WASHINGTON, DC - Jimmy Palmer, the top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official for the Southeastern U.S., recently testified against his own agency in a criminal trial on behalf of a former developer client, according to trial testimony released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Palmer testified that he considered EPA to have been “unethical,” heavy handed” and on a “crusade to destroy” his former client, who was then found guilty on precisely the grounds cited by EPA— and disputed by Palmer.
Palmer was selected by President Bush to oversee EPA operations in the eight-state Southeastern Region in October 2001 and was sworn in following Senate confirmation the following January. At the time of his selection, Palmer was the lawyer for a Mississippi developer named Robert Lucas who sought Palmer’s help in subdividing land and installing septic tanks in a 2600-acre development called Big Hills Acres.
In March 2005, after a jury trial, Lucas was convicted for misrepresenting the habitability of the lots and installing septic systems in saturated wetland soils at Big Hill Acres, despite warnings from the state Department of Health that doing so created a public health threat. Lucas also ignored numerous warnings, as well as cease and desist orders, from both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA because the deteriorating systems threatened to contaminate the local drinking water aquifer.
At the trial, Lucas called Palmer as a defense witness. Palmer, testifying on his own time under subpoena, confirmed his role in advising Lucas in how to sell lots for development despite official cease and desist orders. Palmer also admitted that he regarded EPA staff as “unethical” and overzealous in enforcing the Clean Water Act and aggressively resisted earlier enforcement efforts.
“After reading this transcript, the only question is when did Jimmy Palmer stop representing developers,” asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that EPA has yet to veto a single development project for wetlands violations, or any other reason, during Palmer’s tenure.
In his official capacity as EPA Regional Administrator, Palmer now has before him more than a score of questionable mega-projects that would destroy thousands of wetlands acres in endangered species habitat in order to build projects such as gated golf-course luxury condominium complexes. Palmer has signaled that he will greenlight every project, despite concerns about violations of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws that Palmer and his agency are supposed to be enforcing.
“Jimmy Palmer never met a development project that he did not like,” Ruch added. “Even today, Palmer routinely takes calls from developers’ lawyers and directly intervenes to ‘fix’ cases over the objections of his increasingly frustrated staff.”