Saturday, February 04, 2006

EPA's Whitman: Guilty of Deceiving The Public on Post-9/11 Safety -- Or Not?

A federal judge has found that former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christie Todd Whitman deliberately mislead the public when she reassured the public after the collapse of the World Trade Centers that the air was safe to breathe in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Unlike some of our current elected officials, Judge Deborah A. Batts of Federal District Court in Manhattan,actually takes EPA's mandate seriously.
The EPA is designated as the agency in our country to protect human health and the environment, and is mandated to work for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people. The agency enforces regulations regarding pollution in our environment and the presence of toxic and hazardous substances, and has endorsed and promulgated regulations for hazardous and toxic materials, such as asbestos and lead. As head of the EPA, Whitman knew of this mandate and took part in and directed the regulatory activities of the agency. Given this responsibility, the allegations in this case of Whitman’s reassuring and misleading statements of safety after the September 11, 2001 attacks are without question conscienceshocking.
The judge's decision was a result of a request to dismiss a lawsuit against Whitman and the EPA by a group of residents and schoolchildren from downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn who say they were exposed to air contamination inside buildings near the trade center.

The judge found that

Mrs. Whitman knew that the towers' destruction had released huge amounts of hazardous emissions, Judge Batts found. But as early as Sept. 13, Mrs. Whitman and the agency put out press releases saying that the air near ground zero was relatively safe and that there were "no significant levels" of asbestos dust in the air. They gave a green light for residents to return to their homes near the trade center site.

"By these actions," Judge Batts wrote, Mrs. Whitman "increased, and may have in fact created, the danger" to people living and working near the trade center. Judge Batts said that Mrs. Whitman was not entitled to immunity because she was a public official. Judge Batts allowed the suit to proceed on some counts against the E.P.A. She dismissed claims against Marianne L. Horinko, an assistant administrator of the E.P.A. at the time.

Whitman rejected the accusation as "completely inaccurate" and another judge agreed, dismissed a similar suit on Thursday in a separate but almost identical case against Mrs. Whitman and the EPA. That judge reached the opposite conclusion, rejecting the same arguments that had convinced Judge Batts.

Both sides are expected to appeal.