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Interview: Louis Lombardo on Whistleblowing and Vehicle Emissions

— October 3, 2016

I recently had the opportunity via e-mail to interview Louis Lombardo on whistleblowing and vehicle emissions. Lou is the publisher of Care For Crash Victims Reports and an advocate for the prevention of vehicle violence. This includes such issues as crashes, emissions damage and the failure of regulatory agencies to properly regulate the auto industry.

I recently had the opportunity via e-mail to interview Louis Lombardo on whistleblowing and vehicle emissions. Lou is the publisher of Care For Crash Victims Reports and an advocate for the prevention of vehicle violence. This includes such issues as crashes, emissions damage and the failure of regulatory agencies to properly regulate the auto industry.

The inspiration for this interview came from an e-mail Lou sent to his readers regarding a comment he’d made on a recent New York Times article, “Pardon Snowden.” As background for this interview, I’m including an excerpt from that e-mail.

“1. As a whistle blower in 1971, I was fired from EPA trying to warn that emission testing by the Nixon EPA was being rigged to benefit auto companies under Administrator William Ruckelshaus.

2. A recent MIT study found that all automotive emissions, not just diesel emissions, were estimated to be resulting in 53,000 early deaths each year in the U.S.A. today.

3. Last year, President Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom to William Ruckelshaus.

The e-mail continues, “I had made the three points above about my experience as a whistle blower. Within a couple of hours my comments were recommended by more than 150 readers. One reader replied saying that my comments were ‘the scariest post’ he had ever read.

Then the NY Times removed my comments and those of the people who had replied to my comments.”

His complaint to the NYT’s Editor, Dean Baquet, was ignored. Lou’s research into Mr. Baquet’s background with the NYT, he discovered that Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer, spoke of Mr. Baquet’s history as follows: “…Dean Baquet does have a really disturbing history of practicing this form of journalism that is incredibly subservient to the American national security state, and if his past record and his past actions and statements are anything to go by, I think it signals that the New York Times is going to continue to descend downward into this sort of journalism that is very neutered and far too close to the very political factions that it’s supposed to exercise oversight over.”

That mainstream news sources are selective about what they print should come as no surprise. The Times took this a step further by actively censoring Lou’s comments and those of the people who supported him. Now that we have some background established, let’s get into the interview.


JBI: Comparing you to Edward Snowden for a moment, the government’s actions toward whistleblowers seems to be getting worse and worse. I read the Environmental Action article from December 1971. It’s clear that your voice, raised for the safety of the people, threatened the establishment and that you paid dearly for it. The Times piece from which your comment was deleted bears out the same for Edward Snowden, to an even harsher degree. One assumes this is due to the nature of the information exposed. Yet, apples-to-apples, your whistleblowing had a more direct impact on the health and safety of the American people than did Snowden’s. Do you believe it’s merely that the issue of national security overshadows environmental and public health concerns? Is it that your experience and Mr. Snowden’s are separated by roughly three decades? Is it something else entirely?

LL: I find it difficult to compare my whistle blowing with Snowden’s. Based on my observations and comments I have heard other consumer groups, the Obama Administration is considered very disappointing regarding domestic policy matters that would involve regulating big businesses such as the auto industry.

JBI: Why do you think Pres. Obama awarded Ruckelshaus the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor possible? Especially given that its purpose is to recognize “those individuals who have made ‘an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.’” According to Wikipedia, Ruckelshaus did many positive things; however, as we’ve seen, the man also covered up shocking information regarding dangerous levels of pollution exposure. What possible political motivation do you think there was for such an action?

LL: Regarding the 1971 cover-up of rigging emission test procedures by Ruckelshaus, nearly two decades later we learned from the Nixon tapes that Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca met with Nixon in the White House and discussed the matter. [The transcript of that meeting is available here.]

JBI: Do you have reason to believe that the Obama administration and the EPA know about and are actively ignoring the recent MIT study?

LL: I do not know the current status of EPA consideration of the MIT study.

JBI: Other than the public ordeal of being fired, what else did you face in the form of retaliation, if anything, from our government?

LL: My firing was costly to my children and family. At an early age, the children lost much of my attention. It was as if I had been shipped off to war from 1971 – 1978. In 1978, I was hired by NHTSA.

JBI: Mr. Snowden is, obviously, on the government’s “watch list” to put it mildly. Yet, he continues to work for the people and has helped reshape the way the country, and the world, thinks about privacy. You, also a whistleblower, do remarkable work exposing the lies and corruption still present in the automotive industry and the government agencies responsible for regulating it. Both of you are likely doing more good now than you did in your governmental positions. Is our government so truly ignorant that it doesn’t realize this? Would it not have been more self-serving for the government to find ways to keep both of you on staff and “under control” or is that just impossible?

LL: I don’t believe the government is ignorant. It is captive of corporate interests. [Lou referenced a piece in the NYT on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) being controlled by the industry it was designed to regulate.]

JBI: Do you currently face any persecution from the government for your outspoken activism? Do they try to discredit you or silence you?

LL: As far as I know, NHTSA ignores my work finding it annoying.

JBI: The Whistleblower’s Protection Act (WPA) appears on its face to grant substantial protection for whistleblowers, however, the quasi-judicial agency, the Merit Systems Protection Board, uses administrative law judges who usually side with the government. Since 2000, the MSPB has ruled in favor of whistleblowers only three times out of fifty-six cases. The next step in the process, filing an appeal, doesn’t seem to be much better. According to a Government Accountability Project report, between 1994 and 2010, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found in favor of whistleblowers only three times out of 203 cases. Even the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs said, “the federal whistleblowers have seen their protections diminish in recent years, largely as a result of a series of decisions by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which has exclusive jurisdiction over many cases brought under the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). Specifically, the Federal Circuit has wrongly accorded a narrow definition to the type of disclosure that qualifies for whistleblower protection.” It would appear then, that there really isn’t any true protection for those who speak out against government wrongdoings. What is your opinion of the Whistleblower’s Protection Act?

LL: With regard to the WPA, my firing was before the WPA.

JBI: One could easily conclude that the lack of protection under the WPA would have a chilling effect on whistleblowers coming forward, which puts the American people at greater risk in a wide variety of situations, not just national security and vehicle emissions. Do you think this is the case? Obviously some brave men and women still put themselves at great personal risk to do the right thing, but if the WPA really worked, do you think that number would increase?

LL: Yes, I believe we all could be safer with a strong WPA.

JBI: You mentioned in an e-mail that you were watching two whistleblowers receive the Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage at the Nader Conference. Who were the recipients and what did they do? Did they experience retaliation or harassment from the government?

[At this point, Lou provided information on the Award as well as the recipients, Robert Maclean, a Federal Air Marshall and Lawrence Criscione, a Reliability & Risk Engineer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The award is presented by the Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest. Shafeek Nader was Ralph, Claire and Laura Nader’s older brother. He was also a “community advocate and the principal founder of Northwestern Connecticut Community College”.

From the Award’s website: “The Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage was established by Mr. Callaway in 1990. The Award recognizes individuals in any area of endeavor who, with integrity and at some personal risk, take a public stance to advance truth and justice, and who challenged prevailing conditions in pursuit of the common good. Toward this end, Mr. Callaway endowed The Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest with a special fund to administer this annual award honoring citizens for their civic courage.

Both Mr. MacLean and Mr. Criscione took such a public stance in their respective fields and both paid for standing up for the public’s right to know. They faced retaliation from their government employers. Mr. MacLean’s case was the first whistleblower case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2015, the SCOTUS ruled, 7 – 2, that Mr. MacLean’s firing was improper

Mr. MacLean exposed serious dysfunction within the Air Marshall program, including sensitive information that was sent to Marshalls about reduction in the number of Marshalls on planes via an unsecured text during a time of high alert.

Mr. Criscione revealed “a buried 1994 study by Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) engineers that concluded 22 nuclear power plants were structurally inadequate to withstand breaks from upstream dams… In light of the Fukushima disaster, which had less severe flooding than what would likely occur with a dam break, Mr. Criscione openly shared the report with Congressional oversight committees.”]

LL: [Lou concluded by saying] And yes they did suffer in various ways. Someone asked [at the Conference] what could be done to have made it better for them both. The answers both gave drew substantial applause: “Give all Whistle Blowers a Trial by Jury.” Jurors would see through the nonsense thrown at Whistle Blowers by agencies.

JBI: According to the MIT study, 53,000 people per year die earlier than expected directly due to vehicle emissions. What is needed, in your opinion, to get real change made to correct this situation?

LL: Real world emissions measurements on all vehicles must be made on the road by independent testers as was done in the discovery of the VW Diesel Deception. [JBI comment: As opposed to the current model of laboratory testing by automakers.]

JBI: What can we the American people (and the press) do to further the cause of correcting wrongs, such as the vehicle emissions problem? Obviously, we spread the word as much as we can. But the system seems to be rigged in favor of the government to such an extent that one wonders if we truly can effect change.

LL: Based on the Nader Conference, I believe lawyers need to work more with citizen groups and the media to get people informed and organized.

JBI: Is there anything else you would like to add on the subject of whistleblowing, advocacy, vehicle safety issues, etc.?

LL: I plan to propose options for the Nader organization in the next few weeks.

Logo courtesy of
Logo courtesy of

From the Care for Crash Victims website, its purpose is to:

“End Vehicle Violence. We currently are at a time when we have more safety technologies available than ever before in the history of humankind. We now have the ability to achieve zero deaths and serious injuries in, or by, new vehicles in a decade. And we are:

  • About to record our 4 millionth death due to vehicle violence in the U.S.A.
  • Losing 100 Americans to vehicle violence every average day in the US.A.
  • Experiencing 400 Americans suffering serious vehicle injuries per day,
  • Paying losses valued by NHTSA at $2 Billion per day in the U.S.A.

We need to build the political will to end vehicle violence in America. We can set a national Vision Zero Goal. In a decade we can put humans on the road and bring them back alive by ending vehicle violence – always, forevermore, for everyone.”

My thanks and appreciation goes out to Lou Lombardo for his time and for sharing his story and his thoughts on these important topics.

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