Washington, DC — A federal review panel has ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management illegally dismissed a manager overseeing the cleanup of the Anaconda Mine for raising serious worker safety, as well as serious radiation, air and water pollution problems, according to a final order released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This decision represents a rare pro-whistleblower verdict from Bush administration appointees.
Earle Dixon, the Project Manager for the Anaconda Mine at Yerington, Nevada, clashed with top Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials for raising issues that were being ignored because they would drive up clean-up costs and raise political hackles. As a result, BLM removed Dixon from his position in October 2004, one day before his probationary period ended, over objections of his direct supervisors.
Following a hearing before a federal administrative law judge, Dixon was awarded back pay, $10,000 in moving expenses, attorney fees and costs. That ruling has now been affirmed by the Secretary of Labor’s Administrative Review Board.
The Anaconda Mine is an abandoned copper mine covering more than 3,600 acres where acid run-off and waste rock containing low levels of uranium, thorium and other toxic metals have been deposited in unlined ponds. The mine has also had a succession of owners, including, most recently, the Atlantic Richfield Company owned by British Petroleum. Dixon pursued persistent clean-up failings, including –
- Radiation readings well above background levels that pose risks to the health of workers onsite;
- Higher than expected contamination of soil, groundwater and drinking water wells; and
- Non-compliance with a number of federal pollution standards, including public and worker exposure to radioactive and toxic metals in air-borne dust.
“I'm glad to have this vindication and achieve closure on this matter,” stated Earle Dixon, who continues to oversee toxic clean-up operations for a state agency. “Significantly, the Board found the true reason behind BLM’s retaliation and recalcitrance was to avoid sampling that would show mine operations profoundly contaminated soil and water with acid, metals, and radionuclides.”
The substance of Dixon’s concerns was validated when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stepped in and took control of the site in 2005, shortly after Dixon was removed, under the Superfund law.
“It has taken Earle Dixon nearly four years to win some small measure of justice in a system that is clearly broken,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization litigated the case with Dixon’s lead counsel, Mick Harrison. “The federal government desperately needs more courageous public servants like Earle Dixon in its ranks.”
The ruling for Dixon is also notable because under President Bush, the U.S. Labor Department has become a graveyard for the vast majority of eco-whistleblower complaints.