(Washington, DC) On Wednesday, September 18, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) will bring its acclaimed program, the American Whistleblower Tour: Essential Voices for Accountability, to West Virginia University (WVU). The stop features three prominent environmental whistleblowers, including Rick Piltz (White House/climate change), Jack Spadaro (Martin County coal slurry spill), and Wilma Subra (Deepwater Horizon aftermath). The event will be moderated by WVU Assistant Professor of Journalism and author Alison Bass, and introduced by whistleblower expert and GAP President Louis Clark.
GAP’s Tour is a dynamic campaign aimed at educating the public particularly university students about the phenomenon and practice of whistleblowing. This event will feature a moderated discussion and is free to all. A full description of the Tour can be found at www.WhistleblowerTour.org.
The WVU event, Whistleblowing and the Environment: From Climate Change to the Gulf Oil Spill, takes place on Sept. 18 at 6:00 p.m. in Room G15 of the WVU Life Sciences Building.
This Tour stop is sponsored by GAP along with the WVU School of Journalism, the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences’ departments of political science and geology and geography, and the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.
The presentation features the following participants:
Rick Piltz is a former senior associate in the coordination office of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. In 2005, he blew the whistle on the White House’s improper editing and censorship of science program reports on global warming intended for the public and Congress. GAP, which represented Piltz, released edited reports to The New York Times that documented the actual hand-editing by White House Counsel on Environmental Quality Chief of Staff Philip Cooney, a lawyer and former climate team leader with the American Petroleum Institute which was done to downplay the reality of human-driven global warming and its harmful impacts, and to exaggerate scientific uncertainty. This scandal sparked a media frenzy that resulted in the resignation of Cooney, who found a job at ExxonMobil days later.
Jack Spadaro has dedicated 40 years of his professional life to mine safety, and today he is among the nation’s leading experts on coal waste safety and disposal. Spadaro headed the National Mine Safety and Health Academy when the Martin County Coal Slurry Spill occurred in October 2000, spilling 300 million gallons of coal slurry into 100 miles of streams in Kentucky and West Virginia. The disaster polluted waterways and the drinking supply, killed all life forms in the streams for 100 miles, and affected 27,000 people. Spadaro participated in the federal investigation of that disaster and found evidence that Massey Energy the owner and operator of the impoundment dam had prior knowledge of problems with the mine. When the George W. Bush administration took office in January 2001, however, Spadaro’s team was told to stop, and repeated interference weakened the report. Spadaro refused to sign off on the erroneous report and resigned his position before going public with his evidence of gross wrongdoing.
Wilma Subra received a MacArthur Genius Award in 1999 and has nearly 50 years of experience in the fields of chemistry, toxicology and microbiology. Immediately following the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010, Subra found evidence of serious health risks for clean-up workers and Gulf Coast residents from crude oil, aerosol forms of oil, and the dispersant used on the spill. Subra also found grossly inadequate training for workers and warning of residents by the government and BP about the risks. After the courts ordered BP to provide cleanup workers with adequate protection and training orders BP failed to respect she secured proper equipment for the workers to use themselves. Subra’s work has contributed to the public’s knowledge of problems concerning the clean-up. Specifically, she has chronicled the devastating long-term effects on human health and the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico stemming from the widespread use of a toxic dispersant named Corexit.
WVU School of Journalism Assistant Professor Alison Bass, an award-winning journalist and critically acclaimed author, will moderate the panel. Her book, “Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial,” won the National Association of Science Writers’ Science in Society Award in 2009.
Louis Clark, President of GAP, will give an introduction. Clark is recognized as one of the country’s foremost experts on whistleblowing, with experience advocating for them at GAP since 1978. Stated Clark, “There is a long history of environmental whistleblowing in West Virginia and in coal country in general. It is essential that tomorrow’s workforce know that one conscientious person can make a positive difference for the community, state and nation.”
The whistleblowers will also be making classroom presentations the day of, and the day after, the panel event. Additionally, the panel discussion will be preceded by a movie screening of Erin Brockovich on Sept. 17 at 7:00 p.m. in 205 Martin Hall.
About the Tour
The WVU event is the first stop being held for the 2013-14 Tour. Since 2011, the American Whistleblower Tour has made 24 stops across the country, visiting schools such as the University of Houston, Auburn University, Indiana University, Mount Holyoke College, Rutgers University, Seattle University, Syracuse University, Tulane University, University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Nebraska. GAP secures some of the most prominent whistleblowers in American history for its Tour. Panelists have included Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers), Frank Serpico (NYPD), Sherron Watkins (Enron) and Susan Wood (“Plan B”).
Goals of the Tour include raising awareness about the vital role whistleblowing has in our democracy, preparing America’s youth for ethical decision-making, countering negative connotations associated with whistleblowing, connecting prospective whistleblowers to available resources, and encouraging academic studies of whistleblowing.
Contact: Dylan Blaylock, GAP Communications Director
Phone: 202.457.0034, ext. 137
Government Accountability Project
The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.