[Marxism] Obama's energy czar unsympathetic to complaints about racism in the EPA

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 29 18:12:58 MST 2008

Friday, Feb. 23, 2001
How the EPA Was Made to Clean Up Its Own Stain — Racism
By Jack White

Inside Marsha Coleman-Adebayo there's a streak of Rosa Parks. 
Certainly, her decade-long struggle to clean up the racially toxic 
atmosphere at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could make history.

Thanks to her refusal to accept second-class treatment at the EPA, 
Congress will soon debate the first new civil rights law of the 21st 
century. NOFEAR — the Notification and Federal Employee 
Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2001 — would make federal 
agencies more accountable when they are found guilty of 
discriminating against their employees or trying to silence 
whistleblowers. It would make them more accountable by requiring them 
to pay the costs of discrimination and retaliation cases they lose 
out of their own budgets instead of a government-wide slush fund.

Its original cosponsors are one of the more unlikely political odd 
couples ever seen in Congress: ultra-conservative Wisconsin 
Republican James Sensenbrenner and hyper-liberal Texas Democrat 
Shiela Jackson-Lee. Though they rarely agree on anything, 
Sensenbrenner and Jackson-Lee say Coleman-Adebayo's testimony at a 
congressional hearing last fall brought them together on the need for 
the law. Her story, says Sensenbrenner, made it abundantly clear that 
new laws "with teeth in them" were required to make the EPA clean up its act.

For Coleman-Adebayo, an MIT-trained political scientist who had held 
a string of impressive jobs at the United Nations and World Wildlife 
Fund, her first two years at the EPA during the administration of 
Bush the Elder were like laboring on a "21st-century plantation." 
During her earliest days on the job, "I got a very clear sense that I 
wasn't welcome," she recalls. Just how unwelcome became clear two 
years later on the eve of Bill Clinton's inaugural. A senior EPA 
executive told her that she could attend a routine staff meeting only 
because "we consider you an honorary white man."

Racial pollution is allowed to fester

The gibe came as a terrible shock. "I was humiliated. I was 
embarrassed," she says, still fuming about the incident. "I didn't go 
to the EPA to be the butt of racially insensitive remarks." But she 
thought those days were over when President Clinton in early 1993 
selected Carol Browner, a noted liberal who had worked as an aide to 
Al Gore, as the EPA's new administrator. "I was pleased to see a 
woman with a reputation for being sensitive to civil rights issues 
become administrator," says Coleman-Adebayo, 48. "I thought she would 
start a dialogue about the abuses that were occurring inside the 
agency and try to correct them."

That was not to be. Instead of cleaning up the agency's racial 
pollution, says Coleman-Adebayo, Browner allowed it to fester. "She 
wasn't at all sympathetic to complaints about civil rights abuses," 
says Coleman-Adebayo. "We were treated like Negroes, to use a polite 
term. We were put in our place." In Coleman-Adebayo's case, that 
meant that even though her work as one of the EPA's representatives 
to the United Nations conference on women held in Beijing in 1995 won 
praise from Hillary Clinton and Browner herself, she got neither a 
raise nor a promised promotion.

After learning that she had been the only person on the otherwise 
all-white professional staff of the Office of International Affairs 
who did not receive an outstanding performance evaluation or annual 
bonus, Coleman-Adebayo filed a discrimination complaint with the 
EPA's office of civil rights. "And that," says Coleman-Adebayo, "is 
when the ceiling fell down on my head."

In short order, she says, her fulfilling work with the women's 
conference was taken away. Her white supervisor told her in an annual 
performance evaluation that "people just consider you to be uppity."

Then she was appointed executive secretary of a bilateral commission 
working group on environmental issues co-chaired by Vice President 
Gore and South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, but not given the resources she 
needed to fulfill her duties. "The harassment really intensified," 
says Coleman-Adebayo. "We couldn't get any funding for projects. I 
couldn't get permission to travel to South Africa to meet with my 
counterparts there. It got so bad that the South African government 
offered to send me a plane ticket because they needed me to be at 
some meetings."

A large financial settlement

But for all the obstacles put in her way, Coleman-Adebayo couldn't 
believe that a top official of an administration hailed for its 
sensitivity to blacks would countenance such misconduct. Her lawyer 
sent Browner a letter in March 1997, declaring that Coleman-Adebayo 
thought that Browner was being "deliberately kept out of the loop" 
about the "crude and ham-fisted" treatment she was receiving from a 
network of "good old boys" who dominated the agency's middle 
management. She got back a letter from Browner's chief of staff 
saying that since Coleman-Adebayo's complaint was under 
investigation, Browner wouldn't discuss it. Frustrated, 
Coleman-Adebayo went to court. Last summer a jury in Washington found 
the EPA guilty of discriminating against her and awarded her $600,000 
in damages (since reduced by the judge to $300,000).

A considerable victory. But Coleman-Adebayo's real triumph was in 
casting a spotlight on the bigotry that had festered inside many 
government departments under both Republicans and Democrats. For all 
Clinton's public embrace of black concerns, his administration did 
not work more effectively to clean up the mess than its do-nothing predecessor.

And as word of Coleman-Adebayo's case spread, scores of EPA workers 
came forward with tales of mistreatment at the hands of white 
supervisors. Among them was Anita Nickens, an EPA environmental 
specialist who tearfully described how, at a 1993 EPA event at which 
she was the only black employee present, she was ordered to clean up 
a toilet in anticipation of Browner's arrival. To make matters worse, 
Nickens recalled, her white supervisor later bragged about it to 
others. An association of 150 aggrieved employees is exploring filing 
a class-action discrimination suit against the EPA similar to those 
that have already been aimed at the FBI, Secret Service, Agriculture 
Department and other agencies.

At last October's congressional hearing, Browner, at times appearing 
close to tears, boasted that during her tenure minority 
representation in EPA's most senior ranks had more than tripled. But 
she could not explain why the EPA managers who discriminated against 
Coleman-Adebayo were still on the job and in some cases had even been promoted.

If the new Bush regime is serious about reaching out to blacks, it 
should join Sensenbrenner and Jackson-Lee to push for NOFEAR's 
enactment. The administration took a good first step earlier this 
month when the new EPA leader, former New Jersey governor Christie 
Todd Whitman, honored Browner's pledge that the EPA would not fight 
the verdict in Coleman-Adebayo's lawsuit.

That's one way of ensuring that no one ever has to go through an 
ordeal like hers again.

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