Whistleblowing and the Environment


The Government Accountability Project’s American Whistleblower Tour made its first stop of the 2013-2014 season at West Virginia University, in an event titled Whistleblowing and the Environment: From Climate Change to the Gulf Oil Spill.

CSW director Rick Piltz joined whistleblowers Jack Spadaro and Wilma Subra in a discussion of stories that ranged from a coal slurry contamination disaster in Appalachia, to the effects on human health and the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico stemming from the widespread use of a toxic dispersant named Corexit, to the George W. Bush White House and climate science communication — and the challenges facing whistleblowers before, during, and after taking action.

On September 18, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) took its program, the American Whistleblower Tour: Essential Voices for Accountability, to West Virginia University in Morgantown. The presentation featured the following participants in addition to Climate Science Watch director Rick Piltz, a former senior associate in the coordination office of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program:

  • 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 Fellowship (the “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, moderated 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, gave an introduction. Clark is recognized as one of the country’s foremost experts on whistleblowing, with experience advocating for them at GAP since 1978.

About the American Whistleblower Tour

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 West Virginia University event was the first stop on 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. 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.

Some additional videos from the tour are posted here. A few that we participated in include:

NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake at the University of the District of Columbia

Tom Drake and Rick Piltz spoke at the University of the District of Columbia Law School on March 22, 2013. Drake discussed his experience at the National Security Agency during 2001-2007 and the Justice Department’s subsequent effort to prosecute him. A one-hour edited video taken from the event.

Indiana University, March 27, 2013 and Franklin & Marshall College, January 17, 2013

Louis Clark, President of the Government Accountability Project; Kenneth Kendrick, former assistant plant manager at Peanut Corporation of America; and Rick Piltz, former senior associate of U.S. Climate Change Science Program, in panel discussions about the ethical conflicts in a career that led them to feel they must take the personal risks and the costs of going to the press.

Climate Science Watch is a program of the Government Accountability Project.

Some earlier CSW posts:

Corexit: Deadly Dispersant in Oil Spill Cleanup

On April 19, 2013, the Government Accountability Project released Deadly Dispersants in the Gulf: Are Public Health and Environmental Tragedies the New Norm for Oil Spill Cleanups? The report details the devastating long-term effects on human health and the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem stemming from BP and the federal government’s widespread use of the dispersant Corexit, in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Evidence suggests that the cleanup effort has been more destructive to human health and the environment than the spill itself.

“Inside Story” on BP’s use of Corexit to “clean up” Gulf oil blowout disaster

More coverage on Corexit, deadly dispersant in the BP Gulf oil blowout disaster

National Day of Action to Ban Dispersants

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1 Response to Whistleblowing and the Environment

  1. R Lewis says:

    I did my final project in my climate class on Siberia. Siberia is a region where capitalism is number one and ethics are non-existent. This area is known for having a ton of oil. Unfortunately, workers and the government do not care enough to use sustainable practices. All the time oil is being spilled destroying bog life. Greenpeace is one of the only whistleblower organizations for this region. They are the only ones that keep huge oil companies in check when they lead to the destruction of the environment.

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