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Associated Press: Hanford Contractor Reaches $1.1M Settlement in Whistleblower Suit Involving Training Program
A Hanford Contractor hired by the federal government to train workers involved in radiation clean-up work at the nuclear site has agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department. As part of the settlement, a whistleblower that filed a lawsuit under the False Claims Act in 2011 will receive $200,000. The suit alleged that the contractor, Fluor, used federal government money from the Department of Energy to lobby for additional government customers at another facility.
CBS5 Phoenix: Report – Arizona Lawmakers Bought by Corporate Interests
The nonprofit organization Common Cause has accused almost all of the Republicans in the Arizona state legislature of involvement in backroom partnerships with big corporations. The accusation was released in a report that alleges politicians took trips, stayed at luxury hotels and enjoyed other perks totaling up to $200,000, all on the dime of large companies hoping to pass legislation. The primary target of the report is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a nonprofit that has allegedly taken donations – all completely legal – from corporations and turned them into ‘scholarships’ for politicians.
Burton Mail: Ex-worker Who Blew the Whistle on ‘Corner-Cutting’ Firm Speaks Out
Evidence provided by a whistleblower has led to the prosecution of a British company that generally exhibited no regard for the safety of its workers. The company, which works on renovation and renewal projects, knowingly sent workers into asbestos-ridden sites, often without investigating or explaining the danger. This is not the first guilty charge related to health and safety standards in the company’s history. In 2005, the company was fined £8,000, a small sum compared to the £80,000 fined this year.
Arab American News: National Security Agency Whistleblower – How Much Freedom Must We Sacrifice for Security
In March, GAP client Tom Drake spoke at an event for the Muslim Legal Fund of America, along with FBI whistleblower and 2002 Time Magazine Person of the Year Colleen Rowley. The event focused on the ongoing threat of American civil liberties being jeopardized in the name of national security. Both whistleblowers spoke of significant shifts in the culture of America’s security agencies post 9/11 – a major concern of Muslim Americans facing discrimination and injustice today.
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Tropical Storm Isaac, on the verge of becoming a hurricane, is headed toward Louisiana. Officials have pronounced New Orleans ready, while at the same time the governor urged people in low-lying areas and places outside of levee protection to leave for safe ground.
The Army Corps of Enginerrs built a $14.5 billion flood protection system. But they have failed to address an independent evaluation by the US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) in 2009 that there are serious safety and reliability issues with hydraulic pumps that were installed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. A tenacious whistleblower and former client, Maria Garzino, is US Army Corps of Engineers ("the Corps") mechanical and civil engineer who revealed the inadequate state of New Orleans' floodwater pumps built by the Corps after Hurricane Katrina. The disclosures, which both the Department of Defense Inspector General’s (DoDIG) office and the Corps fought for years, showcase how New Orleans residents are still in great danger if flooding occurs again. (Also captured vividly in the film The Big Uneasy.)
As the OSC told President Obama in 2009:
There appears to be little logical justification for: (1) restricting the emergency pumping capability . . . to only the untested hydraulic pump systems, (2) not requiring the installation of a reliable pumping system which would adequately protect New Orleans, (3) spending hundreds of millions of dollars to install forty MWI hydraulic pumps which are scheduled to be replaced at a cost of $430 million within 3-5 years. . .
(MWI is owned by J. David Eller, once a business partner of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a venture called Bush-El that marketed MWI pumps.)
In February 2011, Garzino wrote a letter to President Obama detailing how the Corps knowingly installed equipment that cannot adequately protect the city of New Orleans from flooding; duplicated work that cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars; and deliberately deceived Congress as to the nature of and reason for this work.
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A report released by the Department of Interior last week confirmed suspicions that a Blowout Preventer (BOP) – a supposed fail-safe device on oil rigs – buckled moments before the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon last April, leaving 11 workers dead and millions of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf.
