The EPA's Paranoid Style

The EPA's Paranoid Style

By Kimberley Strassel - November 13, 2009

Give the Environmental Protection Agency credit: At least it practices equal opportunity censorship of its employees.

Dr. Alan Carlin, a 37-year agency veteran, was muzzled earlier this spring. Dr. Carlin offered a report poking holes in the science underlying the theory of manmade global warming. His superior, Al McGartland, complained the paper did "not help the legal or policy case" for Team Obama's decision to regulate carbon, told him to "move on to other issues," and forbade him from discussing it outside the office.

Now come Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, married, and each with more than 20 years tenure at the EPA. They too are dismayed by Democrats' approach to climate, though for different reasons. Dedicated environmentalists, they created a 10-minute YouTube video arguing Congress's convoluted cap-and-trade bill was a "big lie" that is too weak. They instead propose imposing taxes, lots of them, on fossil fuels.

Their views aren't new. Earlier this year the duo sent a letter to Congress making the same case. The video has been out for some time, and the pair got clearance from the EPA before they ran it. Mr. Zabel in the opening notes that "nothing in this video is intended to represent the views of EPA or the Obama Administration." It wasn't until the couple ran a high-profile op-ed in the Washington Post in October that the agency nerved out.

A few days after the op-ed, Ms. Williams and Mr. Zabel were contacted by an EPA ethics official telling them to remove the video or face "disciplinary action." EPA says the clearance was subject to "ethics guidelines," which it claims the couple violated. The agency said the video could go back up if it was altered to remove a picture of an EPA building, and to delete mentions of their EPA employment. In particular, Mr. Zabel was not to say that he'd worked on cap-and-trade issues.

Meet the Obama EPA, and its new suppressing, paranoid style. It was the president who once ripped the Bush administration for silencing scientific critics, and it was EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson who began her tenure promising the agency would operate like a "fishbowl." But that was before EPA realized how vastly unpopular is its plan to usurp Congress and regulate the economy on its own, based on its bizarre finding that CO2 is a danger to health.

Faced with unhappy members of Congress, dissenting employees, an opposition business community, and a backlash on the science, Mrs. Jackson is no longer a fan of open government. The goal now is to rush the agency regulations through as quickly as possible, squashing threatening dissent and deflecting troublesome questions.

Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner and Darrell Issa recently put out a report documenting the EPA's slippery handling of its carbon rule, in which it truncated the process and dismissed contrary views. The Chamber of Commerce has been waiting all year for a response to its request for a hearing into the science underlying the regulation. Not a peep.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in September requested a discussion with the agency about carbon regulation and legislation. That discussion has yet to happen. Louisiana Sen. David Vitter recently quizzed Mrs. Jackson about a provision in Congress's climate legislation that would give the president awesome power over energy regulation. Mrs. Jackson said it was a "premature" discussion. "The EPA is playing dirty to get green," says Rep. Sensenbrenner. "The agency can't be allowed to silence its scientists just because what they say threatens to delay its political agenda."

There is a legitimate debate over what right administrations have to clamp down on rebel staffers, yet the EPA's stomp on dissenting views appears unprecedented. Dr. Carlin says he's been treated "relatively well" since the blow-up. Yet he has been forbidden from working on climate or attending climate seminars. When asked how this compares to previous administrations, Mr. Carlin says that years ago he actually believed the science was "correct"-a position that put him at odds with the Bush administration.

Mr. Carlin knew one of his top supervisors back then disagreed with him. "At no time did he say don't work on it, don't express these views which are contrary to mine. And he in effect allowed me to work on climate change for five years. . . . I had no problems until March of this current year."

The problem for the EPA is that the Williams-Zabel dust-up is growing, and underlining the gap between the agency's transparency rhetoric and reality. The very media and activists who ran hit jobs on Mr. Carlin are, of course, now furious the agency is quieting card-carrying environmentalists. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a left-leaning outfit that represents scientists has latched on to the Williams-Zabel video, is lamenting that "EPA is abusing ethics rules to gag two conscientious employees" and promising to assist with any litigation.

If the EPA were so proud of this power grab, it ought to be eager to have a discussion, right?

Ms. Strassel is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board.
An Accord the Planet Needed
Eugene Robinson · November 14, 2014
Wanting Desperately to Matter
Erick Erickson · November 14, 2014

Kimberley Strassel

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter