Thursday, April 24, 2008

EPA's Whitman not liable for statements about 9/11 air quality

A federal appeals court has dismissed a suit against the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, ruling that Christie Whitman can not be held liable for giving the false information that the air was safe to breathe following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Many firefighters, including those working on the Incident Management Teams at the scene, were affected by the contaminated air while working on the recovery and clean-up in New York City.

More information from the New York Times:

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that Mrs. Whitman, a former governor of New Jersey, was forced to balance competing interests after the attack. The court found that complying with instructions from the White House to hasten the return of financial workers to Wall Street as soon as possible after the World Trade Center was destroyed conflicted with Mrs. Whitman’s obligation to highlight the health risks facing people who lived, worked or went to school in Lower Manhattan.

“Whether or not Whitman’s resolution of such competing considerations was wise,” the court said, “she has not engaged in conduct that ‘shocks the conscience’ in the sense necessary to create constitutional liability for damages to thousands of people.”

In February 2006, Judge Deborah A. Batts of Federal District Court in Manhattan refused to dismiss a range of charges brought by residents against Mrs. Whitman in 2004. Judge Batts found that Mrs. Whitman made statements about safety that were so misleading that they were “conscience-shocking.”

The plaintiffs alleged that Mrs. Whitman and the environmental agency she led had deliberately misrepresented the health risks of the dust from the collapsed trade towers that clouded the air in Lower Manhattan.

In their lawsuit, they argued that Mrs. Whitman should have been obligated to pay for the cleanup of homes, schools and offices in Lower Manhattan.

In her defense, Mrs. Whitman argued that as a public official she was entitled to immunity because her conduct had not violated anyone’s constitutional rights.

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