The report, conducted by Norwegian firm, Det Norske Veritas, as part of the Interior Department’s investigation into the spill, concluded that there was a mechanical failure in the BOP’s so-called “rams”, which are supposed to cut the pipe coming up from the well in the event of the emergency. This action would shut the well and prevent the flow of oil and gas.
However, the 554-page analysis stops short of holding any player accountable for this fatal shortcoming. BP, which oversaw the operation; Transocean, which owned and was responsible for maintenance of the BOP and the rig; and Cameron International, which manufactured the failed device, were left nearly unscathed by the report’s findings. In fact, the New York Times reported that the day of its release, BP shares rose one percent, while Cameron’s fell by a nominal two percent, and Transocean shares remained roughly the same.
While these companies litigate over whose to blame, because of clever accounting tricks and the corporate tax structure, American taxpayers will foot an anticipated $10 billion of the cleanup -- which does not factor in the irrevocable environmental damage and human cost. Giving credit where credit’s due, the Obama administration did work with BP to establish a $20 billion dollar claims fund. In the fine print, however, that agreement included a deal that BP could keep whatever remaining funds were not used by 2013. Last December, during a TV interview, BP’s compensation czar attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who is administering the fund, said “it remains to be seen, but I hope that half the money would be more than enough to pay all the claims.”
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Some say money can’t buy everything. But for BP, money sure seems to be able to buy enough litigation and lobbying power to stay in business, even with its persistent, egregious safety violations that have led to more than one deadly disaster.
While BP’s older crimes may have been overshadowed lately by the more current and devastating Gulf oil spew, it should not be forgotten that the company is still litigating charges related to a 2005 blast at a Texas refinery that killed 15 workers. With the Gulf oil spill and the 40-day release of toxic chemicals from its Texas refinery, BP has its hands full with not one, but three environmental catastrophes. All three remain unresolved.
2005 BP Texas City incident diagram
Regarding the refinery case, the Justice Department recently decided
not to revoke the three-year probation it had imposed on BP due to the numerous safety violations (both criminal and civil) found during the federal investigation into the 2005 accident. Although the probation period allowed BP time to respond to violations, it has to date failed to properly respond to all safety issues or fully pay its fines. Although the government warned that it might revoke or renew the probation, it then backed off of its threat – presumably to avoid subjecting the company to further criminal prosecution. Of course, family members of those killed in the accident have been advocating for more, not less, prosecution.
Furthermore, a probe into safety issues at the refinery found that the initial violations noted by federal regulators only scratched the surface of a trove of (shock!) even more violations. This mirrors what we’ve seen in the Gulf – both in the spill itself as well as in the cleanup – where the information that has come forward continues to prompt yet more questions.
Photo by flickr user IBRRC
We now know that dangerous dispersants were being used in the cleanup and that BP was barring media access to oil-soaked sites. But why has the cleanup effort been shrouded in a veil of secrecy in the first place? What about the devastating ailments plaguing Gulf Coast residents, the reports of massive kill zones and dead marine life, and the widely disparate scientific studies on what’s happened to all that oil and dispersant? In light of a 1978 oil spill cleanup in Brooklyn
, in which oil dating back to 1948 was found, somehow assurances that “75 percent of the oil is gone” don’t quite make sense. Let’s not forget that the initial (BP-backed) flow rate estimates of 1,000 barrels per day skyrocketed to over 60,000.
It seems that the more we continue to investigate BP, the more dark secrets we shall find. This is not a surprise. Yet, the question remains -- how far will it go before meaningful changes are enacted to protect those who have suffered from the carelessness of BP, and those courageous few insiders who have blown the whistle?
Lindsay Bigda is Communications Fellow for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.
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The Government Accountability Project has a long, storied history of working with whistleblowers within the nuclear industry to bring public awareness to the most serious of safety threats.
