Protecting our Planet: Celebrating the Importance of Whistleblowers on Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day on April 22, the world recognizes the anniversary of the modern environmental movement. Started in 1970, Earth Day provides an outlet for individuals and institutions alike to put a spotlight on the state of the planet. 

At Government Accountability Project, we advocate for the Earth through our whistleblower expertise. Our organization’s Environment, Energy, & Climate Change program brings knowledge in environmental law and policy to cross-cutting topics, from chemical pollution to climate impacts. Our flagship initiative Climate Science & Policy Watch (CSPW) holds public officials accountable for responsibly using climate science research in policy making with integrity. Also, with a strong focus on education, our organization strives to make sure those working in environmental fields know how to speak up, which is why we held a teach-in at the first-ever March for Science in 2017 and continue to partner with science-based organizations to ensure employees know their rights. 

Through this work, we are able to address a broad spectrum of issues where environment and accountability intersect. Since our organization was founded, we’ve helped over 8,000 whistleblowers. Many of these individuals were scientists, engineers, and researchers who witnessed wrongdoing and took action to stop it. To celebrate Earth Day, we encourage you to learn about a few of the many brave whistleblowers who have spoken up to defend our planet, those most impacted by the environment, and our scientific institutions:

Rick Piltz
Rick Piltz’s story greatly influenced Government Accountability Project’s work with science whistleblowers. He blew the whistle on the George W. Bush White House over political interference in federal climate change science programs. As a senior associate for the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), in 2005 he sought whistleblower protection representation from our organization. He provided evidence to the press of editing of reports designed to downplay the dangers of known climate change impacts by a high-ranking White House official and former oil lobbyist. Following his disclosure, Piltz resigned and went on to establish a watchdog organization within Government Accountability Project. He led Climate Science Watch, which we now call CSPW, until he passed away in 2014.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha sparked a movement in Flint, Michigan after her disclosure. At a September 2015 press conference, she risked her career to reveal research findings that showed children’s blood lead levels in the city had doubled after its water source was switched to the Flint River in April 2014. Despite immediate blowback from state and local officials, Dr. Hanna-Attisha persisted with her research and continued to speak out on the subject. After her findings were corroborated independently by The Detroit Free Press, she became internationally known as the face of those fighting the Flint Water Crisis. We were proud to honor Dr. Hanna-Attisha at our 40th Anniversary Gala in 2018 to celebrate her courage and uplift her story.

Kevin Chmielewski
Kevin Chmielewski worked as a political appointee at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Trump administration. He raised concerns over former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s gross waste of taxpayer dollars and other illegality that prevented the EPA from fulfilling its mission. With legal representation and support from Government Accountability Project, he provided critical evidence and testimony to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. His disclosures set off a chain reaction that spurred some eighteen different federal investigations into Pruitt’s misconduct and resulted in Pruitt’s forced resignation in July 2018. Unfortunately, his whistleblowing resulted in the loss of his job and continued blacklisting that has prevented him from obtaining work in his field. Government Accountability Project is representing Chmielewski in a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for violations of his free speech and due process rights.

Walt Tamosaitis
Engineer Walt Tamosaitis raised concerns about serious technical flaws at the Department of Energy’s Waste Treatment Plant at the Hanford nuclear site. These flaws, if unaddressed, could have resulted in a nuclear accident on the scale of Fukushima. Dr. Tamosaitis’s disclosures, validated by independent investigations, resulted in stopping the multi-million dollar project pending resolution of those concerns.

Government Accountability Project is proud to recognize employees of conscience this Earth Day. As climate change continues to take hold of our planet, whistleblowers will be a powerful line of defense. These individuals have historically functioned as one of the most powerful tools for uncovering environmental, health, and safety risks, research censorship, gross mismanagement, and other abuses that undermine the missions of federal agencies to protect the public interest through legitimate scientific efforts. While protecting our Earth is an uphill battle, we know the efforts of whistleblowers like these will bring us closer to our goals. 

For those who want to speak up, we’ve created Speaking Up for Science: A Guide to Whistleblowing for Federal Employees to empower and protect federal employees of conscience. This manual offers guidance about legal rights to blow the whistle and practical advice for making disclosures about wrongdoing in the safest and most effective ways possible. Whether an individual has yet to raise concerns or already made disclosures, this guide is the first step for navigating the complex path of whistleblowing safely and effectively.