Federal judge calls EPA head's post 9/11 conduct "conscience-shocking".

Friday, February 3, 2006

Federal judge, Judge Deborah A. Batts refused to grant former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head, Christine Todd Whitman, immunity from a class-action lawsuit brought by people in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. The suit seeks to hold Whitman personally liable for her actions as EPA administrator and the suit claims that thousands of people (including children) were "unnecessarily exposed" to airborne asbestos and other hazardous substances.

"Whitman's deliberate and misleading statements made to the press, where she reassured the public that the air was safe to breathe around lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, and that there would be no health risk presented to those returning to those areas, shock the conscience," the judge said in her 83-page ruling. "Shock the conscience" is a legal standard that lawsuits must meet to hold U.S. government officials personally responsible for their actions.

"No reasonable person would have thought that telling thousands of people that it was safe to return to lower Manhattan, while knowing that such return could pose long-term health risks and other dire consequences, was conduct sanctioned by our laws," Batts said. The statements by Whitman came two days after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City that brought down the twin World Trade Towers.

Batts noted that the EPA and Whitman repeatedly reassured residents that the air seemed safe to breathe. The EPA's own internal watchdog discovered that the agency gave misleading assurances apparently at the urging of White House officials.

Bloomberg News states that calls to Whitman's consulting firm and to the EPA weren't immediately returned.