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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Whistleblowers play an essential role in the environmental movement and in shaping public policy and corporate practices.
Rick Piltz Frederick Steven “Rick” Piltz (1943-2014) is 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 in the coordination office for the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) for nearly a decade, he sought legal whistleblower protection representation from Government Accountability Project and provided hard evidence to the New York Times of improper, hand-written editing of completed federal [...]
JOEL CLEMENT Joel Clement was a top advisor to the Secretary of the Interior on climate change and adverse impacts to native communities in Alaska when, soon into the new Trump administration, he was abruptly and arbitrarily transferred by then-Secretary Ryan Zinke to an obscure government office that collects oil and gas royalty payments. Although dozens of other SES-level employees were similarly transferred, Clement was the only one to hire counsel and blow the [...]
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 has observed many instances of corruption in the BSEE, and is concerned that chronic lax oversight raises the risk of a major oil spill off the coast of Alaska. Our EE&CC team is [...]
WILLIAM SANJOUR William Sanjour was 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 in Washington State. His wrongful termination settlement of $4.1 million [...]
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) 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) 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 [...]
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.
An Executive Summary of the report can be downloaded here.
Our 2015 addendum report is available here.