Environment, Energy, & Climate Change2020-05-29T12:42:15-04:00

Environment, Energy, and Climate Change

Our Environment, Energy, and Climate Change program reflects the deeply intertwined nature of these three broad topic areas and the critical importance of an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving, interagency government cooperation, and interconnected grassroots efforts to force positive change. The EE&CC team works with brave whistleblowers who expose unlawful and corrupt activity in order to right environmental wrongs and achieve greater accountability and transparency. We address myriad problems associated with industrial pollution; nuclear energy safety; over-dependence on fossil fuels; global climate change; and the critical need to shift to a sustainable energy future.

Climate Science & Policy Watch is a government and corporate watchdog and advocacy program founded in 2005 by whistleblower Rick Piltz. We are dedicated to holding public officials accountable for responsibly using climate science research in policymaking with integrity. CSPW fights against climate science denial and exposes the pernicious role of Big Oil in spreading disinformation regarding the causal link between fossil fuel use and the existential threat of global climatic disruption. Our goal is to see society integrating science and policy to bolster national preparedness by improving our collective abilities to avoid the unmanageable, and manage the unavoidable, impacts of climate change.

Expertise and Experience

Government Accountability Project has a long track record of righting a host of environmental wrongs through effective whistleblowing. Our specialized expertise leverages whistleblower actions through messaging and media campaigns, strategic partnerships, and public policy recommendations, leading to lasting, positive change. To expose instances of waste, fraud, abuse, and other forms of corruption, we conduct in-depth investigations using a variety of tools for gathering relevant information and establishing facts so as to be able to paint an accurate picture of specific instances of wrongdoing, and to assess the public policy ramifications.

Our work is also proactive: we advocate for low-carbon energy policies; national preparedness for climate impacts; pollution prevention; public health safeguards; environmental justice; and the application of the Public Trust Doctrine and the Precautionary Principle to decision making and infrastructure.

Examples of Our Work:

Nuclear Safety

Our formation in the late 1970s as the nation’s first nonprofit whistleblower protection organization stemmed largely from our work representing hundreds of nuclear power plant quality assurance officers who rose up and spoke out about their shared concern that shoddy construction would lead to reactor explosions and catastrophic nuclear accidents. Together we helped to slow or stop construction of dozens of nuclear energy power plants to avert disaster. We have also exposed serious hazards at major nuclear weapons production facilities  Our work on nuclear safety continues today by representing whistleblowers concerned that a sizable component of our aging fleet of nuclear power plants is increasingly vulnerable to reactor failure and release of high-level radiation following major flooding and coastal storm surges worsened by climate change.

Oil Spills

Following the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, we partnered with several dozen volunteer cleanup workers-turned-whistleblowers who suffered serious health effects upon exposure to mixtures of chemical oil dispersants and spilled oil. Our work on the BP disaster and the risks of future oil spills continues today by advocating for improved oil spill response methods. We also advocate for stronger means of preventing oil spill disasters in the first place through improved regulation, transparent policy-making, and by representing whistleblowers who expose lax regulatory oversight of offshore drilling.

Climate Change

Our Climate Science and Policy Watch (CSPW) program has called out numerous instances of politically-motivated censorship and suppression of federal climate science; exposed the dangers associated with failures in national preparedness for climate change impacts; and advocated strongly for public policies to avert climate catastrophe by ratcheting down greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to a low-carbon energy society.

Environment

Our environmental program focuses on the harm caused by pollution released into our air and water or onto our land, from industrial, agricultural, commercial, and other activities. These threats include serious human health risks, loss of wildlife and habitat, species extinction, long-term ecological damage, and depletion of natural resources. When properly implemented and enforced, our rich body of environmental legislation goes a long way toward preserving and protecting human and ecological health. But loopholes exist that are easily exploited, and corporate agendas for weakening environmental protections too often supersede the public interest goal of protecting human health – and the ecosystems that sustain all life. In our decades of experience, we have worked with numerous environmental whistleblowers in righting a multitude of environmental wrongs. Often all it takes is the right whistleblower in the right place at the right time with the right message – effectively directed and amplified by Government Accountability Project – to make the difference in saving lives and preserving and protecting public health and the environment. EE&CC team members are well poised to leverage the critical disclosures of environmental whistleblowers and advocate for positive change in service of the public interest.

