EPA Watchdog Slams Agency's Chief of Staff Who Refuses to Cooperate With Investigations
The Environmental Protection Agency's top internal watchdog rebuked the department head's chief of staff for "open defiance" in refusing to cooperate with an audit and an investigation into whether he pressured a department scientist to change her congressional testimony, as the New York Times reported.
The EPA's Inspector General Charles Sheehan also criticized EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler for his refusal to take action and address his chief of staff's refusal to cooperate with investigators, according to The Hill.
The letter, which is stamped Oct. 29, but was released Wednesday is written to Wheeler. It calls Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson's behavior a particularly serious and flagrant problem.
"To countenance open defiance even in one instance — much less two, both by a senior public official setting precedent for himself and all agency staff — is ruinous," Sheehan concluded in the letter, as The New York Times reported.
The missive falls under the category of a "Seven Day Letter," meaning it is a step in the process used to notify Congress of serious impediments to carrying out investigations. Wheeler had to give the letter and any responses he wishes to include to the appropriate congressional committees within seven calendar days.
The audit of Mr. Jackson stems from an investigation into emails that showed Jackson trying to pressure scientist Deborah Swackhamer into altering her planned testimony before the House Science Committee. Dr. Swackhamer, for her part, said she had "felt bullied," as the New York Times reported.
The investigation is believed to revolve around Jackson's involvement in the firing for former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's scheduler. The scheduler was pressured by Jackson to retroactively delete meetings that Pruitt held that were ethically dubious. She refused since it was a federal crime and was subsequently fired, according to the New York Times.
Sheehan's letter describes the ways Jackson has delayed and avoided and tried to sideline investigators. It also details Sheehan's failed attempts to talk to Wheeler about the investigation and the audit, as The Hill reported.
"Since October 21, 2019, neither you nor any agency official has contacted OIG on this urgent matter," Sheehan wrote.
Sheehan contrasts Wheeler's actions with his own words, citing an August 2018 memo that Wheeler wrote to the EPA.
"Cooperating with the Office of Inspector General to Ensure the US Environmental Protection Agency is Fulfilling the Public's Trust (Attachment A). There you echo the Act's explicit mandate of full agency cooperation: 'It is imperative and expected that agency personnel provide the OIG with access to personnel ... or other information ... needed by the OIG to accomplish its mission,'" Sheehan wrote in the letter. Yet, the letter goes on to detail how Wheeler and, in particular, Jackson have defied exactly what Wheeler said they are supposed to do.
Sheehan later discusses the importance of cooperation and the need for the Inspector General to gather information without impediment and again draws attention to Wheeler and Jackson's defiance of his own mandate.
"As it is for the agency itself, information is the oxygen for the Inspector General's office," Sheehan wrote in his letter. "If information is choked off, we cannot fulfill our congressional charter and produce work of the rigor and quality expected by the American public You reaffirmed in your message to all agency employees that Inspector General access to all information is 'imperative' in 'Fulfilling the Public's Trust.'"
With the release of the letter yesterday, an EPA spokesman said Wheeler directed Jackson to sit down with the Office of the Inspector General.
"Today, the Administrator spoke with Acting Inspector General Chuck Sheehan to inform him that Mr. Jackson has agreed to sit for an interview with the O.I.G.'s office," the spokesman, Michael Abboud, said, as the New York Times reported. "E.P.A. believes that this accommodation resolves the issues identified" in Mr. Sheehan's letter.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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