Hurricane Irma hasn't made landfall, but the Category 5 storm has already confused communications, muddled municipal logistics, and apparently scrambled Associated Press sourcing so much so that the storied news agency is quoting EPA interns as authoritative.
An "AP Exclusive" detailing Environmental Protection Agency efforts to secure 54 toxic Superfund sites in the hurricane's path, cites one Stephen Sweeney as "a former employee in EPA's office of policy."
"These residents need to be aware of their surroundings, and what could be in their water and the floodwater," Sweeney told the AP. "There needs to be some sort of public communication. Either mass distribution of information or evacuating residents — it's up to the agency to make that call."
And while that might be valid criticism, the AP sourcing isn't. According to federal employment data, Sweeney worked at the EPA for barely more than a year as an "Administration and Office Support Student Trainee." People in less bureaucratic circles call that a paid internship.
That's not to say the source isn't accomplished. A review of his resume shows that while interning at the EPA, Sweeney earned his Master's in Public Policy. He also co-authored a 2016 Government Accountability Office analysis exploring how global warming and rising sea-levels could affect Superfund sites.
That experience makes him a promising young analyst. Unfortunately for the AP, it doesn't make him an authoritative policy expert.
Cleaning up Superfund sites, polluted areas that require long term cleanup efforts, has been a top priority of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. As the AP points out, Pruitt has been skeptical of global warming and remained mostly silent on the threat "rising seas and more powerful storms" pose to the effort.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on Saturday that the EPA has "a handle on" the situation. But a second source cited by the AP was more critical. Elizabeth Southerland, a former director of science and technology in EPA's Office of Water, said the agency should do more "to quickly respond with careful monitoring after the storm."
Like the intern, there's reason to doubt Southerland. After more than 30 years at the EPA, she reportedly quit in protest of budget cuts and Pruitt's leadership. But the decision had more to do with retirement than political protest. A Washington Free Beacon report found that Southerland was eligible for a pension.
None of any of this disqualifies Southerland or Sweeney per se. They might well know some science things. But it's unsettling for a multinational news agency that's reprinted as journalism's gold standard. The AP should be able to find better sources than a biased analyst and an intern.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.