Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered two of its attorneys to remove a video they posted on YouTube about problems with climate change legislation backed by the Obama administration or face “disciplinary action”, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The couple had received clearance for posting the video but EPA took issue with its content following publication of an op-ed piece by the two in The Washington Post on October 31.
The video, entitled “The Huge Mistake”, is by Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, two EPA enforcement attorneys speaking as private citizens. The video explains why the cap & trade plan endorsed by President Obama will not accomplish its goals, let alone effectively curb climate change. On November 5, 2009, EPA ethics officials ordered the two veteran employees to –
- “Remove your climate change video from You Tube by the close of business on Friday, November 6, 2009”;
- “Edit your You Tube video…by:
- (i) Removing the language starting at 1:06 min – ‘Our opinions are based on more than 20 years each working as attorneys at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the San Francisco Regional Office.’
- (ii) Removing the images of EPA’s building starting at 1:06 min…
- (v) Remove [sic] the language starting at 6:30 min – ‘In my work at EPA, I’ve been overseeing California’s cap-and-trade and offset programs for more than 20 years.’”
- “All future requests for approval of an outside writing activity must be accompanied by a draft of the document that is the subject of the approval request…”
“EPA is abusing ethics rules to gag two conscientious employees who have every right to speak out as citizens,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who has re-posted the original video and its script. “EPA reversed itself because someone in headquarters had a tantrum about their Washington Post essay.”
Williams and Zabel, who are married to each other, go to great lengths in the video and other writings to provide disclaimers affirming that their views are personal and do not represent the agency. However, EPA now objects to them even referring to their on-the-job experience as the basis for their views.
“How is government supposed to be transparent when public servants are forbidden from discussing the nature of their work?” asked Ruch. “EPA and every other federal agency should have simple, clear guidelines so that government workers can express themselves freely without political prior restraints.”
In August, EPA Administrator Jackson issued an all-employee statement saying the agency will operate as if in a “fishbowl” but left ambiguous whether and how employees may publish papers or communicate with Congress and the media. By contrast, a few agencies such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have dispensed with any pre-approval of employees’ unofficial expressions, as long as they are accompanied by a short disclaimer.