Washington, DC — The U.S. Senate should reject President Bush’s selection for the top lawyer at the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a letter of opposition sent today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The organization contends that the nominee, Roger Martella, while serving as Principal Deputy or Acting General Counsel at EPA has taken actions that diminish the agency’s role in protecting public health and facilitate the harassment of whistleblowers.
President Bush nominated Martella to serve as General Counsel for EPA in the prior session of Congress but his nomination was held without action. On January 9, 2007, the President re-nominated Martella, who will again undergo confirmation hearings before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, now chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
“The Senate should critically examine what the Office of General Counsel has been doing over the past several months,” stated PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, who co-signed the group’s opposition letter. “Under Mr. Martella, the legal resources of EPA are increasingly being devoted to the avoidance of the law rather than compliance with the law.”
PEER cites the following stances taken in recent months under Martella’s tenure as the senior official within the EPA Office of General Counsel:
- Claim of Sovereign Immunity against Environmental Whistleblower Claims Brought by Federal Employees. EPA claims none of the safeguards for whistleblower contained in major environmental laws protect its own employees from reprisal. EPA’s stance would place all major federal environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, beyond the reach of federal employees seeking legal protection for efforts to enforce or implement these anti-pollution laws. The EPA position would reverse nearly two decades of precedent and strip approximately 170,000 federal employees of whistleblower rights.
EPA’s briefs invoke the ancient doctrine of sovereign immunity which is based on the old English legal maxim that “The King Can Do No Wrong.” It is an absolute defense to any legal action unless the “sovereign” consents to be sued.
- Abdication of Lead-Safe Public Health Responsibilities. EPA is seeking to insulate itself from statutory requirements that it implement lead-safe housing rules that were due by law more than a decade ago. In its legal briefs, EPA claims that once six years have elapsed it can no longer be compelled to comply with the law.
- Facilitation of Whistleblower Harassment. The EPA Office of General Counsel has become a principal instrument in the intimidation and punishment of agency employees who point out problems, report violations or voice dissent over misrepresentations made by EPA managers.
The Committee has set no date for new hearings on Martella’s nomination.