Bad Science, Crazy Mining Laws, and Childcare Horror Stories

#MuckReads: A weekly roundup of investigative reporting from ProPublica.

Diners have a picnic lunch with fresh oysters at Drakes Bay Oyster Company in April 2014. The National Park Service shut down the oyster farm this winter, citing environmental concerns.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Here are this week’s top must-read stories from #MuckReads, ProPublica’s ongoing collection of the best watchdog journalism. Anyone can contribute by tweeting a link to a story and with the hashtag #MuckReads or by sending an email to Sign up here to get this digest delivered to your inbox weekly. 

Bad science from the Park Service: Kevin Lunny has owned and operated the Drakes Bay Oyster Company in a Pacific inlet north of San Francisco since 2005. This winter, an 80-year tradition of shellfish farming in the estuary came to an end when the National Park Service shut Drakes Bay down, claiming the company was a “heavy industry that imperiled the park’s wildlife.” While some environmentalists say “good government prevailed,” an investigation by Newsweek found that the science-as-evidence used to close down Lunny’s farm was either altered or bad. Newseek via @CivilEats

 Animal Farm: Over the last 50 years, the taxpayer-financed U.S. Meat Animal Research Center “fought the spread of disease, fostered food safety and helped American ranchers compete in a global marketplace.” But its latest efforts to increase the profitability of animals—by producing animals that will yield more meat and more offspring—have had gruesome side effects, the New York Times reveals. Pigs birth litters of up to 14 piglets, and cows have multiple calves, who “often emerge weakened or deformed, dying in such numbers that even meat producers have been repulsed.” — The New York Times via @kmieszkowski

What’s mined is mine? The Mining Law of 1872 allows hardrock mining companies—those that mine gold, silver, copper, iron, and uranium—to drill on 245 million acres of federal land without paying a cent. By contrast, oil and gas companies pay a 12.5 percent royalty fee (about $11 billion a year). And that’s just the business side. Environmentally speaking, this 133-year law doesn’t include any protections. “The environmental laws we have right now are not really covering the damage done by the hardrock mine industry,” said one environmental policy expert. — The Center for Investigative Reporting via @prbrescounci

Child care horror stories: Colorado is one of five states that allow childcare providers to go three years without inspection. A Denver Post investigation found that 24 children have died at these state-licensed facilities since 2006. They also found at least 43 with five or more violations; most of them remained open for business despite violations like staff drug use and poor treatment of children. State officials cited one provider for locking children in a dark garage and telling them spiders would bite them, but allowed the facility to stay open. These childcare facilities only need to be inspected every three years. Dog daycare centers on the other hand? Well, the state requires annual visits for those. — The Denver Post via @GregGriffin

“Dark money” is up; the IRS is down: Social welfare nonprofits aren’t supposed to engage primarily in politics. But dozens of such conservative groups contributed $130 million to help the GOP take the Senate and extend their House majority. (Democrats are also employing this strategy.) The Internal Revenue Service is supposed to audit them and police them, but they rarely do. Over the last four years, the agency has lost 13,000 employees. Its budget was just chopped by nearly $350 million. Meanwhile, these “dark money” groups are simply “not afraid of the IRS or anybody else on this matter,” a former IRS employee said. — The Center for Public Integrity via @davelevinthal