Blowing the whistle on EPA

Copyright 1998 Washington Times
September 11, 1998

Top Clinton administration environmental officials apparently haven't gotten the message to stop harassing a senior government scientist. Last year the Environmental Protection Agency had to hand over more than $100,000 to David Lewis after an administrative law judge found the agency selectively, and falsely, accused him of ethics violations in connection with articles he had written criticizing agency "science."

Now a second administrative law judge has found the agency illegally discriminated against Mr. Lewis in denying him a promotion by rigging the process against him. The judge's language is blunt. The process, he said, was "inherently flawed from its inception." There was a "lack of good faith effort" by EPA. The agency failed to provide "any credible rationale" for its failures in the process.

So the judge ordered the agency to allow Mr. Lewis to present his case for promotion to a new board. If the board approves his promotion, the judge ordered the agency to provide him back pay dating back to January, when an earlier board heard his case.

There is far more at stake in this case than Mr. Lewis' elevation to a position that the Civil Service typically reserves for scientists of international renown. For one thing, his determined effort to protect his name and reputation has touched off complaints by other agency scientists that they too have had to endure agency harassment. In a letter to The Washington Times earlier this year, numerous agency scientists, managers, staff and others complained that the threats and harassment Mr. Lewis faced are in fact "pervasive" at EPA. Retaliation against whistleblowers occurs at "every management level" and involves officials at the highest levels, including the office of Administrator Carol Browner.

A May report released by the National Wilderness Institute entitled "The People vs. Carol Browner: EPA on Trial," cited similar examples of retaliation against scientifically correct but politically incorrect researchers. The agency is now under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department in connection with allegations of threats against agency whistleblowers.

Mr. Lewis' case is also important for what it says about the agency's commitment, or lack of commitment, to sound science. In an interview with Environment News last year, Mr. Lewis detailed some of the scientific and political problems the agency faces. The credentials of EPA scientists themselves are good, he said. The agency has some of the best environmental scientists around.

The answer is different, he said, "if you're asking about how science gets used in EPA's rules and regulations. Our scientists have always played catch-up with the regulatory process and the situation is getting progressively worse. One reason for this is that EPA is having to meet an increasing number of court-ordered deadlines [in suits brought by environmental groups] to write or enforce rules and regulations. . . .

"Oftentimes, these scientific issues just can't be resolved in time to meet the deadline for having the rule promulgated. So EPA ends up publishing and enforcing rules and regulations that aren't based on good science."

Mr. Lewis, at least, has refused to stop blowing the whistle on EPA. It's time lawmakers blew the whistle too.

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