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#315 - Al Gore Takes On The WTI Incinerator, 08-Dec-1992

Earlier this week, Vice-President-elect Al Gore weighed in heavily on
the side of citizens fighting the WTI incinerator in East Liverpool,
Ohio. On Monday Mr. Gore announced that he and 5 other senators have
asked the General Accounting Office (GAO)--an investigative arm of the
Congress--to make a thorough examination of WTI, to answer nagging
questions about the safety of its huge incinerator, and about the
illegality of permits it received from the Bush-Quayle EPA [U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency] for construction and operation. (See
RHWN #287.) Mr. Gore said the new Clinton-Gore administration will not
give WTI a test burn permit until all questions have been
satisfactorily answered.[1]

It appears to be a major victory for citizen activists who mounted a
steadily-escalating campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience to stop
WTI. A total of 182 people have been arrested so far in the campaign,
which is not over.[2] At a rally November 22, hundreds of people were
lined up in the cold rain waiting their turn to climb over the fence
onto WTI's property, when the police intervened. No doubt those people
remain ready to act whenever necessary. Two young women, local leader
Terri Swearingen, 36, and Greenpeace staff member Beth Newman, 32,
still face serious contempt-of-court charges for urging others to break
the law at the plant gate. They could both be fined several thousand
dollars and be jailed for months or longer.

A multi-racial coalition of citizens from Ohio, West Virginia and
Pennsylvania has fought for 12 years to stop the WTI hazardous waste
incinerator, the largest ever built. With extralegal and even illegal
help from Vice-President Quayle's Council on Competitiveness,[3] and
George Bush's EPA and Department of Justice, both of which went to bat
for WTI AGAINST the local citizenry on several occasions, construction
was completed in June, 1992, and the machine now stands poised to burn
176,000 tons of liquid hazardous wastes each year, plus 83,000 tons per
year of inorganic wastes,[2] on a flood plain immediately adjacent to
the Ohio River, 100 yards from a residential neighborhood, 400 yards
from an elementary school, in a valley known for its stagnant air.

A spokesman for the WTI incinerator said Mr. Gore's actions would not
affect their plans for burning waste, or for conducting a test burn,
now scheduled for January. Thus the Clinton administration appears to
be on a collision course with the operator of the plant, a subsidiary
of the Swiss company, Von Roll, Inc., best known in the U.S. for its
part in manufacturing a Supergun for Iraq.

The NEW YORK TIMES, which ran the story in its business section,
observed that this is the first environmental policy decision of the
Clinton-Gore administration. The TIMES said it signals two things:
first, that Mr. Gore will have a leading role in setting environmental
priorities; and second that the new administration intends to enforce
environmental laws aggressively.[4] Indeed, Gore's press statement on
Monday was couched in law-and-order terms: "Gore's request follows
efforts by the Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania lawmakers over
several years to persuade government regulators to comply with state
and federal environmental laws."

But Gore's action Monday may signal more than a get-tough-on-crooks
attitude. It may indicate that Messrs. Gore and Clinton intend to try
to rehabilitate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its
partner in misfeasance, the U.S. Department of Justice, and thus to
continue the endless duel between corporate crime and government eco-
police.

Rebuilding the government's eco-police force will prove to be an uphill
struggle, particularly at EPA where many Reagan-Bush ideologues are now
entrenched in jobs protected by civil service laws.

Even though it has 18,000 employees and an annual operating budget of
$4.5 billion,[5] EPA is only a shell of a regulatory agency. Its main
function for the past decade has been to shovel taxpayers' money into
the pockets of private contractors, known affectionately in Washington
as "beltway bandits."

For the past decade, the effect of White House policy has been to drive
out good people and replace them with functionaries. Today EPA has few
talented, committed employees left, and fewer still who are competent
managers. Today many employees simply look upon the agency as a place
to do time while awaiting an opportunity for a lucrative trip through
the revolving door. Nearly all of EPA's substantive work is now
conducted by private contractors, many of whom do shoddy work for which
they charge high fees. Of course EPA is not alone in this.
"Privatization" has been the hallmark of the Reagan and Bush
administrations, and it has proven to be an expensive failure. As the
NEW YORK TIMES said last week, "In several agencies, particularly the
Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, contractors are
performing virtually all the work."[6] In fact, a report released last
week by the White House Office of Management and Budget [OMB] said the
problem is "endemic across all the civilian agencies." OMB said their
investigation revealed a "culture" of federal agencies eager to award
contracts but reluctant to supervise them. Result: "Contractors are
squandering vast sums," the TIMES said in summarizing the OMB report
which concluded that untold billions of dollars of taxpayers' money has
been wasted and spent illegally by private contractors on parties,
vacations, and sporting events. In almost every instance where auditors
looked, they found problems with contracts. For example, CH2M Hill, an
Oregon company that supervises the cleanup of hundreds of Superfund
dumps for the EPA, and more recently for the Department of Energy,
billed the government for parties, country club fees for employees and
the use of a corporate airplane, all of which are illegal. In defense
of his company, Lyle Hassebrook, president of CH2M Hill, said he is
"very proud of our accomplishments" and denied all wrongdoing.

