22. THE PROFITABLE REVOLVING DOOR AT THE EPA
When William Ruckelshaus resigned as head of the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) about five years ago, his salary was $72,600 a year. Since taking
over as chief executive officer at Browning-Ferris Industries, of Houston, his
salary has jumped to a guaranteed minimum of $1 million annually. In addition,
he is assured of far more than that in incentive bonuses and the exercise of options
to buy up to one million shares of Browning-Ferris stock.
is a giant waste-management firm and Ruckelshaus is just the best known member
of an expanding class of former EPA professionals now employed in the booming
waste disposal industry. Typically, they have gone to work for companies that
are prospering from contracts with the agency's multi-billion dollar Superfund
program to clean up hazardous dumps. In addition to his long EPA experience, Ruckelshaus
has easy access to President George Bush who looked to him for environmental policy
advice during his campaign. He has been a mentor to the current EPA chief, William
Reilly. And at Browning-Ferris, he provides a profile of moral rectitude to a
company in frequent trouble as a price fixer and major polluter.
since the EPA also included a stint in 1987, overseeing a coalition of Fortune
500 companies that sought to weaken the Superfund law. The top lieutenants in
this effort were Phillip Angell, his former administrative aide at the EPA, and
Henry Habicht, a former assistant attorney general with responsibilities for prosecuting
Superfund violators. All three pulled out after the plan was leaked to the business
press. Angell later became a Washington representative of Ruckelshaus' company,
Browning-Ferris. And, in another spin of the revolving door, Habicht is now deputy
administrator of the EPA.
"Obviously, we do hire EPA people, and for
a while they do have knowledge of EPA's needs for contracting services,"
said Gary Dietrich, a former EPA executive now on the staff of a large waste disposal
consulting firm, ICF Inc., of Fairfax, Virginia. "I don't know whether that's
bad." Critics disagree, however, viewing EPA fence jumpers as merchants of
secret information, whose new employers, in turn, use this information to their
advantage in winning contracts.
The principal victims of this relationship
between the EPA and industry are the millions of people who live near the toxic
waste dumps. The cleanups that satisfy the agency aren't nearly good enough for
the local residents and they often can't do a thing about it.
calls upon an organization called Clean Sites to serve as an informal mediator
to help settle cleanup disputes. While Clean Sites touts itself as an "unbiased
third party," its largest corporate donors, giving $100,000 or more, are
Dow Chemical, DuPont, Monsanto, Shell Oil, General Electric, and Union Carbide.
The EPA unfailingly praises Clean Sites. You should not be surprised to learn
that William Reilly, current EPA chief, was one of the founders of Clean Sites,
while Russell Train, EPA chief in the Nixon and Ford administrations, is the current
chair of Clean Sites.
While there is no hard evidence of unlawful conduct,
the revolving door at the EPA certainly poses ethical and conflict of interest
questions that should be asked by the media.
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: SALLY
SOURCE: THE NATION 72 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10011
TITLE: "REVOLVING DOOR AT THE EPA"
AUTHOR: JIM SIBBISON
COMMENTS: The ethical question of public employees leaving the
EPA for high salaries in corporations they formerly were supposed to
regulate was raised by investigative journalist Jim Sibbison. Sibbison
believes that wider media exposure of this issue "could lead to
legislative reforms to bar EPA officials from the corrupt practice of
taking jobs in the industry they are regulating -- especially in the
superfund hazardous waste disposal companies." Reason magazine
called Sibbison's article the best environmental piece The Nation has
published in recent years. The article also generated a call from ABC-TV's
PrimeTime Live program. The producer said they were interested in doing
a segment on the subject with Sam Donaldson. That was in February. When
Sibbison checked with PrimeTime Live in mid-July to see when they would
do the expose on EPA's revolving door, the producer said the story was
"filed away for future use." Apparently ABC-TV News doesn't
want to be accused of contributing to any legislative reforms.