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EPA lashes out at AP reporter by name in scathing letter over 'incredibly misleading story

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The Environmental Protection Agency called out an Associated Press reporter by name in a news release for what it believed was a faulty story bashing them. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

The Environmental Protection Agency lashed out at The Associated Press and one of its reporters by name on Sunday in a scathing letter rebuking the news outlet for an "incredibly misleading story."

What the story said

Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker charged in a detailed story published Saturday that the EPA has failed to ensure the safety of Superfund sites in southeast Texas in the wake of historic flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

Superfund is a federal program designed to finance the cleanup of sites nationwide contaminated by hazardous waste and pollution. There are many such sites in southeast Texas and many were flooded by Harvey. That means the potential for hazardous waste to spread outside the sites exist, which would endanger the surrounding populations.

The implication of the story, written by Biesecker and colleague Jason Dearen, is stiff: that the EPA has failed to do its job in protecting Texans from hazardous pollutants.

What the EPA said

EPA Associate Administrator Liz Bowman responded to Biesecker's story in a scathing letter that attacked the reporter personally.

"Despite reporting from the comfort of Washington, Biesecker had the audacity to imply that agencies aren’t being responsive to the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey. Not only is this inaccurate, but it creates panic and politicizes the hard work of first responders who are actually in the affected area," Bowman wrote.

AP Washington bureau chief Julie Pace was quick to fact check and pointed out that Biesecker was actually not in Washington.

Bowman continued: "Here’s the truth: 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. 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."

Bowman also rebuked Biesecker for not mentioning that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is on the ground in southeast Texas working with state and local officials.

It gets personal

Then Bowman got personal and said that misleading stories are the norm for Biesecker.

She wrote: "Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story. Earlier this summer, he made-up a meeting that Administrator Pruitt had, and then deliberately discarded information that refuted his inaccurate story – ultimately prompting a nationwide correction. Additionally, the Oklahoman took him to task for sensationalized reporting."

Bowman included links to three embarrassing news stories about retractions or rebukes of Biesecker's work.

In the letter, Bowman also included background on the story and an official statement, which read: "Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story. Earlier this summer, he made-up a meeting that Administrator Pruitt had, and then deliberately discarded information that refuted his inaccurate story – ultimately prompting a nation-wide correction. Additionally, the Oklahoman took him to task for sensationalized reporting."

Biesecker has not publicly responded to the letter. He has declined to comment.

AP executive editor Sally Buzbee in a written statement said, "We object to the EPA's attempts to discredit that reporting by suggesting it was completely solely from 'the comforts of Washington' and stand by the work of both journalists who jointly reported and wrote the story."

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