With that in mind, GAP is partnering with other public interest organizations to raise awareness about an important new film. Countdown to Zero is a documentary about the escalating global nuclear arms crisis, making clear that the nuclear threat is very real – and not a bygone issue that died with the Cold War.
NPR: Ex-Massey Miner: Safety Gripes Led to Firing
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June 7, 2010
Summary: An former worker at the West Virginia mine that exploded and killed 29 people in April has filed a whistleblower complaint, saying he was fired after telling his supervisors and the media about safety issues at the mine and another owned by Massey Energy. A preliminary investigation said that "there is reasonable cause to believe that [the whistleblower's] dismissal was motivated by his exercise of protected activities."
Click here to watch video of the whistleblower's disclosures
Sydney Morning Herald: Whistleblowers Lift Lid on Japanese Whaling
Summary: Two crewmembers from Japanese "research whaling" ships have come forward after witnessing the theft of whale meat by colleagues for personal consumption or sale, despite the fact that the meat is supposed to only be used for scientific purposes. While Japan argues "research whaling" is allowed under an international moratorium on whaling, the Australian government has filed a formal application with the International Court of Justice to stop any whaling in Antarctic waters.
Similar: Australian Broadcasting Company
The Nation: Finding Candidates Who Pass the Ellsberg Test
Summary: Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower and closing speaker at GAP's recent Whistleblower National Assembly, is endorsing a candidate for Congress who was a legal researcher for him during the Pentagon Papers trial. The columnist explains what how meaningful an endorsement it is, coming from the patriarch of modern whistleblowing.
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Thirty-five days have passed since the massive oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, which lead to the ongoing oil spill crisis, today described by the White House as the worst spill in United States history. The most conservative estimates place the amount of oil released so far at more than seven million gallons, and the most liberal place the amount at more than 11 million gallons. In comparison, the iconic Exxon Valdez spill released 10.8 million gallons. There is no current estimate for when the oil flow will be stopped.
In other news, BP has refused to comply with a directive from the EPA that ordered the company to switch to a different chemical in its attempt to clean up the spill. Corexit chemicals, which as we blogged about previously, are considered by some experts to be more dangerous than oil. The Corexit chemicals are prohibited for use on oil spills in England and have been linked to many health problems following their use on the Exxon Valdez spill. BP has used more than 700,000 gallons so far on the spill, which according the head of the EPA is "approaching a world record."
In addition, there are emerging reports that the chemicals may already be causing illness in the Gulf. WDSU-TV, a New Orleans TV station, reported that some local fishermen contracted by BP to help clean up the spill have become sick. One fisherman said:
"I've been coughing up stuff," Gary Burris said. "Your lungs fill up." … Burris said that when he went to a doctor after feeling ill on Sunday, the doctor told him his lungs looked like those of a three-pack-a-day smoker, and Burris said he has never smoked."
We also recently blogged about BP's attempts to shut down the flow of information about the oil spill -- since that time a Mother Jones reporter has been doing a great job Tweeting and writing about her experiences in the region. Some of her most interesting encounters include: cops telling tourists that beaches are still open, but telling all media the beaches are closed and to report to a "BP Information Center;" an interaction with a BP spokeswoman who unknowingly told her that BP has "a lot" of sway over the sheriff's office; and an attempt to get in touch with the police only to get redirected to voicemail for a BP rep.
A few more major stories are out concerning the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast:
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First, ProPublica rounds up several instances in which BP has attempted to slow the flow of information about the spill. Reports are out, nonetheless, about BP refusing to publicize results of “tests on the extent of workers’ exposure to evaporating oil or from the burning crude over the Gulf.” The tests could be an important tool in determining whether or not it is currently safe for workers in the Gulf.
Similarly, CBS News reporters were banned from filming a beach covered with oil in Louisiana by a motley crew of BP contractors and members of the Coast Guard. The reporters were threatened with arrest if they continued to attempt filming the beach. One of the men said to the reporters: “This is BP’s rule. It’s not ours.” Just who is supposed to be in charge then? This incident raises serious questions about the involvement of the government with BP. CBS reports: "We spoke with Coast Guard officials today; they say they're looking into it."
