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EPA Whistleblower Government in Denial
By Ray Barrington, Green Bay News-Chronicle, April 19, 2004

He says citizens should be told the truth about environmental issues. For about a decade, Robert Martin worked against government from the inside.

As an ombudsman from the Environmental Protection Agency, he prodded government to act by working for citizens and communities to try to get cleanup done and programs to work. But his job fell victim to, he says, a political system that no longer shows compassion for the individual.

Martin spoke to the Wisconsin Lakes Convention at the KI Convention Center on Saturday, part of a state tour. He also spoke to an Earth Day gathering at the Multicultural Center.

Martin resigned from the EPA after his job was axed by then-EPA director Christine Todd Whitman, who told him the government had to speak with "one voice," and that voice wasn't one that was representing citizens.

The two broke shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York. Soon after the attacks, Whitman appeared in New York and said there was no problem with toxic fallout and waste at Ground Zero and in nearby buildings. Martin, meanwhile, was studying the situation.

On Nov. 24, 2001, Whitman, who had eliminated a similar job in state government while she was governor of New Jersey, told Martin his job was being eliminated. He fought back, getting Congressional support and support from the communities he worked with, with three communities filing a lawsuit to keep him in place. A restraining order - granted just 10 minutes before the move would have taken effect - held off the closing, during which time Martin held hearings on the toxic effects of 9/11.

"We had two 12-hour hearings and more people wanted to speak," he said.

"After I resigned, I was asked to testify before the House and Senate. I said our government lacks compassion, and I think American citizens deserve compassion. When it comes to environmental harm, that's not often found."

But after four months, as part of a change of venue move, the restraining order was lifted. Within hours, all of Martin's files had been seized and his office was under the EPA Inspector General's control. Martin was told he was not allowed to speak with legislators, the media, or communities. He resigned.

He says the federal government is in "denial mode" regarding environmental problems.

"There's a concern that the EPA is broken," he said. "There's been such a defection of career people (not political appointees) that there's no bedrock in the agency, people who are there solely to accomplish the mission of protecting the environment."

Martin says it isn't appropriate for the government to hold back facts.

"People can handle a lot," he said. "Just tell the truth. And the degree to which that is happening has fallen in the last couple of years."

Martin now does for the private sector what he used to do from inside - file lawsuits to force the government and business to work on toxic waste sites.

His job was similar to that of public intervenor for the Department of Natural Resources - a position abolished a few years ago.

"When you lose and the public loses such intermediaries, you lose a little bit of democracy," he said. "The average person doesn't have a lot left to cling to to feel safe."



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