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GROWING NO CONFIDENCE CHORUS CONFRONTS EPA HEAD

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Washington, DC — In a stinging rebuke, unions representing the vast majority of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists, attorneys and other specialists have vowed to cut off future discussions with embattled Administrator Stephen Johnson, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Already in the hot seat for overruling staff advice that he was legally required to grant California’s requested waiver to regulate greenhouse gases, Johnson now faces a litany of charges that he has also been duplicitous on an array of other scientific integrity, information suppression and workplace relations issues.

In a February 29, 2008 letter, the presidents of 19 locals from four unions representing more than 10,000 staff from EPA headquarters, all but one of its regional offices and seven lab complexes served notice that they will “suspend” further involvement with the National Labor-Management Partnership Council. The Partnership Council is a nearly ten-year old forum for resolving disagreements.

The joint leap-day letter cites repeated instances of broken pledges or bad faith by Johnson, including –

  • Refusing to enforce the agency’s “Principles of Scientific Integrity” involving “fluoride drinking water standards, organophosphate pesticide registration, control of mercury emissions from power plants, and “the California waiver decision where the unions contend Johnson has allowed outside influences to preclude “good science in [EPA] decision making”;
  • Using in-house legal staff to retaliate against whistleblowers and union officers; and
  • Ignoring requests to fix problems in EPA’s performance appraisal system, which according to the unions, has deteriorated into “jargon and subjective measures” such that it is “all but impossible for employees to know when they are performing at an outstanding level.”

“Whatever reservoir of good will and credibility that Stephen Johnson had as a career employee is fast evaporating,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the Bush administration often has defended questionable environmental decisions by pointing to Johnson’s status as “a career scientist.” “On a host of critical issues, the nation is looking for EPA to lead, but Johnson cannot be an effective leader from inside a bunker.”

The EPA Labor Union Coalition, consisting of four major unions (the American Federation of Government Employees, the Engineers and Scientists of California, the National Association of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union), is particularly incensed by EPA’s refusal to discuss, let alone negotiate, its closure of agency libraries. Last month, the Federal Labor Relations Board sanctioned EPA and ordered it to bargain any further changes with affected unions.

“With each committee appearance more contentious and embarrassing than the last, it is hard to see how Johnson can break this downward spiral except by resigning,” added Ruch, pointing to Johnson’s recent claims that he cannot recall clear and overwhelming staff advice for granting California’s waiver requests, as evidenced by memos and PowerPoint presentations being unearthed by committee investigators. “It is a very bad sign that Johnson has been reduced to the Alberto Gonzales defense.”

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Read the EPA Labor Union Coalition letter

View the growing trove of documents showing Johnson ignored agency experts

Look at the unfair labor practice finding on EPA library closures

See earlier protest by scientists on breaches of scientific integrity