EPA Charged With Widespread Abuse of Power

Published June 1, 1998

In a landmark report released May 12 by the Alexandria, Virginia-based National Wilderness Institute (NWI), EPA is charged with grossly misusing science to achieve political ends; intimidating and harassing its own employees who question agency policies; and committing or condoning numerous unethical and possibly illegal activities.

The report, expected to have serious repercussions for the agency in the months ahead, offers some of the most devastating criticisms yet lodged against EPA Administrator Carol Browner. Buttressed by supporting documents, including internal EPA memoranda, the NWI report is unique in that the harshest comments about the conduct of the agency come from career EPA employees themselves.

“Despite expanding budgets, EPA’s ability to base its actions on sound science has slipped further and further behind over the past three decades,” comments EPA microbiologist David Lewis. While acknowledging that EPA’s problems go back a long way, Lewis, an internationally respected scientist who enjoys official whistleblower status, saved his most biting remarks for the current EPA administrator.

“EPA scientists know what Carol Browner cannot seem to understand,” Lewis told a Capitol Hill press conference. “Bad science does not protect the environment. She has let EPA’s science organization go without a permanent head for much of her administration, buried scientists in bureaucratic red tape, and aggressively punished those who speak out about the agency’s problems.”

After letters to Browner and Vice President Al Gore about EPA’s science problems went unanswered, Lewis went public in an article in the June 27, 1996 issue of the British journal Nature. In that article, Lewis wrote that EPA had an “irrational approach” to protecting the environment, one that gives higher priority to the promulgation of regulations than to the development of underlying science.

EPA retaliated against Lewis with trumped-up charges of ethics violations, all of which were later dismissed by the Department of Labor.

Intent on focusing attention on EPA’s abuse of power, Lewis took his case to state policymakers nationwide in an interview that appeared in the December 1997 issue of Environment News.

Lewis’ ordeal is but one of many cases explored in NWI’s “The People v. Carol Browner: EPA on Trial,” written by Environment News managing editor Bonner R. Cohen. In addition to the punishment of whistleblowers, the NWI report outlines an “alarming pattern of behavior” on the part of EPA officials which includes:

  • creating and submitting backdated documents to a federal court in a wetlands case involving Indians in Wisconsin;
  • requesting career EPA scientists to lobby members of Congress, in violation of federal statutes;
  • overseeing the creation and funding of a non-profit organization–the Center for Chesapeake Communities–to circumvent state and local governments;
  • establishing unwritten and unpublicized regulations, in violation of the Congressional Review Act;
  • stonewalling Congressional efforts to obtain an EPA memorandum outlining how the agency could impose restrictions on emissions of man-made greenhouse gases without having to go through Congress;
  • funding an “environmental awareness” newsletter, published by the National Parent Teachers Association (PTA), as a means of lobbying Congress on EPA’s behalf; and
  • promoting economic espionage by forcing companies to publish highly sensitive confidential business information on the Internet as part of EPA’s effort to expand the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).

Like Lewis, the report names Administrator Carol Browner as the chief source of the problems plaguing EPA. Browner, the report notes, is “absolutely convinced of the righteousness of her cause [and] has adroitly and ruthlessly molded EPA into an instrument of her environmental zealotry.”

“The misconduct on the part of EPA officials described in the report is completely unacceptable and I can assure you that hearings into these matters will be held,” said Rep. David McIntosh (R-Indiana), chairman of the House subcommittee on national economic growth, natural resources, and regulatory affairs. “What the report clearly shows is that the IRS is not the only troubled federal agency,” he added.

Revelations in the report have also prompted an inquiry by the Department of Justice (DOJ). In a May 27 letter to Mark Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation, Richard M. Rogers, acting counsel for the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility, stated that his office “has initiated an inquiry into the matters in your submissions as they relate to Department of Justice attorneys.”

On May 12, the day the NWI report was released, the Landmark Legal Foundation requested that Attorney General Janet Reno “. . . immediately initiate investigations of pervasive and possibly illegal conduct on the part of the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, her surrogates, EPA Administrators, and attorneys, and certain Justice Department attorneys working on EPA’s behalf.”