Energy

Fossil-based energy production and consumption is the root cause of many of the most serious environmental challenges we face today and contributes heavily to global climate disruption. For oil, natural gas, and coal, every step of the fuel cycle – from extraction and processing to distribution and consumption – inevitably leads to environmental contamination and public health and safety challenges. These heavy costs, paid by society at large instead of by the companies that bring them about, are referred to by economists as “externalities.” These costs must be internalized – paid by the companies that generate them – if we are to have a level economic playing field that allows cleaner, greener, renewable energy to compete fairly with our heavily-subsidized fossil fuel industries. Nuclear energy, defended by some as a climate-friendly, low-carbon energy option, is also fraught with public health and safety problems. Reactor failure at any one of the hundred or so nuclear power plants currently operating in this country could be catastrophic, releasing large amounts of highly radioactive materials and rendering massive swaths of land permanently uninhabitable. Further, after decades of research, we have not yet determined how to safely dispose of high volumes of radioactive waste.

Solar, wind, and other market-ready forms of renewable energy, together with large strides in energy efficiency, are essential for a sustainable energy future that will avert climate catastrophe and serve our and future generations. We will continue to work against short-sighted policies that defy accountability, in favor of sustainable, reliable, safe, and transparent energy.

Climate Change

Despite escalating warnings from scientists for decades, we have failed as a nation to address the existential climate change threat with public policy solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or to adequately protect communities across the nation from a host of deadly and dangerous climate change impacts. Behind this massive public policy failure is an ongoing, orchestrated effort, beginning in the late 1980s, to deny credible climate science and disinform the public. The “global warming denial machine” – a phrase coined by CSPW founder Rick Piltz – is underwritten by vested fossil fuel industry interests and has been diabolically successful in thwarting national legislation that would force limits on fossil fuel consumption. While Congressional and White House policymakers in the 1980s and much of the 1990s took scientists’ warnings seriously and engaged in bipartisan debate and problem-solving, by the time we entered the new millennium the climate science denial movement and ugly politics had combined to turn “climate change” into a politically-charged issue so deeply partisan that now it is difficult to see how our current body politic will rise to the challenge and avert climate catastrophe. CSPW debunks the many false assertions made by climate denialists, calls out egregious instances of politically-motivated censorship of valid climate science, and works to educate the voting public and depoliticize the growing threat of global climate change so that sensible climate policies and politicians can be voted in, and climate denialists voted out.

Accountability

Environmental Quality Laws Work Only When

We Hold Government and Corporations Accountable

We believe accountability is derived from relying on experts and facts, and by dealing transparently with stakeholders, be they consumers, the voting public, or corporate shareholders. Accountability requires honesty and openness, and it is often thwarted by those who bend to pressure from politically powerful corporate interests.

Too often, the government will ignore or hollow out laws that keep the public safe when influenced by corporations, allowing them to exploit these inadequate environmental regulation laws. We need greater accountability in both the public and private sectors. Our team acts as a watchdog over corporate and governmental abuses that threaten the environment and our health.

Whistleblower protection and environmental protection are conceptually, legally, and historically intertwined. Ensuring transparency and accountability in the development and enforcement of pollution standards and other regulations is so essential for compliance and associated environmental quality benefits that the earliest major environmental laws in the United States – the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act – included some of the first provisions for protecting whistleblowers.

While developments in whistleblower protection have left these provisions inadequate and outdated, Government Accountability Project is engaged in bringing them up to date and creating more uniform standards. Until those improvements can be made, however, we work with whistleblowers to navigate the existing laws, and continue to search for novel means of advocacy. These include our Know Your Rights Campaigns, white papers, blogs, social media outreach, and working with coalitions across a wide spectrum of organizations protecting whistleblowers, the environment, and scientific integrity.

Many government and corporate employees and contractors positioned to take advantage of whistleblower protection provisions are simply unaware of them, and tend to harbor misconceptions regarding their rights. Many refrain from challenging their superiors or speaking out about their concerns because they fear retaliation. Spreading information about whistleblower rights is as important for us as protecting these truth-tellers when they come forward.

To help close the information gap, we engage in public education efforts geared towards agencies with an environmental mission, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior, and the Department of Energy. We reach out to federal employees and contractors in order to inform and educate them, and to help shift the dominant paradigm that vilifies whistleblowers to one that recognizes their essential role in promoting government accountability and scientific integrity. We are also engaged with congressional policymakers to continually improve our body of whistleblower legislation and to encourage robust oversight of the executive branch. Since environmental degradation is an international issue, we also work with international bodies to ensure that whistleblower protections become available wherever environmental threats are present.

