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In response to a formal ethics complaint filed nine days ago by the Center for Biological Diversity and University of Oklahoma law professor Kristen van de Biezenbos, the Oklahoma Bar Associat
In response to a formal ethics complaint filed nine days ago by the Center for Biological Diversity and University of Oklahoma law professor Kristen van de Biezenbos, the Oklahoma Bar Association has opened an investigation into whether U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt lied to Congress while under oath.
The investigation will look into possible ethical violations stemming from Pruitt's misrepresentation to senators of his use of a personal email address -- while he was Oklahoma attorney general -- for official business and speeches he gave to right-wing organizations against environmental protection.
The bar association has requested a response to the complaint from Pruitt. Following the investigation, the bar association's Professional Responsibility Commission will decide whether to take disciplinary action against the newly minted EPA chief.
The Center's and Prof. van de Biezenbos' complaint asserts that Pruitt violated Oklahoma's rules of professional conduct when he told Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) during his confirmation hearing that he did not use a personal "me.com" email address for official state business while attorney general of Oklahoma. Records released in the course of an Oklahoma public-records lawsuit show that Pruitt received at least one email message, and possibly more, at a "me.com" email address. Additional records are still being reviewed by Oklahoma courts for possible public release.
"I'm very pleased the Oklahoma Bar Association has agreed to investigate this matter," said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center. "Lying to Congress is a serious ethical breach, and it doesn't help that Pruitt's use of private emails reflect potential collusion with the very oil and gas industry he's now supposed to be regulating."
One released email shows a message from a vice president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers association to Pruitt's me.com address, asking him to use his position as Oklahoma attorney general to help roll back renewable fuel standards that were set under the Obama administration. Other released emails show use of a redacted email address for Pruitt that may be personal, showing correspondence with representatives of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is widely viewed as a right-wing organization that has worked to weaken some of the nation's most important environmental laws, including laws Pruitt administers at the EPA, such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
Use of a personal email address for official state business can lead to the loss of government records and to hacking. Federal rules prohibit the use of personal email for official business.
Democratic members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works noted in a March 17, 2017 letter to Mr. Pruitt that he failed to mention several public speeches or presentations that he has made related to energy or the environment, including to the Federalist Society.
"As a law professor and a member of the legal profession, I take the ethical standards very seriously," said Kristen van de Biezenbos, the University of Oklahoma law professor who signed the complaint in her personal capacity. "But such rules are only meaningful when they are fully enforced."
At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.(520) 623-5252
"Your termination of my employment will not stifle workers' organizing, for when you fire leaders, it only brings more people ignited into the movement," said Jennifer Bates.
Amazon on Friday fired Jennifer Bates, a warehouse worker and lead spokesperson of the unionization campaign in Bessemer, Alabama, without cause.
The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) described Bates as the "woman who lit the spark of the current rise of labor activism." Her termination comes as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) continues to investigate RWDSU's claims that Amazon violated federal labor law in order to vanquish a union drive broadly supported by local residents.
According to RWDSU, the firing of Bates also comes amid a "monthslong worker's compensation nightmare. Bates continues to suffer from crippling injuries received while working at Amazon, which she spoke out about during the unionization effort, and for which has lengthy documentation." The union added that "Bates hit three years of service this May, an ominous number for Amazon workers whose pay scales top out after three years."
"Amazon terminated one of the most public pro-union worker leaders we've seen in a generation over an alleged paperwork issue."
"I went to work for Amazon because I believed in the future world of work, but at Amazon there is no future for workers like me," Bates said in a statement. "I have tirelessly worked for Amazon in Bessemer, Alabama since it opened. Everything hurts and it's permanently changed my life forever, but I stayed because I believe Amazon can be better, and I believe with a union we can build a brighter future for workers across the company."
"I've given my back to Amazon these past three years. I've given my arms and shoulders to Amazon these past three years. And I've given every fiber of my soul into organizing Amazon these past three years," said Bates. "For them to treat me like this is unfathomable."
"But let me be clear, Amazon, your termination of my employment will not stifle workers' organizing, for when you fire leaders, it only brings more people ignited into the movement," she stressed. "We are a movement, we will not be stopped, and I know my union, recognized or not by you, has my back. We will fight this, I will not be silenced, we will not be stopped."
\u201cBREAKING: Jennifer Bates (@Jennife67173021), the lead worker spokeswoman of the @BAmazonUnion drive, received notice she had been terminated by the company amid a several months long workers compensation nightmare. \nFull statement: https://t.co/tom8PZfxmK\u201d— RWDSU (@RWDSU) 1685711494
RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum lamented that "Amazon terminated one of the most public pro-union worker leaders we've seen in a generation over an alleged paperwork issue, for which there is ample documentation."
