The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

EPA Employees Blow the Whistle on Flawed Climate Bills

Agency Specialists Say Greenhouse Gas Offsets Unenforceable and Demand Probe


The major bills before Congress to regulate greenhouse gases to
combat global climate change suffer from "multiple unfixable flaws" that
undermine their effectiveness, according to a detailed congressional
disclosure by two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees,
posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). These agency experts' unofficial protest is also testing new
agency guidelines on employee free speech rights following EPA's order
last fall that the two employees remove a YouTube video they had
produced on the frailties of cap-and-trade.

The two EPA
employees, Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, are enforcement attorneys
speaking as private citizens. They contend that the integrity failings
of greenhouse gas offsets, the lynchpin for major climate bills before
Congress, ensure that such legislation will be an ineffective - and
deceptive - waste of funds. Specifically, they argue that:

  • The complexity and subjectivity of offsets renders them impossible to certify, regulate or enforce;
  • There
    is no reliable way to distinguish offset projects which will occur
    because of the offset incentive from those which would have happened
  • In some cases, such as in the context of forestry
    projects, the offsets will fail to appreciably mitigate demand and the
    polluting activity (such as logging) will simply shift elsewhere; and
  • The offsets will create perverse incentives to keep polluting activities legal so they can keep being sold as offsets.

Williams and Zabel assert that these offsets, in essence, are a new
"creative financial instrument" which carries the same deceptive
potential to bankrupt markets as did the creative instruments peddled on
Wall Street. The two ask for a congressional probe into the
reliability of any offset program before enactment.

In speaking
out as private citizens, Williams and Zabel are contradicting positions
endorsed by their own agency, the EPA, which attempted to silence them
last fall by demanding under threat of "disciplinary action" that they
remove a YouTube video that was critical of the offsets. EPA was
embarrassed by the public furor that ensued. Earlier this month, the
Office of Government Ethics posted a government-wide clarification of
its free speech policy (curiously dated March 19, 2010) that fails to
lay out clear guidance for when and under what circumstances its
employees may voice personal opinions.

In response, Williams and
Zabel noted that, "We are extremely grateful to our attorney, Tom
Devine of the Government Accountability Project, our EPA ethics
officials, and the White House ethics counsel for providing a
clarification that has allowed us to go forward with our dissent. While
we appreciate the recent resolution of our First Amendment dispute with
EPA, we are still troubled that federal employees have not received
greater clarity about their ability to discuss non-confidential
on-the-job experiences when engaged in personal non-commercial speech
regarding important issues of public concern." Added PEER Executive
Director Jeff Ruch, "Despite its rhetoric about openness, today's EPA
often suppresses open debate, both inside and outside its hallways, on
matters of vital public interest. Laurie and Allan work inside EPA but
they actually work for the public and, as public servants, seek to
better serve their true employers."

Read the whistleblower disclosure

See their censored YouTube video

View the unclear EPA clarification on employee free speech

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.