Courageous individuals continue to come forward to hold our elected and appointed officials accountable. Whistleblowers are powerful. They are the insiders and experts who provide the ultimate layer of corporate and government accountability.

WHISTLEBLOWER PROFILES

Whistleblowers play an essential role in the environmental movement and in shaping public policy and corporate practices.

Notes from Underground: Out of Our Sight, Out of Their Minds

Appropriate – is it not? – that the word “underground” carries connotations of secrecy, subversion, and conspiracy. In the context of fossil fuel production and transportation, underground is home to a number of activities about which the public has a dire need to be well informed. Instead, we remain largely misinformed, or not informed at all. The focus of Notes from Underground will be issues surrounding the use of pipelines and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). This [...]

Notes From Underground: Fracking — The Bridge to Nowhere, Part I

According to its proponents, natural gas is supposed to be the bridge between old, dirty energy and new, clean, sustainable energy. But if the benefits it provides are temporary, illusory, and carry great risk to public health and the environment, fracked natural gas is not so much a bridge as it is a short pier – on which we’ve started a long walk. […]

Notes From Underground: Fracking – The Bridge to Nowhere, Part II

Its defenders like to claim that fracked natural gas is providing a bridge between the traditional fossil fuels of oil and coal, and clean, renewable energy like wind and solar power. I suggest that such a bridge is unnecessary, and that the investment in fracking and its associated infrastructure represents a step backward in the pursuit of widely available, sustainable energy, creating illusory benefits with real, negative side effects. […]

Notes From Underground: Pipeline to Paris

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is taking place in Paris until December 11th. The Paris Conference will hopefully yield real solutions to climate change — that is, provide measures to achieve sufficient mitigation of CO2-equivalent emissions to make adaptation to the unavoidable impacts of climate change possible. But even as the plans and deals are being hammered out, two things are clear: [...]

Notes From Underground: The Success of Paris…Pending

The year 2015 ended on an up note, but the real work lies ahead. An election year begins in the US, and the success or failure of the Paris agreement could come down to who, come 2017, controls the White House and the Senate, and whether the agreement is ratified. The agreement reached in Paris in December is already being hailed as a success, and rightly so; perhaps most of all from the perspective of [...]

Notes from Underground: Stupid-Cali-Frack-Logistics: Gas Leak is Atrocious

By now, you may have heard about the massive natural gas leak in Southern California, which has been ongoing since late October; then again, given the dearth of major media coverage, you very well may not have. It is an environmental catastrophe that The Guardian has called “the climate equivalent of the BP disaster.” [http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/04/california-natural-gas-leak-methane-climate-change-old-infrastructure] GAP knows this to most definitely be the case given our critical ongoing investigation in the Gulf region into the [...]

Notes from Underground: Proceed with Precaution, Part I

The smoking of e-cigarettes on airplanes has been banned by the FAA. Why? Because studies have not conclusively shown that “vaping” has no adverse impacts on human health. And why is an article ostensibly about fracking and pipelines starting with this information? Because it is a rare example of the correct application of the Precautionary Principle. […]

Notes from Underground: Proceed with Precaution, Part II

Our prior Notes from Underground post offered Precautionary Principle 101. To reiterate, the Principle is simple and even obvious: one should not carry out a plan until one has some understanding of the likely consequences – that is, until one can be reasonably certain that enacting said plan will not lead to disastrous outcomes that outstrip the plan’s resulting benefits. Like many legal principles, Precaution is a balancing test – measuring benefit versus the likelihood [...]

A Lesson in Constitutional Illiteracy: Lamar Smith and the Climate Science Witch Hunt

By Anne Polansky and  Adam Arnold On September 17th of 2014, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology voted 4-3 to grant subpoena powers to the Committee Chair, useable without consultation of the Committee as a whole. This extraordinary power became available for the first time during the current Congress, with Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) serving as Committee Chair. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) expressed concerns about the potential abuse of this power [...]

Notes from Underground: Fraxit

There was big news from Great Britain last month, and it wasn’t all about leaving the European Union: on June 1, Scotland voted to permanently ban fracking within its borders, reaffirming an earlier moratorium. Not long before, a council vote in North Yorkshire, England, allowed for renewed shale oil exploration and fracking for the first time in Great Britain since 2011. With fracking, as with its relationship with the Continent, the “United” Kingdom is anything [...]

