Sunday, August 3, 2008

EPA Gagged: What Does Agency Have to Hide?

EPA Gagged: What Does Agency Have to Hide?

Tribune Editorial

It seems the Environmental Protection Agency has something to hide.

If it didn’t, there would be no need for the memo e-mailed June 16 to EPA employees directing them to keep quiet if they are contacted by a reporter. More startling, the memo tells EPA staff to stay mum if they are approached by the EPA’s own inspector general’s office or investigators from the Government Accountability Office.

“Please do not respond to questions or make any statements,” the e-mail advises agency staff. It states that questions or requests for information or documents should be directed to senior staff members who, apparently, know how to keep the agency’s ducks in a line.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an environmental group that calls itself an alliance of state and federal environmental professionals, obtained the e-mail and posted it on its Web site.

The gag order is especially troubling since the EPA has come under fire recently for inappropriate political entanglements. The Associated Press reported that the memo was a response to a May 2007 audit by the inspector general’s office that found the EPA did not respond earlier to IG reports on problems with water enforcement and other issues.

Moreover, the agency has done nothing to regulate CO2 emissions despite a Supreme Court ruling clarifying that the EPA has authority to do so. On Tuesday, four Democratic senators, all members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called for the resignation of EPA administrator Stephen Johnson and asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate whether Johnson lied to another Senate committee and put politics ahead of its mission.

In January, Johnson testified that he alone had made the decision to prohibit the state of California from regulating vehicle emissions more stringently than the federal government. A former EPA official has disputed Johnson’s statement, saying Johnson had been about to grant California a partial waiver but had been pressured by the White House to change his mind.

During World War II, the term “loose lips sink ships” meant the war could be jeopardized by letting secrets out. The EPA is not fighting a war, but it obviously fears that the truth could put it in a bad light. If there is a battle, the agency should be on the side of full disclosure, not lined up with the Bush White House and polluters against the environment and the health of Americans.

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