Bush EPA Official Admits Helping Developer Destroy Wetlands

In a move that places him squarely in the pantheon of Republican environmental “watchdogs,” Jimmy Palmer, chief of the southeastern region for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, testified against the agency and on behalf of a former client – a real estate developer – in a criminal trial. Under oath, Palmer, whose title is Regional Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 4 Office, admitted advising the client to ignore EPA cease and desist orders regarding a real estate development in a wetlands area.

According to information released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Palmer peppered his testimony with criticisms of the EPA. Meanwhile, his former client, an unscrupulous developer who bucked the EPA, Mississippi state government and even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was found guilty.

Palmer was selected by President Bush to oversee EPA operations in the eight-state Southeastern Region in October 2001 and was sworn in following Senate confirmation the following January. At the time of his selection, Palmer was the lawyer for a Mississippi developer named Robert Lucas who sought Palmer’s help in subdividing land and installing septic tanks in a 2600-acre development called Big Hills Acres.

In March 2005, after a jury trial, Lucas was convicted for misrepresenting the habitability of the lots and installing septic systems in saturated wetland soils at Big Hill Acres, despite warnings from the state Department of Health that doing so created a public health threat. Lucas also ignored numerous warnings, as well as cease and desist orders, from both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA because the deteriorating systems threatened to contaminate the local drinking water aquifer.

At the trial, Lucas called Palmer as a defense witness. Palmer, testifying on his own time under subpoena, confirmed his role in advising Lucas in how to sell lots for development despite official cease and desist orders. Palmer also admitted that he regarded EPA staff as “unethical” and overzealous in enforcing the Clean Water Act and aggressively resisted earlier enforcement efforts.

PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noted that during Palmer’s tenure the EPA has not vetoed a single development project for wetlands violations, or any other reason. There is little chance that trend will change in the southeastern region.

In his official capacity as EPA Regional Administrator, Palmer now has before him more than a score of questionable mega-projects that would destroy thousands of wetlands acres in endangered species habitat in order to build projects such as gated golf-course luxury condominium complexes. Palmer has signaled that he will greenlight every project, despite concerns about violations of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws that Palmer and his agency are supposed to be enforcing.

Read the trial transcript and supporting documents here.

Read Jimmy Palmer’s resume here.


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