The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Jeff Ruch (202) 265-7337

EPA Release Libby Clean-Up Report

PEER Lawsuit Prompts Belated Disclosure of Major Unresolved Public Health Issues


Citing a decision not to contest a lawsuit filed earlier
this month by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General (IG) has released
a 2006 report revealing critical deficiencies in the agency's clean-up
of Libby, Montana, a town plagued by unprecedented exposure to an especially
deadly form of asbestos.

For the past three years, the EPA-IG had refused to release the 2006
report by its Special Agent Cory Rumple describing serious public health concerns
about the methods employed by EPA to remove highly dangerous vermiculite from
homes within Libby. Problems outlined by the "Rumple Report" include -

  • A thorough "disconnect between scientists and the agency" over
    how to conduct the clean-up;
  • Distribution of "exceptionally deceiving" public health
    information to Libby residents. These so-called "comfort letters" were
    characterized as riddled with "untruths"; and
  • Bitter in-fighting within the EPA that led to dysfunctional decisions
    and resignations of key specialists.

"Libby represents one of the most serious public health situations EPA
has confronted but it appears that this agency is not close to being up to
the task," stated PEER Executive Jeff Ruch. "This report raises
more questions than it answers, including why it was hidden from the public."

Besides the secrecy about unresolved public health questions, PEER points
to a critical issue involving the decisions of the EPA-IG. Despite Agent
Rumple's clear conclusion that the Libby problems did not constitute
criminal misconduct ("additional criminal investigation is unwarranted"),
the IG opened a 21-month criminal investigation anyway which resulted in a
referral that was declined by federal prosecutors. That lengthy criminal probe
supplanted Rumple's main request that the identified lapses be thoroughly
analyzed by the OIG Office of Program Evaluation.

"As a result of the Inspector General pursuing a fruitless criminal
inquiry, today we still do not have a clear idea of whether the Libby clean-up
is protective of the public," Ruch added. "Nor do we have any assurances
that EPA will not repeat the same mistakes tomorrow."

This quick resolution of the PEER lawsuit was the first indication that the
pledges by President Obama and Attorney General Holder of a new openness and
presumption of disclosure in administering the Freedom of Information Act will
be honored.

"We are encouraged that the Freedom of Information Act may become an
even more powerful tool for government accountability," remarked PEER
Staff Counsel Christine Erickson, who filed the lawsuit. "We have many
more dirty bureaucratic closets that we intend to air out."


Read the Rumple Report

See the IG Congressional testimony summarizing its investigation from the
Rumple Report

Look at the PEER lawsuit

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.