The issue "can and should be easily resolved by a human," said Appelbaum. "Instead, Jennifer Bates is being subjected to termination by AI due to a glitch in the company's own software."
"Outrageously, Jennifer's is just one example of horror stories burdening thousands of Amazon workers every day," Appelbaum continued. "Workers suffer from life-altering injuries through their work at Amazon, including repetitive motion injuries and 911 emergencies, which send workers to the hospital regularly, some never to return again. Continually nameless faceless HR is either nowhere to be found or excessively difficult to track down."
"Amazon spared no expense in its union-busting throughout the Bessemer campaign, and today is just another in a litany of examples of how this company will stop at nothing to stifle workers' efforts to unionize," the union leader noted. "Amazon blatantly broke the law throughout the campaign, knowing that any potential penalty would be insignificant. Amazon's goal was to prevent—by any means—its employees from having a collective voice through a union in Bessemer."
"Labor law reform is critical if workers are to find any hope," he added. "Amazon's behavior must not be tolerated."
"Amazon spared no expense in its union-busting throughout the Bessemer campaign, and today is just another in a litany of examples of how this company will stop at nothing to stifle workers' efforts to unionize."
In the spring of 2021, RWDSU came up short during its initial organizing drive at Amazon's BHM1 warehouse in Bessemer—the first union election at one of the e-commerce giant's facilities in United States history.
Afterward, the union filed 23 complaints with the NLRB, accusing Amazon of illegally threatening employees with loss of pay and benefits, installing and surveilling an unlawful ballot collection box, and expelling pro-union workers from captive audience meetings during which management argued against collective bargaining.
The NLRB eventually threw out the results of the first election and supervised a new vote in the spring of 2022. The results of the second election were inconclusive. Although there were 118 more votes against unionization than for it, the final outcome hinges on how the director of the NLRB's Region 10 office decides to count 416 challenged ballots.
Following last year's contested vote, RWDSU lodged 21 objections to Amazon's conduct during the election with the NLRB, accusing the company of yet again interfering with the rights of its employees to organize for better conditions without fear of retaliation.
"Workers at Amazon have endured an insanely and needlessly long and aggressive fight to unionize their workplace; with Amazon doing everything it can to spread misinformation and deceive workers," Appelbaum said Friday. "Today’s news is shockingly just another case of Amazon's misconduct in a growing mountain of [unfair labor practices], objections, and charges against Amazon."
"The company violated the law in the first election and did so again in the re-run election, and now is firing union leaders in the facility to all but extinguish any embers of union support in the facility," said Appelbaum.
"We will continue to hold Amazon accountable and ensure workers' voices are heard," the union leader emphasized. "Amazon's behavior must not go unchallenged, and workers in Bessemer, Alabama must have their rights protected under the law. We urge the NLRB to carefully review Jennifer's case, when it's filed, and the countless other issues at hand to ensure no company, not even with the bottomless pockets of Amazon, is allowed to act above the law."
"Today's decision just isn't enough to give our communities a fighting chance against the climate emergency," said one campaigner.
Climate and environmental protection campaigners welcomed an announcement by the Biden administration on Friday that the U.S. Interior Department is blocking new oil and gas leases in the area surrounding Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, but emphasized that the move will not undo the damage done by President Joe Biden's approval of drilling on other public lands or by years of fossil fuel extraction in the region.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced that after a public comment period and decades of campaigning by Indigenous rights groups, her agency will block new oil and gas leasing on public lands within a 10-mile radius of the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.
Existing oil and gas leases on public and private lands within the 10-mile area will not be affected, and Diné C.A.R.E., a group representing Diné, or Navajo, communities affected by environmental issues, noted that the Greater Chaco Region in northwestern New Mexico is suffering the effects of oil and gas drilling, including the formation of a 2,500-square-mile methane cloud over the area.
"Protection of Chaco Canyon is a great first step, but protections for the Greater Chaco Region, where there are living communities of Diné relatives, wildlife, and plant life, including countless sacred sites throughout the region, are just as critical and should be a priority for the Biden administration," said Robyn Jackson, executive director of Diné C.A.R.E. "We cannot ignore the devastating impacts that oil and gas have on our climate, region, culture, living communities, and future generations."
Jackson called on the Biden administration to entirely phase out fossil fuel extraction, as climate scientists and energy experts have said all countries must in order to avoid planetary heating over 2°C above preindustrial levels, and "support a renewable and sustainable economy."
"We will continue to push for an end to oil and gas drilling on all public land in the U.S. so we may all enjoy a healthy, livable future in which our leaders prioritize environmental justice."
"Our Indigenous communities deserve environmental justice," she said.
The Chaco Canyon National Historical Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and covers roughly 30,000 acres which were integral to Pueblo culture between the ninth and 13th centuries.
