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EPA Gag Order: Put a Sock in It

EPA issues gag orders to its employeesThe Environmental Protection Agency, in an email sent last month, has ordered their employees not to “respond to questions or make any statements” – from anyone. Including congressional investigators, reporters, or even the EPA Office of Inspector General.

Whatever is going on in the EPA, it’s none of our damn business (not even the EPA’s oversight office).

The emailed gag order came to light today from documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an organization assisting federal and state employees in natural resource agencies.  

PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch commented about the gag order,

Inside the current EPA, candor has become the cardinal sin.

 …this directive is of questionable legality, an agency specialist risks discipline or even termination for disregarding a direct order. The clear intention behind this move is to chill the cubicles by suppressing any uncontrolled release of information,”

In the attendant buzz from yet more evidence and accusation that the EPA has become little more than a political arm of the Bush/Cheney administration, the EPA’s Office of Public Affairs rejects the characterization of the gag order as suppressive and secretive, instead calling it “standard operating procedure”, claiming it as part of its response to a May 2007 EPA Inspector General report entitled “EPA Can Improve its Oversight of Audit Followup”

The only problem is that the cited report doesn’t make any such recommendation or specify the gag order as any sort of “standard operating procedure”, concerning itself instead on how the EPA lacks accountability for correcting deficiencies previously defined by Inspector General Audits. That doesn’t sound like a gag order to me.

PEER tried to follow-up with EPA Public Affairs assertions that the Inspector General signed-off on the gag rule, but was unable to find any written record required to “sign-off”. Requests for information from the Inspector General’s office have gone unanswered.

There really isn’t an Inspector General per se right now anyway, as the post is currently vacant.

Last week EPA director Stephen Johnson declined any more persnickety questions from Congressional investigators, refusing to appear before Congress to explain how his conclusion last year that Global Warming was a “significant threat” to human health and systems would lead to his decision not to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, despite a Supreme Court ruling mandating his agency to do so.

There is also serious concern that Johnson was influenced by the White House to reverse his initial recommendation to grant California a waiver to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes. A waiver that would have led to more than a dozen other states to pursue similar laws on their books.

Earlier this month it was reported that the Vice President’s office exerted pressure for the EPA to alter it language downplaying the scientific evidence of climate change and its likely causes.

At every turn it appears as if the EPA has something to hide, is inordinately directed by political pressure, and abandons the conclusions from the agencies own scientists, thus making it unable to gain the trust of the public or pursue its true mandate.

As PEER director Ruch puts it:

Ironically, EPA has brought a lot of these congressional hearings on itself by not being open.”

Further Reading:
CNN: Politics
AP – text of EPA email
McClatchy

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