The problem isn't merely wasted money. The work of contractors is often
shoddy. For example, the TIMES reported last week, "The Government
spends between $500 million and $1 billion annually to determine the
levels of toxic materials in soil and water and is becoming concerned
that the results are meaningless. In the last four years, in the
E.P.A.'s Superfund program to clean abandoned waste sites, the
Government has successfully prosecuted six laboratories and 17
individuals for fraud, and three dozen other laboratories are under
investigation."[6]

The TIMES says EPA has so little in-house talent left that it cannot
function without contractors. Indeed earlier this year a contractor was
paid $20,000 to prepare the official response to a Congressional report
that criticized the EPA's improper use of contractors.[7]

The Clinton-Gore administration will have a lot of rebuilding to do, if
they want to create even the APPEARANCE of a competent environmental
protection agency. But they should ask whether it would be worth the
trouble. Let's face it: Even in their heyday, the ecopolice could not
even slow, much less stop, the poisoning of America. Something much
more fundamental than a refurbished EPA will be needed.

In truth, we need something as fundamental as an amendment to the
Constitution, declaring that a corporation is not a natural person, and
is not protected by the Bill of Rights and the 14th amendment. This
would begin to level the playing field in the struggle between
predatory corporate marauders and ordinary Americans. Corporations only
became "natural persons" under the law when the Supreme Court declared
them such in 1886, so we are merely suggesting a return to America's
past. Earlier generations of Americans feared corporate power, and now
it clear their fears were justified.

To succeed in protecting the environment, the Clinton-Gore
administration (and the traditional environmental movement) will have
to admit that our problems go much deeper than mere regulatory failure.
Few dare speak of it, but let's be candid: the problem is a cor-porate
culture that expects to get rich off government handouts in return for
shoddy work or no work at all. The real welfare queens are the likes of
Westinghouse, GE, Boeing, Silverado Savings & Loan, General Dynamics,
and Rockwell International. The defense industry is justifiably famous
for its $600 toilet seats, but now that mentality permeates many, if
not most, large corporations. The standard rule seems to be: If the law
is in the way, bend it and, when necessary, break it. A corollary is:
If human lives are endangered, hire a consultant to complete a risk
assessment, then push ahead with the project.

These are not problems that will be solved by buffing up the EPA's
image, or even rebuilding its scientific and managerial talent. There
is a fundamental imbalance of power in America, which threatens not
only our democracy but now even our lives. Many corporations are larger
and more powerful than all federal agencies combined. As global
competition puts a squeeze on America's traditional way of doing
business (see Robert Reich's WORK OF NATIONS, for example), the urge
becomes stronger to cut corners and to save a dollar by trashing the
environment. Without fundamental reform, things will continue to go
downhill at an accelerating pace.

WE APPLAUD AL GORE'S MOVE AGAINST WTI. HE HAS DONE THE RIGHT THING. LET
US HOPE THAT IT PRESAGES A FUNDAMENTAL RE-THINKING OF POWER
RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN CORPORATE AMERICA AND ORDINARY PEOPLE.

--Peter Montague, Ph.D.

=====

[1] Press statement from U.S. Senator Al Gore dated December 7, 1992. 2
pages. Available by fax from the senator's office at (202) 224-4944.

[2] Ellen Connett, "WTI's Hazardous Waste Incinerator in East
Liverpool, Ohio: Von Roll's Supergun 2," WASTE NOT #217 (November,
1992), pgs. 1-2. WASTE NOT is published weekly by Ellen and Paul
Connett, 82 Judson St., Canton, NY 13617; $40/year. Phone: (315) 379-
9200.

[3] T.C. Brown, "WTI Sought Quayle's Aid," CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER
August 5, 1992, pg. 4-C.

[4] Keith Schneider, "Gore Says Clinton Will Try to Halt Waste
Incinerator," NEW YORK TIMES Dec. 7, 1992, pgs. A1, D9.

[5] Peter Brimelow and Leslie Spencer, "'You Can't Get There From
Here,'" FORBES July 6, 1992, pgs. 59-64.

[6] Keith Schneider, "U.S. Admits Waste In Its Contracts; Study Says
Unsupervised Jobs Cost Government Billions," NEW YORK TIMES December 2,
1992, pgs. A1, D24.

[7] Keith Schneider, "For the Government, Contractors Have Special
rates," NEW YORK TIMES December 6, 1992, pg. E2.

Descriptor terms: al gore; bill clinton; wti; east liverpool, oh; oh;
citizen groups; gao; congress; air pollution; epa; superfund; hazardous
waste incineration; waste disposal technologies; waste treatment
technologies;