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EPA Apologizes for Barring, Manhandling Reporter at Summit

An AP reporter said that an adviser to EPA Director Scott Pruitt called to apologize for how she was manhandled

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    EPA Apologizes for Barring, Manhandling Reporter at Summit
    Susan Walsh/AP, File
    In this Feb. 21, 2017, file photo, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees of the EPA in Washington.

    What to Know

    • The AP, CNN and E&E were initially barred from a national summit on harmful water contaminants convened by EPA chief Scott Pruitt

    • Security grabbed an AP reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building

    • An EPA spokesman said the news orgs weren't invited. At the event Pruitt said dealing with the toxic chemicals is a "national priority"

    The Environmental Protection Agency reversed course Tuesday and allowed a reporter for The Associated Press to cover a meeting on water contaminants after she was earlier grabbed by the shoulders and shoved out of the building by a security guard.

    The AP journalist, Ellen Knickmeyer, said that Lincoln Ferguson, an adviser to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, called to apologize for how she was manhandled and that officials were looking into it. He invited her for the meeting's afternoon session.

    At least two other news organizations — CNN and E&E News, which covers energy and environmental issues — had also been initially barred from the event.

    "We've all asked the agency's press office why we're being selectively shut out and have gotten no responses," E&E reporter Corbin Hiar tweeted.

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    EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told the barred organizations they were not invited to the meeting, and there was no space for them. Wilcox did not say what criteria were used in determining which media the agency invited.

    "She was not invited," Wilcox later told NBC News of the AP reporter. "We provided them with a livestream."

    AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said in a statement to NBC News that the EPA's "selective barring of news organizations, including the AP, from covering today's meeting is alarming and a direct threat to the public's right to know about what is happening inside their government."

    Amid criticism over the handling of the event, Wilcox said afternoon sessions would be open to all press, NBC News reported.

    "We are pleased that the EPA has reconsidered its decision and will now allow AP to attend the remainder of today's meeting," AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton said. "The AP looks forward to informing the public of the important discussions at the water contaminants summit."

    Some other news outlets were allowed to cover the meeting from the start, and a portion of it was livestreamed.

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    The summit was on a class of chemicals present in dangerous amounts in many water systems around the country. Pruitt told about 200 people at the meeting that dealing with the contaminants is a "national priority."

    Pruitt drew scrutiny from lawmakers after EPA emails released this month showed that the agency had intervened in the publication of a new government study on the contaminants, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl.

    Used in some nonstick coatings, in firefighting foam and elsewhere, the chemicals can cause developmental defects and other health problems. Authorities say the contaminants are present in dangerous levels in some water systems, including several near military bases and industries. 

    People attending Tuesday's summit represented states, tribes, the chemical industry and other sectors, along with some environmental representatives. 

    Pruitt pledged to start work toward establishing a legal maximum limit for the contaminants in drinking water systems. 

    The EPA would reach out to communities with drinking water contaminated by the chemicals over the summer, agency officials said. 

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    The EPA is "very focused upon action," Pruitt said. "We want to hear from all of you as we take the next step." 

    Environmental groups and some lawmakers have accused Pruitt of meeting more often with industry representatives, conservative political groups and lobbyists than with ordinary people affected by dangers that the EPA regulates.