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EPA being the EPA

| August 12, 2005 12:00 AM

The EPA, once again relying on their infinite wisdom in Washington, D.C., have come up with a great policy: Don't let anyone working on the Libby superfund project talk to the media — local, regional or national.

Uh-huh.

Apparently the word is the "higher-ups" in the agency are concerned that loose lips will endanger the pending criminal trial against W. R. Grace and seven of its employees. Let's see, if I remember right that trial begins in May 2006. Between now and then there will be nine Community Advisory Group meetings with EPA officials, at least nine Technical Advisory Group meetings with EPA officials and possibly five operations and maintenance meetings with EPA officials. And lest I forget, the EPA was trying to complete its record of decision for the Libby superfund site by year's end. I guess the media can't ask questions about that, either.

Right!

So if the local media has a question, I'm told we have to call someone in Washington, D.C., and they will call the local EPA person to find out the answer, and then call us back and tell us the answer.

Sure.

This is a public relations disaster that rivals the lunacy of the EPA's statements immediately after the 9-11 attacks in which the agency said the dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in New York City was not a health threat and did not contain asbestos fibers. Okay, that may not have been lunacy, it was criminal.

If you want to keep the media from publishing something, or at least making a big deal about something, do it in plain sight. The harder you make it for the media, the more they begin to think something's wrong or someone's lying. They begin digging harder and looking for more to report. And more of them get involved.

Early in my career — 30 years ago this fall — I covered a murder case in western Nebraska. It was pretty well covered by national and regional media but the feeding frenzy began after a county court judge slapped a gag order on the media from reporting any of the pretrial hearings. It was upheld by a district court judge. That was eventually appealed all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, who ruled against the lower court judges.

The media coverage after the silly move by the judge was unbelievable. Our newsroom resembled a TV studio for weeks and if you left your desk to go out and cover a meeting, there was no telling what reporter from what organization was working at your desk when you returned or tying up your telephone.

If anybody has a legitimate question to ask the EPA, give me a call or e-mail me at rmorris@hagadone.com . I'm at the point I want to make someone's life in Washington, D.C., a living hell. — Roger Morris