Home > Uncategorized > Obama EPA Ignores Public Health Lessons of 9/11 — Legal Action to Restore EPA Ombudsman Office Whitman Abolished in 2002

Obama EPA Ignores Public Health Lessons of 9/11 — Legal Action to Restore EPA Ombudsman Office Whitman Abolished in 2002

no fishingYesterday, we wrote about how Christie Whitman’s 9/11 actions were very similar to how she downplayed public health risks from eating freshwater fish contaminated with toxic mercury as NJ Governor (see: Toxic EPA Corrosive Dust Standards Uncorrected a Decade after WTC).

Recall that back in 1994, Whitman offered this false and misleading public statement as an excuse for downplaying toxic mercury risks:

Before we put out advisories and scare people about what they can and can’t eat, let’s be sure we are talking about contaminant levels that are really hazardous to human health. Of course, the minute we find anything like that we will be out there very strongly with advisories. (Newark Star Ledger, 3/22/94)

Today, we write about another strong parallel.

Back in 1994, when a NJ DEP whistle-blower exposed Whitman’s false and misleading public statements about health risks and embarrassed her in the press, Whitman viciously retaliated. Whitman attacked the messenger, forcing his resignation from State government.

In 2001, when the US EPA Ombudsman initiated an investigation of Whitman’s false and misleading public statements about health risks, again, she viciously retaliated. This time, even more outrageously, Whitman abolished the EPA Ombudsman’s Office .

Read the remarkable story below from our friends at PEER:

News Releases

For Immediate Release: September 9, 2011Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

OBAMA EPA IGNORES PUBLIC HEALTH LESSONS OF 9/11 — Pending Legal Action to Resurrect EPA Ombudsman Function Shuttered in 2002

Washington, DC — As the 10th anniversary of the attacks nears and 9/11 First Responders experience increasingly severe health effects from their heroism, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) demands that the Obama administration resurrect the Ombudsman role at the Environmental Protection Agency.   A review by the National Ombudsman in 2002 predicted these health effects among First Responders and others in Lower Manhattan after it investigated the EPA response to the attacks.

The EPA abolished its National Ombudsman in the middle of its investigation of charges that the EPA lied to the public and did not perform their mandatory duties to protect the public after the attacks.  The Ombudsman acted as a neutral party to resolve citizen and industry complaints about EPA’s performance.

“With the Ombudsman abolished, the EPA is not accountable for malfeasance,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein who is co-counsel with Regina Markey at Beins, Axelrod, PC in an ongoing environmental whistleblower action filed by former Ombudsman Chief Investigator Hugh Kaufman which seeks to restore the office.  “A viable Ombudsman function at the EPA is the only way to assure that the public can make EPA answer questions.”

Five EPA press releases issued within ten days of September 11, 2001 reassured the public that the air was safe, prompting residents, office workers and children to return to Lower Manhattan.  A September 18, 2001 EPA press release, for instance, quoted Administrator Christie Whitman saying “Given the scope of the tragedy last week, I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, DC that their air is safe to breath [sic] and the water is safe to drink.”

After those statements, under court protection against threats by Administrator Whitman to terminate his office, National Ombudsman Robert Martin managed to hold two hearings in Lower Manhattan to take testimony from witnesses and experts in response to charges that EPA’s 9/11 response was imprudent, if not outright dishonest.  As a result of those hearings, the Ombudsman found that –

  • EPA officials knew the collapse of the World Trade Towers filled Lower Manhattan with carcinogenic asbestos-containing-materials, but refused to follow proper rules on protecting the public from it; and
  • EPA’s false assurances about the safety of outdoor and indoor air in Lower Manhattan insulated insurance companies from having to pay claims that arose out of exposure to released toxins.

After the Ombudsman made these findings, in April of 2002, EPA prevailed in court and terminated the office, locking Martin out of his office while he was testifying about the EPA response before the New York State legislature.  In 2003, EPA’s own Office of Inspector General confirmed the Ombudsman’s public pronouncements.  The Inspector General also found that the Bush White House skewed EPA press releases and that “the desire to reopen Wall Street” factored into EPA statements.

Chief Investigator Kaufman was shunted off to an inconsequential job but he kept up his legal fight to restore the Ombudsman office through the Bush years.  After the Obama administration came in, it continued to resist Mr. Kaufman’s action.  The case is currently before the Department of Labor Administrative Review Board.

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  1. April 28th, 2015 at 08:17 | #1
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