EPA by day, “Chicken Man” at the ballpark by night

Watching the World Series? Look for Hugh Kaufman—famous EPA whistleblower—trying to fluster the Astros with rubber chickens

I won't think less of you if you aren't familiar with Bacon's Law. It's based on the parlor game theory that any two people on Earth are linked to each other through six people or fewer.


Somehow, the actor Kevin Bacon reluctantly became the standard of measure for this.

Two celebrities, in different fields and 35 years apart, have a remarkable Kevin Bacon Score of one: Anne Gorsuch, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator who resigned in scandal in 1983; and Max Scherzer, ace right-hander of the Washington Nationals and the greatest heterochromic ballplayer of all time (feel free to look it up here), are linked by one person.

Scherzer was the winning pitcher in Tuesday's opening game of the World Series in Houston. Tonight marks the first World Series game in Washington, DC since 1933. Seated in the front row, behind the Nats' dugout, will be arguably the most illustrious Washington Nats fan: The Chicken Man, Hugh Kaufman.

In 1983, the controversial Gorsuch was forced to resign, and a top aide, Rita Lavelle, was sent to the slammer for perjury – based largely on the deeds of arguably the biggest government whistleblower of all time, Hugh Kaufman.

In 1983, Kaufman was a mid-level EPA employee with a reputation as a stickler on enforcing environmental law. Top EPA officials – both Republicans and Democrats — found him to be a major irritant.

In 2019, he'll be taunting the visiting Astros while brandishing a rubber chicken. Kaufman first attended major league games when the Washington Senators played at rickety Griffith Stadium in the 1940's. After a four-year stint in the Air Force, Capt. Kaufman joined EPA in 1971 – the Agency's first full year, and the Senators' last one in Washington.

As an analyst and investigator, Kaufman had a major hand in a parade of the EPA's early headline-making ventures: Today, listing the cleanups at Love Canal and Times Beach or the creation of the Superfund program reads like a list of Civil War battles. When Kaufman famously hauled a boxload of documents before Congressional investigators, the Gorsuch goose was cooked. Hugh Kaufman had a star turn as a Washington celebrity.

Kaufman did not endear himself to any EPA Administrator or White House staff. He criticized Jimmy Carter's administration for inaction on the Love Canal disaster in 1979, and the George W. Bush White House for an alleged coverup of toxic threats in the ruins of the World Trade Center in 2001. EPA Administrator Christine Whitman was so furious that she tried to eliminate Kaufman's job.

It was one of many attempts to bury Kaufman, who, at age 76 still punches the clock at EPA headquarters, next door to the Trump International Hotel and five subway stops from Nationals Park.

Despite the uproar over EPA's abrupt turn away from its regulatory mission, Kaufman was polite in assessing the Agency's current boss in a recent interview with EHN. He said Administrator Andrew Wheeler is "a nice guy, but off the political mainstream."

"He's a lobbyist, doing what he was hired to do," Kaufman continued. Wheeler represented the coal industry, and has been an uncommonly friendly regulator for them. By contrast, Kaufman had little regard for Wheeler's predecessor. Scott Pruitt resigned in 2018 after a parade of petty scandals involving personal expenses and misuse of staff time.

What's up with the chicken?

In 2005, the Montreal Expos fled an indifferent fan base and brought baseball back to Washington for the first time in 34 years. At first, the Washington Nationals struggled, just like their baseball ancestors did almost every season in Hugh Kaufman's youth.

As a charter Nats fan, Kaufman sought to help by borrowing an idea from the classic baseball movie Major League. But sacrificing a live chicken is frowned upon in Major League ballparks, so Kaufman beheaded the rubber variety. It caught on -- with the proviso that the Chicken Man recycles and reuses his petroleum-based props rather than offing a new one each game.

Kaufman will be working his two jobs on Friday: Toiling away for the Federal government by day, waving a chicken for the Nats by night.

He says it brings "good juju" and "ward(s) off evil spirits."

The night job, that is. For the day job, we're gonna need a bigger chicken.

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