The Chaco Canyon Coalition, which includes Indigenous groups and has demanded protections for the park and the surrounding region for years, noted that the Interior Department's own estimates have found the administration's decision will block only a few dozen oil and gas wells, reducing natural gas production in the area by 0.5% and oil production by 2.5%.
"More than 90% of Greater Chaco is already either industrialized by oil and gas extraction or promised to industry for more drilling in the future, even as we recognize this activity's impacts on the area's communities and the climate," said attorney Ally Beasley of the Western Environmental Law Center, a member of the coalition. "We will continue to push for an end to oil and gas drilling on all public land in the U.S. so we may all enjoy a healthy, livable future in which our leaders prioritize environmental justice."
The limited protections for Chaco Canyon are "a welcome first step," said Soni Grant, New Mexico campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity, on Friday. "But the Biden administration needs to follow up by ending all fossil fuel leasing on public lands and phasing out extraction."
"It looks like the paraquat maker has adopted nearly every strategy we outlined in our book about bending science," said one author and former EPA legal adviser.
Internal documents published Friday by The Guardian and The New Lede shed new light on how multinational chemical giant Syngenta worked to conceal the link between its popular pesticide paraquat and Parkinson's disease.
According to the internal documents, Syngenta sought to "create an international scientific consensus against the hypothesis that paraquat is a risk factor for Parkinson's disease," in part by launching what company officials called a "SWAT team" to counter research that could threaten the corporation's "freedom to sell" the pesticide.
"It looks like the paraquat maker has adopted nearly every strategy we outlined in our book about bending science," Thomas McGarity, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency legal adviser and co-author of the 2008 book Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research, toldThe Guardian.
"Science matters. We have to be able to depend on science," McGarity added. "When it is perverted, when it is manipulated, then we get bad results. And one result is that pesticides that cause terrible things like Parkinson's remain on the market."
\u201cThe @Syngenta files expose a web of deception, including undisclosed collaborations, misleading regulators, and manipulating scientific reports. \n\nLearn how the chemical giant has protected its toxic weed killer, paraquat. \u2935\ufe0f\n\nvia @thenewledenews/@guardian\nhttps://t.co/qMkAj1uIPo\u201d— The New Lede (@The New Lede) 1685723295
While a 2006 study found that rats administered paraquat exhibited neural degeneration similar to Parkinson's, a definitive link between paraquat and Parkinson's disease was discovered in 2011, when National Institutes of Health researchers concluded that the brain disorder is "positively associated" with the pesticide. A 2013 paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology found that exposure to paraquat roughly doubled the risk of developing Parkinson's. In 2020, four of the world's leading neurologists published a book citing paraquat as a cause of Parkinson's.
More than 50 countries have banned paraquat, including Brazil, China, and the United Kingdom. The European Union has also banned the pesticide.
Syngenta argues that the evidence showing paraquat causes Parkinson's is "fragmentary and insufficient to establish" a link between the pesticide and the brain disorder.
"Recent thorough reviews performed by the most advanced and science-based regulatory authorities, including the United States and Australia, continue to support the view that paraquat is safe," the company toldThe Guardian for an October 2022 article showing internal Syngenta documents confirmed that corporate officials worried about the pesticide's link to Parkinson's.
\u201cIn less than six months, Swiss chemical manufacturer @Syngenta faces a first-ever trial in a lawsuit brought by U.S. farmers and others who allege the company\u2019s weed-killing herbicide #paraquat causes the neurological disorder known as #Parkinsonsdisease. https://t.co/Yr4cv8PjPL\u201d— Corporate Crime Blotter (@Corporate Crime Blotter) 1685712611
However, as The Guardian reports in the new article:
The scientific record [Syngenta points] to as proof of paraquat's safety is the same one that Syngenta officials, scientists, and lawyers in the U.S. and the U.K. have worked over decades to create and at times, covertly manipulate...
The files reveal an array of tactics, including enlisting a prominent U.K. scientist and other outside researchers who authored scientific literature that did not disclose any involvement with Syngenta; misleading regulators about the existence of unfavorable research conducted by its own scientists; and engaging lawyers to review and suggest edits for scientific reports in ways that downplayed worrisome findings.
McGarity also said that when he worked at the EPA, pesticide lobbyists were known as "hall crawlers" for their incessant efforts to influence government officials.
Additionally, a revolving door between the chemical industry and government at all levels, from EPA bureaucrats all the way up to the Supreme Court—Justice Clarence Thomas is a former Monsanto attorney who refused to recuse himself from a case involving his former employer—helps corporations conceal the harms caused by their products.
In 2021, a coalition of groups sued the EPA over its decision to renew its approval of paraquat.
The new documents were published amid a raft of over 2,000 product liability lawsuits filed by farmers and others against Syngenta and Chevron, paraquat's former distributor. The first federal bellwether paraquat trial is set to begin in October.