Environment, Energy, & Climate Change2021-06-14T10:42:42-04:00

Environment, Energy & Climate Change

The Environment, Energy & Climate Change program is designed to protect whistleblowers and support accountability in the environmental realm, emphasizing the deeply intertwined nature of environmental protection, energy production, and global climate change. While we focus considerable attention on environmental impacts related to the production, transportation, and consumption of fossil fuels – particularly as it relates to climate impacts – discreet topics like chemical pollution and nuclear safety are also well within our purview. We pay close attention to the interconnectivity among energy, climate, and the environment.

We provide effective, results-oriented legal representation to those with the courage to stand up to unlawful and unethical behavior in the public or private sector. Our clients have included government employees, corporate whistleblowers, and private citizens empowered to expose threats to environment and public health. The current patchwork of whistleblower laws offers varying degrees of protection and requires expertise to navigate.

The EE&CC team often works in collaboration with other Government Accountability Project programs, such as National Security, Education, Public Health, our International program, and our Food Integrity Campaign (FIC). We bring expertise in environmental law and policy to cross-cutting topics, from chemical pollution to climate impacts. Climate Science & Policy Watch (CSPW) – our flagship initiative founded in 2005 by federal whistleblower Rick Piltz – holds public officials accountable for responsibly using climate science research in policymaking with integrity. Through this variety of partners, allies, and colleagues, we are able to address a broad spectrum of issues where environment and accountability intersect.

Focus Areas

We are built to be flexible, timely, and capable of handling whistleblower cases relating to a broad spectrum of topics and issue areas. Our cases deal with whistleblower disclosures revealing waste, fraud, or abuse of power or resources, or wrongdoing resulting in threats to human health or the environment. We also explore topics where accountability and transparency issues intersect with environmental impacts where whistleblower disclosures may serve to provide effective oversight that is otherwise lacking.

Our areas of focus include:

  • Nuclear Safety
  • Offshore Oil Drilling
  • Major Oil Spills and Oil Spill Response
  • Oil and Gas Pipelines and Fracking
  • Breaches of Scientific Integrity
  • Rejection of Scientific Findings in Policymaking
  • Retaliatory Actions Against Climate Scientists

Whistleblower Profiles

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

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 dangers of known climate change impacts in official scientific reports by a high-ranking White House official and former oil lobbyist. Piltz resigned in protest and established a new watchdog operation within our organization, Climate Science Watch, which he directed until he passed away in late 2014. During this time Piltz testified several times before Congress and developed a strong media presence and public platform from which he underscored the critical importance of defending scientific integrity in the face of climate denial influences. His act of courageous whistleblowing is featured in the award-winning documentary film, Everything’s Cool. Piltz won the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling in 2006.

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 one to hire counsel and blow the whistle. He placed an op-ed in The Washington Post in June 2017 that was a stinging rebuke of Sec. Zinke’s action and promptly filed a whistleblower complaint with the Office of Special Counsel. Clement has become a convincing spokesperson for adherence to scientific integrity in climate science. He is a recipient of the 2017 Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage from The Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest.

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 a problem in need of stronger Congressional oversight.

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 largest known legal award paid to a whistleblower in the Energy Department’s vast nuclear waste cleanup program. Notably, he won a landmark lawsuit against the federal government which established the First Amendment rights of federal employees to blow the whistle on their employer.

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 Pruitt’s forced resignation in July 2018.

Our Work

Resources

Speaking Up for Science: A Guide to Whistleblowing for Federal Employees and Contractors (2018)

Science whistleblowers have historically functioned as one of the most powerful vehicles for exposing environmental, health, and safety risks, research censorship, gross mismanagement, and other abuses that undermine the missions of federal agencies to protect the public interest. This free guide seeks to empower and protect federal employees of conscience by offering guidance about their legal rights to blow the whistle and practical advice for making disclosures about wrongdoing in the safest and most effective ways possible.

Protecting Science at Federal Agencies: How Congress Can Help (2018)

This report was developed by a coalition of prominent watchdog and advocacy groups – including Government Accountability Project – and chronicles a litany of recent attacks on federal science and scientists by Trump administration officials intent on undermining the critical regulatory role government plays in safeguarding public health and safety.

Promoting and Sustaining the National Climate Assessment After a Period of Suppression and Political Influence (2016)

This report analyzes the suppression of the first National Climate Assessment during the George W. Bush administration. By detailing how officials systematically censored sensitive climate change information, it presents a strong case for supporting and defending the USGCRP and the climate change impacts assessment process.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Disaster

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster was the largest U.S. oil spill in history. Evidence, including accounts from dozens of impacted residents and volunteer cleanup workers, suggests that cleanup efforts were more destructive to human health and the environment than the spill itself.

Our initial report from 2013 has led to two follow-up reports, through which it can be seen that the human and environmental health impacts associated with oil and chemical dispersants from the disaster are ongoing:

Media

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

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 [...]

Blog, Environment, EPA|

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 [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]