Washington, DC — The major bills before Congress to regulate greenhouse gases to combat global climate change suffer from “multiple unfixable flaws” that undermine their effectiveness, according to a detailed congressional disclosure by two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees, posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These agency experts’ unofficial protest is also testing new agency guidelines on employee free speech rights following EPA’s order last fall that the two employees remove a YouTube video they had produced on the frailties of cap-and-trade.
The two EPA employees, Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, are enforcement attorneys speaking as private citizens. They contend that the integrity failings of greenhouse gas offsets, the lynchpin for major climate bills before Congress, ensure that such legislation will be an ineffective – and deceptive – waste of funds. Specifically, they argue that:
- The complexity and subjectivity of offsets renders them impossible to certify, regulate or enforce;
- There is no reliable way to distinguish offset projects which will occur because of the offset incentive from those which would have happened anyway;
- In some cases, such as in the context of forestry projects, the offsets will fail to appreciably mitigate demand and the polluting activity (such as logging) will simply shift elsewhere; and
- The offsets will create perverse incentives to keep polluting activities legal so they can keep being sold as offsets.
Williams and Zabel assert that these offsets, in essence, are a new “creative financial instrument” which carries the same deceptive potential to bankrupt markets as did the creative instruments peddled on Wall Street. The two ask for a congressional probe into the reliability of any offset program before enactment.
In speaking out as private citizens, Williams and Zabel are contradicting positions endorsed by their own agency, the EPA, which attempted to silence them last fall by demanding under threat of “disciplinary action” that they remove a YouTube video that was critical of the offsets. EPA was embarrassed by the public furor that ensued. Earlier this month, the Office of Government Ethics posted a government-wide clarification of its free speech policy (curiously dated March 19, 2010) that fails to lay out clear guidance for when and under what circumstances its employees may voice personal opinions.
In response, Williams and Zabel noted that, “We are extremely grateful to our attorney, Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project, our EPA ethics officials, and the White House ethics counsel for providing a clarification that has allowed us to go forward with our dissent. While we appreciate the recent resolution of our First Amendment dispute with EPA, we are still troubled that federal employees have not received greater clarity about their ability to discuss non-confidential on-the-job experiences when engaged in personal non-commercial speech regarding important issues of public concern.” Added PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, “Despite its rhetoric about openness, today’s EPA often suppresses open debate, both inside and outside its hallways, on matters of vital public interest. Laurie and Allan work inside EPA but they actually work for the public and, as public servants, seek to better serve their true employers.”