guardian.

The newspaper’s editor, Karl Blankenship, says the publication gets about 70 percent of its annual funding from EPA, averaging between $250,000 and $350,000 a year.

But now the arrangement is coming under some uncomfortable scrutiny, both by federal investigators who question whether taxpayers have been getting their money’s worth and by journalism ethics experts who question whether the newspaper has done enough to protect readers from the potential for conflicts of interest.

The EPA’s inspector general, the agency’s internal watchdog, issued a toughly-worded report last month questioning $1.3 million in recent federal money spent on the newspaper, suggesting financial safeguards for the project were lax.

The investigation found the grant money has been awarded for years without any competitive bidding and that documents validating expenses charged to the EPA were lacking. The EPA watchdog recommended taxpayers recover more than $1 million from the newspaper.
I don't think this has been a particularly well kept secret; I knew of it (approximately) all along.  More than the possible waste of funds (which apparently is not inconsiderable it the government want to get a million bucks back), my issue with this has always been the fact that EPA has become, in effect, another advocacy group, in many cases advocating what amounts to more power for itself.

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