Notes from Underground – Where the Pipeline Ends: How the Dakota Access Pipeline Could – Or Could Not – Happen Again

Source: “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein, adapted by Adam Arnold. The DC Court of Appeals has given the go ahead for construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which opponents say will threaten the environment, human health, and sites sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Despite the setback, there remains hope that the tide is turning against construction of new pipelines. […]

Notes from Underground: Pipeline Wars – Back where we started, only worse

The fossil fuel cancer comes out of its brief remission After a moment of optimism, during which it seemed the United States might finally begin planning for a future free of fossil fuel dependence, pipelines are back. Since the November election, the pendulum of public benefit versus private gain has swung sharply in the wrong direction, and pipeline companies are riding the wave. After months of slow progress during the closing months of the Obama [...]

Notes from Underground: Fracking: The Source of the Problem

Fights over pipeline construction are not new, but they have become central of late to the debate between safe, sustainable energy and extractive, polluting, fossil-fuel reliance. While many factors contribute to the increased focus on pipelines, chief among them is the boom in natural gas production in the US, brought about via developments in fracking techniques, technology, and deregulation, which has led to a demand for new pipeline construction. Along with the boom has come [...]

Notes from Underground (& Underwater): The Deregulation Crusade: A Pattern of Ignoring Warnings

Part 1: Leaks, Spills, & Explosions, On Land & Offshore The agenda of the current administration puts fossil fuel revenue above health, safety, and science. Tax breaks and public-land giveaways are just parts of this administration’s efforts to increase production of and dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas. Indiscriminate deregulation threatens the safety of consumers, industry workers, and the general public, but perhaps even more disconcerting is the war being waged on the very [...]

Notes from Underground Series: The Deregulation Crusade: A Pattern of Ignoring Warnings

Part 2: Coal, Fracking, Pruitt, and NEPA "We know that it is impossible for humans to flourish without clean air, land, and water. We also know that a strong, market-driven economy is essential to protecting these resources." President Donald Trump, April 22, 2018 For Earth Day 2018, President Trump declared in effect that environmental regulation is unnecessary, because the market will protect the environment. In fact, environmental regulations are put in place precisely because extractive [...]

Rick Piltz

Rick Piltz Rick Piltz was best known for blowing 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) for ten years, in 2005 he sought whistleblower protection representation from Government Accountability Project and provided evidence to the New York Times of editing of federal climate science reports designed to disregard and downplay the [...]

JOEL CLEMENT

JOEL CLEMENT Joel Clement is a PhD biologist who was serving as a Senior Executive Service-level advisor to the Secretary of the Interior on the adverse impacts of climate change when, in the summer of 2017, he was arbitrarily reassigned as an act of retaliation by then-Secretary Ryan Zinke to the office that collects and processes oil and gas royalty payments. Although dozens of other SES-level employees were similarly notified, Clement was the only [...]

JEFFREY MISSAL

JEFFREY MISSAL Jeffrey Missal is a federal employee with the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), charged with ensuring regulatory compliance by offshore oil exploration drilling companies operating in the Arctic waters surrounding Alaska. He disclosed systemic corruption and chronically lax oversight intended to circumvent NEPA requirements, raising the risk of a major oil spill. Although Missal’s whistleblower case has been successfully settled, continued corruption at BSEE is still [...]

WILLIAM SANJOUR

WILLIAM SANJOUR William Sanjour had been a hazardous waste specialist at the EPA for 24 years when he took legal action against the agency in 1994 in order to protect his First Amendment right to free speech. Sanjour frequently spoke out about his deep concerns regarding hazardous waste problems at the US Department of Energy’s Hanford Waste Treatment Plant, a decommissioned nuclear weapons production complex. His wrongful termination settlement of $4.1 million is the [...]

KEVIN CHMIELEWSKI

KEVIN CHMIELEWSKI Kevin Chmielewski was a high-level Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appointee in the Trump administration who took issue with former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s chronic abuse of taxpayer dollars. With legal representation and programmatic support from Government Accountability Project, Chmielewski took his grievances public, backed them up with solid evidence, and gave several media interviews. He provided critical testimony to Congressional oversight committee members and set off a chain reaction that resulted in [...]

Notes from Underground: The Pipeline Pipeline (Part 1)

Notes from Underground: The Pipeline Pipeline (Part 1)  While recent court decisions have stopped or slowed construction on major pipelines, the industry appears to have no intention of capitulating.  In a collaborative four-part series between Government Accountability Project’s Environment, Energy & Climate Change (EE&CC) program and Food Integrity Campaign (FIC), we will look at the present and future of pipeline production in the United States.  In Parts 1 and 2, EE&CC’s Notes from Underground series will discuss the lines of defense for accountability [...]

