A summit on harmful water contaminants that was convened by Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt has turned to the use of force to exclude certain news organizations from the event, with one Associated Press reporter forcibly shoved out of the EPA building. The agency has since apologized to at least one reporter for the untoward incident.
The event was focused on the issue of contamination, particularly a class of chemicals that were detected in dangerously high levels in many water systems in the US. It was a matter of "national priority," according to Pruitt who spoke with those present.
Even with the safety of the nation at stake, it seemed like there were far more pressing issues for the EPA at the time, such as the number of reporters they are willing to fit into the venue.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox has told several news organizations, including the Associated Press, CNN and E&E News, that they were not invited to the summit and that there was no space for them, according to NBC News.
At one point, security personnel grabbed Ellen Knickmeyer, an AP reporter, by the shoulders and shoved her out of the building.
"The @EPA told @AP, @CNN they weren't invited to @AdministratorPruitt's #PFAS summit. EPA guards grabbed AP reporter by shoulders, shoved reporter out of building when she asked to talk to agency public-affairs person about covering meeting," Knickmeyer reported on her own experience via social media on Tuesday.
In response, AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee came out with a statement calling the incident "alarming" and a "direct threat" to the right of the public to learn about the actions being taken by the government.
"It is particularly distressing that any journalist trying to cover an event in the public interest would be forcibly removed," Buzbee added.
With mounting criticism on how EPA chose to conduct the summit, Wilcox later announced that the afternoon sessions will be open to all press groups. No mention of a problem with space has been brought up.
As for Knickmeyer, she later noted that Lincoln Ferguson, an adviser to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, called to apologize for the rough treatment at the summit. Ferguson also told her that officials are now looking into the incident, before inviting her for the meeting's afternoon session that was now opened to all press.
After that reversal, AP commended the agency for their decision. "We are pleased that the EPA has reconsidered its decision and will now allow AP to attend the remainder of today's meeting. The AP looks forward to informing the public of the important discussions at the water contaminants summit this afternoon," AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton said.
Other news outlets were allowed to cover the meeting from the start, although part of the first sessions was made available via live stream for those who cannot attend in person.