Prominent scientists are also raising concerns about the government's response to the oil spill, according to a New York Times report. The scientists argue that by now, the Obama administration should have certainly released test results on water from the deep ocean near the spill, and should be pushing BP to release more information as well. The deep ocean tests are specifically important because the oil spill is nearly a mile below the surface.
The Huffington Post reports that Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.), head of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, demanded and will soon receive live streaming video of the oil spill in Gulf, following heavy criticism of BP for not releasing video sooner. As we blogged about previously, many scientists have come forward to say that even the short, grainy video clips released by BP earlier prove that the scope of the disaster is much larger than BP estimated.
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In case you've had as hard of a time as we've had keeping up with all the bad news coming out about the Gulf Coast oil spill, GAP's brought together some of the more appalling tidbits from the last few days:
First, despite the fact that BP has said many times that it is impossible to accurately judge the extent of the Gulf spill by looking at video of oil gushing out of the broken pipe, experts analyzing the video at the request of NPR argue that it is possible and that the spill is far worse than BP has estimated. While BP claims the oil is likely spilling at a rate of 5,000 barrels a day, the experts predict it is somewhere between 56,000 barrels to 84,000 barrels a day and that the oil spill has already surpassed the iconic Exxon Valdez spill in scope.
Similarly, the New York Times reports that environmental groups are raising concerns over why BP continues to claim it is impossible to measure the scope of the oil spill, and why they have produced and are sticking to the number of 5,000 barrels a day. The groups argue that there are accepted scientific methods that could be easily used to more accurately measure the leak, and that "the figure of 5,000 barrels a day was hastily produced by government scientists in Seattle. It appears to have been calculated using a method that is specifically not recommended for major oil spills."
Greenwire reports that, as we blogged about last week, BP is continuing to use risky chemicals called dispersants to break up the oil spill, but that the oil giant has bypassed the use of less toxic chemicals in favor of ones manufactured by a company with which they have close ties. The company, Nalco Co, was once part of Exxon Mobil Corp. and currently has leadership that includes executives from both BP and Exxon. Even worse, EPA data shows the Nalco dispersant to be less effective than less toxic alternatives in dealing with southern Louisiana crude oil.
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A solid piece that was buried in The New York Times today takes a look at the Obama administration’s enactment (or proposal of) tougher worker safety and consumer protection standards across a host of federal agencies. Sure, regulation buttressing is not really sexy, but its tremendously important. And the administration deserves some credit here.
What kind of regulations are we talking about here? Everything from construction site water runoff to safeguarding eggs. These include (from the article and its corresponding piece):
SALMONELLA AND EGGS
Final rule, July 2009
Mandates measures to prevent salmonella on eggshells during production, storage and transportation, like refrigeration of eggs or rodent-control efforts, to prevent an estimated 79,179 illnesses a year.
STOPPING DISTANCE FOR TRUCKS
Final rule, July 2009
Cost: At least $50 million a year. Savings: at least $169 million a year. New tractor-trailers will be required to be able to break from 60 m.p.h. to a complete stop within 250 feet, a 30 percent reduction, a change that is estimated to prevent 227 deaths annually and 300 serious injuries.
Final rule, October 2009
The first federal requirement to report and monitor greenhouse-gas emissions from about 10,000 industrial facilities representing 85 percent of such emissions in the United States.
The piece also talks about the upticks and generally favorable trends of inspection rates across agencies. FDA inspections are up significantly (still nowhere near what they should be, [example, example] but still headed in the right direction).
But what caught GAP’s eye today was the heavily-increasing number of inspections coming out of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC). That agency has the not-so-insignificant task of making sure products on store shelves don’t kill or significantly hurt people. Like toys from China with oodles of lead parts.