Notes from Underground: The Pipeline Pipeline (Part 2)

Notes from Underground: The Pipeline Pipeline (Part 2)  This series assesses the current state of the pipeline industry, with consideration of future prospects for pipeline development and the potential downsides they represent. Part 1 provided an overview of the role of public opinion in the development of infrastructure projects. Part 2 will look at the courts and whistleblowers as potential backstops to prevent ill-advised pipeline projects. Parts 3 and 4 will look at biogas as a possible next step for the pipeline market [...]

GoLocalProv: Controversial Chemical Used in Oil Spills, Banned in Many Countries, Can Be Used in Narragansett Bay

Controversial Chemical Used in Oil Spills, Banned in Many Countries, Can Be Used in Narragansett Bay This article features Government Accountability Project and was originally published here. A chemical dispersant that is linked to making thousands of members of the Coast Guard as well as clean-up workers sick in the Gulf oil spill of 2010 is authorized to be used in Narragansett Bay. The chemical dispersant called COREXIT is banned in nearly two dozen countries including the United [...]

Notes from Underground: A New Landscape

Notes from Underground: A New Landscape The change of US administration is set to significantly impact federal environmental policy as well as government transparency, both of which were particularly problematic during the Trump administration. This post provides a view of the state of affairs for pipelines under the Biden administration, as it ties to overall environmental policy and accountability. The Biden administration has kick-started its environmental agenda with an urgency appropriate for the scale of [...]

Notes from Underground: The Frack Dance

Notes from Underground: The Frack Dance This blog, along with our previous post regarding pipelines, provides an impression of key topics at the intersection of environmental protection and accountability at the start of the Biden administration. The new United States administration has already shown an inclination to go beyond merely undoing the deregulation of the Trump administration. But many good indicators for increased accountability and a focus on environmental protection do not add up to [...]

Resources

Safeguarding Scientific Integrity in Government

Government Accountability Project provides useful information, helpful advice, and a wide variety of helpful resources about truth-telling and whistleblowing, including a set of comprehensive guides for safely and effectively disclosing and blowing the whistle on observed wrongdoing in the workplace. For example, we have prepared a whistleblower guide specifically directed at federal scientists, who provide an invaluable public service by producing scientific findings essential to effective policymaking and oversight – especially for protecting our natural environment and safeguarding public health and safety. We offer this guide in print upon request, and online: Speaking Up for Science: A Guide to Whistleblowing for Federal Employees and Contractors.

We also collaborate with a number of scientific societies and non-profit organizations to help advance scientific integrity in government and prevent inappropriate political interference in federally-funded science. In partnership with more than a dozen other science-focused advocacy groups, we published Protecting Science at Federal Agencies: How Congress Can Help. This groundbreaking research and policy analysis chronicles systematic attacks on federal science and scientists by elected officials intent on undermining the critical regulatory role government plays in safeguarding public health and safety, and makes recommendations to Congress for advancing scientific integrity.

Political Interference in Federal Climate Change Science

Big Oil and the Global Warming Denial Machine

BP Oil Spill Disaster

The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico in April of 2010 killed eleven oil workers and set off the largest oil spill and worst environmental disaster in US history. Matters were made worse still by misinformation, poor management, and the failure or outright refusal to properly protect cleanup workers by providing them with safety gear – or even allowing them to use such equipment. Exposure to oil, chemical dispersants, or a combination of the two created acute and long-term health problems among those who volunteered to help control the spill, Coast Guard workers, and local residents – as well as immeasurable environmental and associated economic harm.

Government Accountability Project worked with over forty individuals impacted by the spill and the dispersants that were used to make the oil “disappear” – though in fact numerous studies show that the dispersants actually made the oil far more toxic that it would have been on its own. These whistleblowers called out BP and the local and federal governments for lying about the impacts of the spill and about the effectiveness and safety of cleanup measures, which included the use of millions of gallons of Corexit – a chemical dispersant that was sprayed and applied to the spill in ways both unprecedented and unsafe, in disregard of official protocols and the manufacturer’s own safety recommendations.

We continue our work to bring attention to the problems that have not subsided even years after the initial disaster, including the desperate need to reconsider the use of dangerous dispersants and to update that National Contingency Plan for oil spill response – a mandatory government obligation that has nonetheless not been completed since 1994.

Our report, Deadly Dispersants in the Gulf: Are Public Health and Environmental Tragedies the New Norm for Oil Spill Cleanups?, is available here: Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five

An Executive Summary of the report can be downloaded here.

Our 2015 addendum report is available here.