December 17, 2017; New York Times
Employees who speak out about the weakening of the Environmental Protection Agency are apparently likely to find their emails under the scrutiny of a lawyer affiliated with a group called America Rising, whose “sole purpose,” according to its website, “is to hold Democrats responsible and expose their hidden hypocrisy. We use video tracking research and communication strategies to ensure they must account for every word and action.”
The New York Times reports that such hypocritical acts have included one EPA employee who “spoke up at a private lunch held near the agency headquarters, saying she feared the nation might be headed toward an ‘environmental catastrophe.’ Another staff member, from Seattle, sent a letter to Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, raising similar concerns about the direction of the agency. A third, from Philadelphia, went to a rally where he protested against agency budget cuts.”
Requests for copies of their emails were logged within a few days, asking for any materials mentioning President Trump or EPA head Scott Pruitt.
Now, the EPA itself has inked a $120,000 contract with a company called Definers Public Affairs. The partners at Definers are Joe Pounder and Matt Rhoades, who cofounded America Rising, and the two organizations share offices. Nine key staff overlap, including Allan L. Blutstein, who was the author of the Freedom of Information Act requests about the aforementioned employees.
Spokesman for the EPA Jahan Wilcox wrote in an email that the product being sold is simply an improved clipping service—“Definers was awarded the contract to do our press clips at a rate that is $87,000 cheaper than our previous vendor, and they are providing no other services.” Employees are unconvinced:
“This is a witch hunt against EPA employees who are only trying to protect human health and the environment,” said Gary Morton, an EPA employee in Philadelphia, who works on preventing spills from underground storage tanks. His emails were targeted seven days after he participated in a union rally in March challenging proposed budget cuts. “What they are doing is trying to intimidate and bully us into silence,” he said.
“Mr. Pruitt appears not to understand that the two most valuable assets EPA has is the country’s trust and a very committed professional work force,” said William K. Reilly, EPA administrator under George Bush. “This shows complete insensitivity, complete tone-deafness, or something worse.”—Ruth McCambridge