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Fla. official says he was punished for using ‘climate change’ in report

Bart Bibler said he was suspended and told to get a mental health evaluation after he refused to remove the term “climate change” from a report. (Courtesy of Bart Bibler)

Bart Bibler’s wife is angry. It’s late Thursday night in Tallahassee, Fla., and she just hung up the phone on another reporter pestering her husband with questions. Just stay quiet, she told him. Don’t say anything more. But Bibler couldn’t. He had to talk. He cared about the issue too much. The nation had to know what happened to him.

This month, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection suspended him, according to Bibler, a state land management plan coordinator, and ordered him to see a doctor before returning to work. This came as a surprise to Bibler who, according to his employee evaluation, was considered “exceptionally good” at his job. Even more surprising, Bibler said, was the reason he was suspended from the environmental agency.

It was about the words “climate change,” he said. Not the science. Not what Florida’s doing about it. Just the words. He had put them into a report. Then refused to take them out when he was told to.

In the agency’s view, he had been insubordinate, inserting his political views into his work. And the agency told the Tallahassee Democrat that he had not been suspended, but rather is on leave.

[Threatened by climate change, Florida reportedly bans term “climate change"]

He’s now sitting at home, wondering when he can get back to work. “I didn’t know there was any sort of ban on the subject or discussion,” Bibler told The Washington Post Thursday evening. He added: “We should be talking about climate change. If we can’t, that’s absurd. And it’s harming our future.”

The case marks the latest allegation that the Florida government, under the stewardship of climate-change skeptic Gov. Rick Scott (R), has tried to expunge the words “climate change” and “global warming” from official correspondence. News of the alleged ban, originally reported by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, quickly went viral this month in large part because Florida is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

In several interviews with The Post and other news organizations, Scott’s office and other Florida officials have repeatedly denied that there is any policy — unwritten or otherwise — that forbids the use of those phrases.

But some former employees, and now one current one, said that’s not the case. One former official, Kristina Trotta, told The Post earlier this month she couldn’t believe it when she was told she couldn’t use words like “global warming.” “It was a surprise given what a clear threat climate change is to coral reefs and also to the state of Florida in general,” she said. And another, scientist Elizabeth Radke, who got her PhD at the University of Florida, said she had to remove the words “climate change” from a state report on climate change.

[Fla. scientist told to remove words ‘climate change’ from study on climate change]

And now there’s Bibler. He claims he was suspended and ordered to see a mental professional after he refused to remove the words “climate change” from a report he did on a staff meeting. The state’s position, however, is that he was “disrespectful, unprofessional” — and he had misrepresented the meeting.

Both sides agree the disagreement began during a teleconference. The meeting, held weeks ago, featured a discussion that centered on “habitat and imperiled species and changes to sea level rise,” Bibler told The Post. The conference call discussed a few reports that dealt with climate change, Bibler said. Bibler said he also discussed the Keystone XL Pipeline, offering a negative prognosis of what he said it will do to Florida, and was told to refrain from making further “outbursts.”

Afterward, Bibler filed the minutes he had taken on the meeting to his boss. And that’s when things got hairy. A written reprimand soon arrived. He was accused of misrepresenting the meeting in question and imposing his own “political agenda” on it it by talking about the pipeline and climate change, expressing his “opinion that the Keystone XL pipeline, if built, would further jeopardize the stability of our climate, which would also negatively impact the state of Florida.”

When asked to amend the report, Bibler said he refused. He refiled the report — along with an attachment showing an anti-Keystone symbol — with the climate change verbiage unchanged. Bibler was then suspended for two days and told to get a mental health exam before returning to work, according to the Public Employees for Environmental Protection, an advocacy group that has taken up his case.

The allegations, according to Bibler’s supporters in the environmental movement, suggest that he was suspended because the Department of Environmental Protection is willing to go to great lengths — even suspend an employee they admit is “exceptionally good” — to distance themselves from “climate change.” The charges also speak to the fear some employees have at getting caught using those words.

Radke, the scientist who got her PhD at the University of Florida, spoke of this fear. She was concerned about a colleague, who was a co-author on her climate-change report and is still employed by the state. She asked The Post to refrain from publishing his name. He’s up for a promotion, she said, and she didn’t want to endanger it.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection declined to comment on the case, according to the Palm Beach Post. But a spokesman did have this to say: “There’s no such policy banning the use of ‘climate change.'”