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The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 29, 2008

EPA limits staff from talking
By Dina Cappiello, Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency is warning its pollution enforcement officials not to talk directly to congressional investigators, reporters and even the agency's own inspector general, according to an internal e-mail provided to The Associated Press.

The June 16 e-mail tells 11 managers in the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, the branch of the agency charged with making sure environmental laws are followed, to remind staff to keep quiet.

“If you are contacted directly by the IG's office or GAO requesting information of any kind ... please do not respond to questions or make any statements,” reads the e-mail sent by Robbi Farrell, the division's chief of staff. Instead, staff should forward inquires to a designated representative.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility obtained the e-mail and provided it to the AP. The group is a nonprofit alliance of local, state and federal professionals dedicated to upholding environmental laws and values.

Jeff Ruch, its executive director, said Monday that the e-mail reinforces the “bunker mentality” within EPA under the Bush administration.

“The clear intention behind this move is to chill the cubicles by suppressing any uncontrolled information,” said Ruch.

The EPA, in an official statement, said Monday that the e-mail was aimed at making responses to the press, GAO and Inspector General more efficient, consistent and coordinated. The EPA said officials would still be allowed to talk after they checked in with representatives.

“There is nothing...that restricts conversation between enforcement staff, the press, GAO and the IG and the procedure is consistent with existing agency policies,” the statement said.

Copyright 2007 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton