Speaking Truth to Power: Why on earth is EPA whistleblower Jason Burnett standing alone?


… by Anne Polansky, Sr. Associate   (CSW Director Rick Piltz is on a book-writing sabbatical until the end of August)

It took only one EPA whistleblower (Jason Burnett) to help Congressional Committee chairs Boxer, Waxman, Markey, et al conduct basic oversight and expose the blatant sidestepping of the Clean Air Act under White House pressure, and nefarious acts to subvert environmental law at levels all the way up the chain to President Bush and VP Dick Cheney.  Why aren’t more EPA officials standing up with Burnett?  More importantly, why has EPA Administrator Steve Johnson not stood up for public health and the environment—as he swore he would do? 

Jason Burnett’s sworn testimony before Senator Barbara Boxer’s July 22 investigative hearing partially broke a logjam of Congressional subpoenas (here, and here) for public documents at EPA on regulating CO2 as a pollutant and the denial of the California auto emissions waiver, stymied by “executive privilege” snubs.  Burnett helped confirm that the White House and especially Dick Cheney, most often through others, directs government officials (or perhaps just tugs on their strings)  to aid and abet a pro-oil industry agenda, even when it clearly endangers the public to do so.  (Also see our report of a closely related CCSP study led by EPA.)  Some Republicans, with media aid (here, and here), are insinuating that Burnett’s open support for Barack Obama discounts his resignation-in-protest from an act of noble integrity, to mere political posturing.  But, like Obama,  John McCain has spoken out in favor of granting California its auto emissions waiver.  Other would-be EPA whistleblowers, perhaps weary of being routinely censored, are nevertheless remaining silent.  If it is indeed the case that Mr. Johnson is violating his oath of office to protect human health and the environment, why aren’t more disgruntled EPA officials standing up with Burnett? 

Before it disappears from its current URL on the official EPA website after the next inauguration, let us take a reflective moment to read Admin. Johnson’s remarks (emphasis added) at the Oath of Office Ceremony attended by President Bush on May 23, 2005, just over three years ago. 


Mr. President, members of the Cabinet, Congress, my family, friends and distinguished colleagues, I welcome you to EPA headquarters.

Mr. President, you are the first President to visit EPA Headquarters at Ariel Rios. Your visit today highlights to the nation and the world the importance of protecting our environment.

As a career scientist, I have spent the majority of my adult life working side-by-side with the world’s experts in the field of environmental protection. Today, I am proud to stand side-by-side with you, Mr. President, together reaffirming our nation’s commitment to protecting public health and the environment. 

As I prepared for today, I thought about how I felt when the President asked me to lead the EPA. Even after years of Latin, German, and scientific training, the only word I could think of was wow. Wow. That is exactly how I felt then and is exactly how I feel today. Wow.

Mr. President, I approach the task of leading the Environmental Protection Agency with great enthusiasm and profound optimism. Your selection of a career scientist to serve as Administrator has clearly demonstrated your dedication to science, on which Agency decisions are based.

Over the past 35 years, EPA has been a significant part of our nation’s many environmental accomplishments. These experiences have taught us that sound science is the basis of our achievements and the genesis for our future successes. And that is why we are here – to accelerate environmental progress and to deliver better, more efficient results while maintaining our economic competitiveness.

When my daughters call, they ask me if my grandchildren’s’ playgrounds are safe – if their water is healthy to drink – if their houses are built on clean ground. They look to EPA to provide them the peace of mind which comes from knowing that their children’s natural environment is being watched over.

Mr. President, under your leadership, our country has made great strides in cleaning our air, water and land in a way that allows our nation to continue to grow and prosper. Today the air across our country is the cleanest it has been in three decades. Our food and drinking water supplies are safer. Our land is better protected.

These past successes are the solid foundation for our future advancements in environmental stewardship. Just as we live in a global marketplace, we now understand that many of our environmental challenges are not confined to political or physical boundaries. By expanding the roles of technology, collaborative partnerships and flexible policies, we will be able to engage broad interests and deliver results quicker and more effectively than ever before.

None of these objectives can be achieved without the commitment of our professional staff. The success of EPA, and the health of our nation’s environment, can not be separated from the productivity and creativity of my colleagues. I would like to thank them for their continued hard work and devotion to our mission.

Mr. President, thank you again for this opportunity.

I am humbled by the trust you have placed in me and look forward to working together to provide the next generation a cleaner, safer environment in which to live, work and play. 


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