Sidelined CDC climate chief to file whistleblower complaint

The former head of the Climate and Health Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to file a whistleblower complaint, E&E News has learned.

The complaint will allege the CDC retaliated against George Luber for speaking out on climate change and for raising concerns that the agency was shifting climate funds to other programs. It is expected to be filed this week.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility had previously prepared to take Luber's case to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel last year after he was barred from his office. In an account posted online in December, PEER said Luber has been "gagged, reassigned, had his program dismantled, and has been subjected to a welter of seemingly farcical charges."

The Climate and Health Program launched in 2009 under the wing of the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH). Shortly after Trump took office, the CDC canceled a long-planned conference on climate change, a move that Luber opposed. The summit was later revived through a privately funded effort (E&E News PM, Jan. 26, 2017).

In 2017, the climate and health program was folded into the asthma branch of the NCEH. The CDC said plans for reorganization began in 2016 as a way to "streamline critical activities and allow greater collaboration between subject matter experts."

Luber raised concerns at the time that the move would inevitably cause the $10 million set aside by Congress for the climate program to be used instead for asthma activities. NCEH administrators did not respond, according to PEER.

In 2018, Luber was briefly named the acting branch chief of the newly formed Asthma and Community Health Branch. He held that position for less than a month before he was placed on administrative leave due to "troubling allegations."

The allegations included charges of improper timekeeping and failing to get approval for teaching a class at Emory University. Luber's boss had proposed firing him but later backed down after receiving Luber's response.

PEER staff counsel Kevin Bell said Luber is still employed at the CDC and still holds his official title. However, he is not allowed at his former office unsupervised, and he works from home five days a week. Bell said that when Luber does go to the office, he is accompanied by an armed escort.

"He was one of the world's leading experts of the public health impacts of climate change," Bell said. "He has essentially been gagged at the agency."

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone sent a letter in July requesting a CDC briefing by Aug. 12 on why the climate program was folded into the asthma branch. In the letter, the New Jersey Democrat expressed concern that the action could "undermine the program's important mission to counter the public health effects of climate change."

The committee's press office said today the chairman has yet to receive a formal response.

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