EPA’s attempt to limit freedom of speech by two agency lawyers, Laurie Willaims and Allan Zabel, who have spoken out in opposition to proposed cap and trade climate legislation, violates the law, says Louis Clark, President of the Government Accountability Project. EPA must be required to abandon the legacy of Bush-era restrictions on free speech for government workers — we would say, especially those addressing climate change. By accepting government employment, federal employees are not legally required to give up their First Amendment freedoms, their safeguards under whistleblower protection laws, their freedom to communicate with Congress, or their rights under anti-gag legislation that protect them from government officials who abuse their authority.
See our November 9 post: PEER: EPA orders employees to remove YouTube video critical of cap-and-trade climate policy
The Register Citizen
Litchfield County, Connecticut
November 20, 2009
by LOUIS CLARK
In late October, lawyers Allan Zabel and Laurie Williams exercised their First Amendment right of free speech when they posted a YouTube video criticizing the proposed cap-and-trade emissions program. But the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has employed both Zabel and Williams for 20 years, ordered them to take it down and remove from it mention of their work experience.
Zabel and Williams made it quite clear that their views were their own, and didn’t represent the views of the agency. In mentioning their work experience, they were doing no more than establishing their personal and professional identities—which is the right of all citizens to do. The EPA’s shocking reaction continues the legacy of notorious Bush-era policies which ruthlessly tried to limit free speech for government workers—especially those addressing climate change.
In 2005 the Bush administration attempted to muzzle Dr. James Hansen, the world’s most famous climate scientist. Hansen, a top NASA scientist, publicly commented on data that convinced him 2005 was one of the hottest years on record. He also drew attention to the Bush administration’s scientific censorship.
As Hansen courageously protested, public affairs offices at certain environmental science-oriented government agencies were imposing strict rules on employees. For example, they required that all media inquiries be referred to public affairs offices, which would then determine which staff could “most appropriately” answer them.
The public affairs offices went so far as to demand that public affairs officials sit in during all interviews with scientists.
Later, a 24-year-old NASA public affairs employee, whose only qualification for his position was that he had volunteered for the 2004 Bush reelection campaign, ordered the renowned Dr. Hansen to shut up and follow the rules or suffer “dire consequences.”
However, the scientist refused to remain silent about the dire consequences of climate change. When the official was found to have lied on his resume about having a college degree, the absurdity of such an under-qualified neophyte ordering a courageous, world-famous public servant to suppress his views became obvious even to the Bush administration.
NASA quickly backed down, largely reworking its policy and forcing the public affairs employee to resign.
At the same time, the EPA, which had established a similar gag on its employees, refused to reconsider its policy, and it still stands today—despite the rhetoric of a memorandum from its top administrator indicating a new day had arrived at the agency.
A few days ago, EPA managers apparently relied on this Bush-era public affairs relic to force Zabel and Williams to withdraw their video.
Simply put, by accepting government employment, federal employees shouldn’t be forced to give up their First Amendment freedoms, their safeguards under whistleblower protection laws, their freedom to communicate with Congress, or their rights under anti-gag legislation that protect them from government officials who abuse their authority.
On all four counts, the EPA actions against the San Francisco attorneys break the law.
Climate Science Watch is a sponsored project of the Government Accountability Project.