2018 Accomplishments

Many of the best things we do at PEER, we cannot talk about. Working behind the scenes, we have saved the careers of hundreds of conscientious public servants, often by talking them out of publicly blowing the whistle and convincing them to work through PEER instead to expose a problem.

Looking at just the past year of 2018, here are ten things we can talk about in which PEER is proud to have made significant progress in safeguarding public health, protecting wildlife, conserving public resources or securing freedom of speech —

  1. Exposed perhaps the largest case of eco-fraud in recent history by showing that the sampling behind the cleanup of massive radioactive contamination at San Francisco’s Hunters Point Naval Shipyard was riddled with falsification and fabrication, putting thousands of residents in potential jeopardy and throwing the two-decade cleanup into chaos. This is part of a larger effort to show EPA dereliction of duty adversely affecting scores of Superfund sites across the country;
  2. Protected children by forcing EPA to improve its inspections and strengthen enforcement of protections against exposing young children to lead dust in older homes and apartments. This victory arose from our representation of a courageous EPA whistleblower who revealed long-standing, systemic deficiencies in the program for ensuring that repairs and renovations are done in a lead-safe manner – a requirement that is the product of an earlier successful PEER lawsuit to close the largest pathway for lead exposure that endangered 1.4 million children a year;
  3. Helped avert a massive new source of mercury pollution by exposing a scheme to use this neuro-toxin as a propellant in “mega-constellations” of thousands of satellites to provide global internet broadband service starting in 2019. This large-scale orbital discharge of mercury would have reversed planetary progress in reducing mercury emissions.  We are working to close the legal loophole that allowed this scheme to even be considered;
  4. Came to the aid of an embattled climate scientist and epidemiologist, Dr. George Luber, who is Chief of the Climate and Health Program at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Our intervention caused CDC to rescind a bogus proposal for his removal. We are still pursuing relief against the wide-ranging reprisal campaign to which he has been subjected since the Trump inauguration. This is part of a broader PEER effort to defend federal climate scientists and climate science in these dark days;
  5. Struck a blow for transparency in winning a ruling that Scott Pruitt violated federal records laws by systematically failing to create and maintain documents of essential EPA activities. In response, EPA has scrambled to adopt an Interim Records Management Policy and a new transparency pledge, but these will not cure past violations. We are now seeking discovery in our suit to do forensic searches into recent closed-door EPA decisions. The ruling puts teeth into the Federal Records Act and has implications across the entire Trump administration;
  6. Drew extensive media and public scrutiny to the role the collapse in Florida water pollution enforcement played in state’s deadly red tide and blue-green algae bloom crisis. Our reports document how pollution enforcement has fallen to a 30-year low. Water pollution prosecutions are practically nonexistent. Nor is any effort made to stop billions of pounds of manure from washing into Lake Okeechobee, fueling an algae bloom factory. In addition, we have filed a series of enforcement complaints with EPA seeking its intervention to revive the state’s moribund clean water enforcement program;
  7. Working with EPA employees, PEER led resistance to the Trump plan to repeal and replace the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule defining the scope of the Clean Water Act by exposing a bankrupt cost-benefit analysis that eliminated all economic benefits from preserving wetlands; documenting with EPA’s own research how Trump’s proposed repeal of the Obama Clean Water Rule would strip federal legal protections for the sources for drinking water relied upon by 117 million (one in three) Americans; and showing how the Trump-Scalia model WOTUS replacement would remove legal protection for as much as 60% of all U.S. waters and wetlands, and up to 90% in the arid West, thus jeopardizing water security in much of the country.  All this evidence will prove very potent in legal challenges to whatever Trump is eventually able to finalize;
  8. Revealed that a federal laboratory in Seattle had for months been releasing high-risk aquatic pathogens and dangerous invasive viruses into the state’s second largest lake. This is part of a larger effort to improve biosafety, scientific integrity, and animal welfare practices throughout the U.S. Geological Survey research program;
  9. Won a major settlement in the academic freedom complaint of Washington State’s leading wolf expert, thus ending a campaign of harassment and threats from his university because his research findings upset ranchers and a state legislator. This is one of several fronts we are pursuing to stop misguided and counterproductive lethal predator control programs in states ranging from Alaska to Massachusetts;
  10. Demonstrated through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that Scott Pruitt could produce no scientific evidence supporting his public statements that human activity is not a factor driving global climate change. This revelation helped derail Pruitt’s much derided plan to stage a “red team/blue team” debate about well-settled climate science. We also used a FOIA lawsuit to demonstrate how EPA’s Office of Public Affairs ran a fake news factory to discredit employees who sounded the alarm as they left the agency and to help force a house-cleaning.

Besides these individual achievements, PEER continues to protect public employees in state and federal agencies who are working to protect our environment. Through our unique methodology, PEER renders direct assistance to scores of whistleblowers and internal activists on an ongoing basis.

We also robustly use of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation as part of a wide-ranging transparency program guided by insider sources. Finally, we help public servants exercise their Free Speech rights through a variety of avenues.

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