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For Immediate Release: Dec 23, 2004
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

AUTO EMISSIONS WHISTLEBLOWER FILES RETALIATION COMPLAINT

PhD Statistician Reduced to Data Entry; Emissions Testing System Still Flawed


Washington, DC — The Department of Environmental Protection engineer who revealed that the Massachusetts vehicle emissions tests cannot differentiate between cars that emit high levels of pollution and those that run cleanly has filed a whistleblower claim against managers in his agency, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Dr. George Zeliger, a PhD statistician, whose concerns have been vindicated by a state Inspector General review, has had his professional duties drastically reduced, and has been forced to do data entry, photocopying and stuffing envelopes. He has been reprimanded for speaking out about his concerns, given low performance ratings and received anonymous messages telling him to get out of DEP.

"Dr. Zeliger's only crime is that he was right on the mark," stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former EPA enforcement attorney who filed the complaint. "Top DEP officials view Dr. Zeliger as an impediment to their ongoing efforts to cover up the problems with the emissions test."

DEP has already suspended one top manager and transferred another, but has not fixed the test, which is administered by the contracting firm Agbar Technologies, Inc. As a result –

  • According to the Massachusetts Inspector General, more than half of the vehicles that failed the Massachusetts emissions test actually passed a similar test that is sanctioned by EPA and used in most states. Similarly, the Massachusetts test passes cars emitting more than federally approved level of pollutants;
  • Rather than report these results to EPA, DEP tried to make adjustments to their data which would "cut the failure rate by 50 percent" on paper but not in reality; and
  • If Massachusetts fails to make promised carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide reductions, the state could face EPA sanctions that would jeopardize federal transportation funding, including payments for the "Big Dig" project.

"The stakes in this case are huge even though the tactics employed by the state are incredibly petty," added Bennett, noting that Governor Mitt Romney ignored a request from PEER that he pledge non-retaliation against DEP employees who came forward with information about the test flaws.

PEER filed the whistleblower complaint for Dr. Zeliger under the Clean Air Act. The complaint triggers an immediate federal investigation and, if the matter is not resolved in 30 days, a full evidentiary hearing before a federal administrative law judge will be scheduled.

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Read Dr. Zeliger's whistleblower complaint

Look at the Massachusetts Inspector General report "Vehicle Emissions Test Results Under the Massachusetts Motor vehicle Inspection Program" (February 2003)