EPA tells workers to tone down YouTube clip about climate bill

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Two Environmental Protection Agency lawyers who made a YouTube video calling current climate legislation a "huge mistake" were told by the agency to remove the clip and edit out some references to their employer, one of them said.

Allan Zabel and Laurie Williams, a husband and wife who have worked in the EPA's San Francisco office for more than 20 years, have been outspoken in their opposition to a "cap and trade" system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

That system -- in which companies may buy and sell the right to pollute -- is at the heart of a climate bill passed by the House this summer, and another under consideration in the Senate.

On Oct. 31, the two made their case in an opinion piece in The Washington Post, saying the bill was fatally flawed by the inclusion of unreliable "carbon offsets," and would "lock in climate degradation" instead of solving it.

A few days later, Williams said, they were approached by EPA ethics officials. She said the officials demanded they take down a YouTube video they had posted in September that made many of the same points.

In the video, Zabel says none of their statements should be construed as an official position of the EPA or the Obama administration. But Williams said the EPA wanted them to further play down their federal connections. The officials said they could repost the video, she said, if they removed a mention of the length of their experience at EPA.

Another comment, in which Zabel said he oversees a cap-and-trade system for smog-causing pollutants in California, also had to go, she said. In addition, the agency said they had to take out a photo of the EPA's San Francisco office building.

The EPA cited a federal regulation that says government employees may note their official position when making statements on their own time -- as long as their title is "given no more prominence than other significant biographical details."

Williams said the pair have taken down their video, although it was reposted by an environmental group.

She said they intend to make the required edits over Thanksgiving -- when the 19-year-old who helped them make the video is home from college.

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