Washington, DC, Dec. 20, 2018 — The federal government’s leading expert on the human health impacts of climate change is the target of a wide-ranging reprisal campaign which began days after the Trump inauguration. He has been gagged, reassigned, had his program dismantled, and has been subjected to a welter of seemingly farcical charges, as detailed in documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Dr. George Luber, an epidemiologist, is Chief of the Climate and Health Program, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). He had been the very public face of climate science at CDC, frequently appearing on TV news and speaking at professional conferences. He is the lead author for the Fourth National Climate Assessment’s Chapter on Human Health, released last month, and was also the lead author for a report the U.S. Supreme Court cited in its seminal 2007 ruling that greenhouse gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
In February 2017, CDC cancelled, over his objections, a symposium Dr. Luber was slated to host featuring Al Gore. He was then directed to stop using the phrase “climate change” and forbidden from responding to any further media or congressional inquiries.
In March 2018, CDC revoked his badge, phone, and credentials, placing him on a BOLO (be on the lookout) list as a security risk, barring him from entering the facility except under armed guard and with prior approval, and then only to retrieve materials. Every time he goes to his office, Dr. Luber and his car are thoroughly searched in front of his colleagues.
“CDC is deliberately humiliating and degrading a prominent researcher because of the subject matter of his work,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Kevin Bell, noting that Dr. Luber’s Climate Heath Program has also been collapsed into a larger Community Health program, with no mention of climate change in its title. “To please new political masters, CDC has exiled climate science to an organizational penal colony.”
The pressure on Dr. Luber continues to mount. In a letter dated October 22, 2018, CDC Environmental Health Center Director Patrick Breysse (the same official who ordered Dr. Luber to stop using the term “climate change”) proposed his removal based upon an alleged failure to obtain permission to author a 2015 book, give lectures at Emory University, and a kitchen sink list of more than 30 other charges. Dr. Luber provided a detailed refutation of all these charges concerning which he was never previously interviewed. In his prior 16 years at CDC, Dr. Luber has had a spotless record.
This week, after a reporter made inquiries, Mr. Breysse abruptly rescinded the removal and indicated in an email to Dr. Luber: “This is to inform you that I have received your response dated November 20, 2018 regarding the ‘Proposal to Remove’ memo addressed to you on dated October 22, 2018. After reading your response and thoughtful consideration, I will rescind the ‘proposal for removal’ memo and provide you with a new notice of disciplinary or adverse action in the future.”
“While we’re pleased with the withdrawal of the proposed removal, Dr. Luber is still facing restrictions on his ability to work freely in his field,” added Bell, who is part of the PEER legal team representing Dr. Luber. “PEER will be taking action to secure the recovery of his program, the restoration of his job duties, and his ability to communicate about the health aspects of climate change to the public.”
Until news of Breysse’s reversal, PEER had been preparing to pursue a complaint with the OSC charging violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act. The complaint focused on CDC’s illegal retaliation for his protesting illegal diversion of climate science funding and staffing, documenting the public health dangers springing from national inaction against climate change, and pointing out violations of CDC’s own Scientific Integrity Policy.