Former EPA Chief Refuses to Testify On Post-9/11 Air Quality

Christine Todd Whitman, the former administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, has refused to testify before a congressional subcommittee, regarding the government's handling of the air quality at the World Trade Center site following the 9/11 attacks.

In refusing to testify, Whitman's attorney cited that the former New Jersey governor is named as a defendant in two lawsuits involving her statements on air quality following the attacks.

Her attorney, Joel Kobert, also said in a letter to the subcommittee that Whitman "would be unlikely to assist the Subcommittee on this subject" because she is not a lawyer.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, said today he will continue to "strongly urge her to cooperate" and to appear at the hearing.  He added he hoped he would not have to resort to the "compulsory process."

"I would strongly urge the Administration to encourage her appearance, given her absolutely central role in these matters, so that the American people may finally hear her direct answers to lingering, unanswered questions about the federal government's failed response to the environmental aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks," said Rep. Nadler.

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On Sept. 18, 2001, then-EPA head Whitman released a statement declaring the results from air monitoring tests in New York showed "their air is safe to breathe."

Almost two years later, the EPA's inspector general released a report concluding the EPA's assurances were based on preliminary test results. The report also said that EPA press releases were softened under pressure from the White House.

Since then, multiple studies have documented health problems amongst 9/11 emergency responders and workers. One study released last year by Mount Sinai Hospital in New York showed more than 70 percent of Ground Zero workers suffered health ailments or severe respiratory problems.

An appeals court ruled last month that one of the lawsuit's against Whitman, brought by a small number of government employees, could not go forward because the EPA chief could not be held constitutionally liable for her statements in the wake of the disaster.

"Officials might default to silence in the face of the public's urgent need for information," warned Judge Dennis Jacobs.

That recent ruling may also affect a class-action suit that has been brought against Whitman by residents of lower Manhattan.

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