Washington, DC — Less than a month after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed to remove a scientist who raised the alarm about dangers to First Responders at the World Trade Center conflagration, the agency has reversed itself and “has withdrawn the notice of proposed removal,” according to emails released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). On August 27th, EPA re-filed the same charges from 2010 which had been thrown out for violations of the scientist’s constitutional due process rights. Bringing the charges again violated the order that reinstated her.
At the center of these official gyrations is Dr. Cate Jenkins, a senior chemist with more than three decades of agency tenure, who publicly charged that due to falsified EPA standards, First Responders waded into dust so corrosive that it caused chemical burns deep within their respiratory systems. EPA management responded by isolating, harassing and ultimately removing Dr. Jenkins from her position on December 30, 2010, based upon an un-witnessed and contested claim that the soft-spoken, petite childhood polio survivor physically threatened her six-foot male supervisor.
In May 2012, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) unanimously vacated Dr. Jenkins’ termination and ordered that she be fully restored and given back pay with interest. As part of its decision, the MSPB ruled that EPA could not re-file the charges if Dr. Jenkins established that they were retaliation for her whistleblowing and that she must be given the opportunity to do so. This part of the ruling the agency ignored when it proposed to remove Dr. Jenkins again this August on the same charges.
In a letter dated September 6, 2013, PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, representing Dr. Jenkins, wrote to EPA lawyers demanding they withdraw the new proposed removal since it violated the MSPB order or face a new legal action. In an email dated September 25th, EPA Deputy Counsel Joanna DeLucia responded to the PEER letter by saying that the proposed removed was withdrawn “effective immediately.” Later that day, Ms. DeLucia sent another email indicating it would pursue an MSPB ruling for the purpose of clearing the way for yet another attempt at removing Dr. Jenkins.
“Thus far, Dr. Jenkins has prevailed based upon misconduct by EPA and we have yet to even reach the merits of her case,” stated Dinerstein, noting that one administrative law judge complained of “the persistent failure of [EPA’s] counsel to abide by even the most basic requirements for responding to discovery requests in the course of litigation.” “With respect to Dr. Jenkins,” Dinerstein added, “EPA seems to be flouting the proverbial ‘Rule of Holes’ – when you are in one, stop digging.”
One aspect of Dr. Jenkins’ case where the agency has dragged its feet concerns the role of then-Administrator Lisa Jackson, who at the time of 9/11 was in the agency’s New York regional office, and the role of other top officials in trumping up the removal action, including failing, until ordered, to search Ms. Jackson’s infamous alias “Richard Windsor” email account.
“The multi-year pursuit of Dr. Jenkins suggests that the agency is willing to hemorrhage resources in order to settle a score,” Dinerstein concluded. “This case illustrates the famous quote from Admiral Hyman Rickover when he said ‘If you must sin, sin against God and not the bureaucracy. For God may forgive your sins but the bureaucracy never will.”