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For Immediate Release: Monday, June 9, 2008
Contact: Paula Dinerstein (202) 265-7337


Witnesses Detail 9/11 Contamination, Toxic Fertilizer and Litany of Other

Washington, DC — In a long-awaited whistleblower trial beginning today,
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will have to justify dismantling its
only independent public advocate. The National Ombudsman Office was closed early
in the Bush administration as it pursued an array of EPA scandals, including
its failure to issue health warnings after the World Trade Center collapse,
use of toxic sewage sludge in widely distributed fertilizer and malfeasance
at several Superfund cleanups across the nation, according to documents posted
by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The complaint by Hugh B. Kaufman, who served as the Chief Investigator for
the National Ombudsman Office from 1997 until its demise in 2002, charges violation
of whistleblower anti-retaliation provisions of the very federal environmental
laws that EPA is supposed to enforce. The hearing will feature witnesses harmed
by agency misdeeds who had sought help from the Ombudsman Office.

After an initial investigation, the U.S. Labor Department ruled in Mr. Kaufman’s
favor and found EPA’s removing his duties was in reprisal for his performing
a “too effective job”. Then-EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman
personally pulled the plug on the Ombudsman Office and was “committed
to not putting Kaufman back”, according to one e-mail exhibit.

EPA appealed the Labor Department order restoring Kaufman, thus triggering
the hearing beginning today before administrative law judge Thomas M. Burke
in Washington, D.C.

Among the many interrupted Ombudsman investigations were a probe into the World
Trade Center aftermath, several high-profile Superfund site breakdowns and EPA’s
approval of using toxic sewage sludge containing heavy metals and other dangerous
materials in fertilizer distributed for free to farmers. In a scathing ruling
earlier this year, a federal district court in Georgia upheld farmers’
claims that the sludge ruined crops and contaminated their farmland (McElmurray
v. USDA), finding –

“The EPA’s unexplained rejection of Kaufman’s [public health]
position…was not based on substantial evidence….The administrative
record contains evidence that senior EPA officials took extraordinary steps
to quash scientific dissent, and any questioning of the EPA’s biosolids program.”

“At this hearing, EPA itself will be on trial for some of its most irresponsible
actions,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who is assisting
lead attorney Regina Markey in the Kaufman case. “The value of an independent
ombudsman at EPA has only increased with the passage of time.”

The decision in this case by the administrative law judge is subject to appeal
first to the Administrative Review Board of the Secretary of Labor and then
to a federal appeals court. As a result, the fate of a National Ombudsman Office
may be one of the early decisions facing the next administration seeking to
reform a very troubled EPA.


View the Kaufman complaint:

See Christie Todd Whitman decision e-mail:

Read the McElmurray toxic sludge federal district court ruling: