12. What Happened to the EPA?

Source: In These Times, 2040 N. Milwaukee Avenue, 2nd Fl. Chicago, IL 60647-4002, Date: 4/22/92, Title: "Wasting Away at EPA," Author: Joel Bleifuss

SSU Censored Researcher: Jennifer Makowsky

SYNOPSIS: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), created by Richard Nixon in 1970, has been the watch-dog agency protecting our air, our water, our resources and our ecology for more than two decades. But some of its critics believe our environment would be in better shape today if the EPA hadn't been around.

William Sanjour, a longtime EPA whistle-blower, is one of those not satisfied with the EPA's performance. In early 1992, he came up with a series of proposals that would thoroughly reform the agency.

Sanjour's proposal titled, "Why EPA is like it is and what can be done about it," was prepared for and published by the Environmental Research Foundation, in Washington, DC. He addresses the question, "Why is EPA so often on the wrong side of environmental issues when the EPA is chartered to protect the environment?"

Sanjour has had a lot of time to ponder this question: For the past three years, he has had a desk at EPA but nothing to do since his superiors have refused to assign him any work.

In his report, Sanjour charges that when the EPA does act to protect the environment, it is only because the agency 'was forced or coerced into taking action.' He mentions three points: 1) The EPA, more often than not, opposes congressional attempts to pass tough environmental laws; 2) The EPA spends more time and money figuring out how to exempt corporations from regulations than it does enforcing them; and 3) The EPA's will to regulate is so weak that a proposed regulation must be under a court-ordered deadline (brought by an environmental group) before it will even be considered for the EPA administrator's signature.

According to Sanjour, the problems at EPA are shared by all regulatory agencies (i.e., they are more concerned with protecting the interests of the party they are supposed to regulate than in protecting the public's interests).

EPA administrators are also concerned with protecting their own interests. Sanjour lists 20 high-ranking EPA officials who left the agency and went on to prosperous careers in the hazardous waste management industry. Most of the former EPA administrators are now millionaire waste industry executives, and ten of them are now employed by the world's largest waste management corporation-Waste Management, Inc., and its subsidiary, Chemical Waste Management.

Sanjour cites a number of disturbing conflicts of interest resulting from the revolving door system between the EPA and the corporate waste industry; he also suggests 14 proposals for cleaning up the EPA.

In These Times author Joel Bleifuss concludes that Sanjour has come up with a number of workable solutions to the crisis at EPA and hopes the nation's environmental organizations will pressure Congress to implement them.

In addition, the nation's media should have put William Sanjour and his comprehensive report on the national agenda so that the public could learn why our environment is the way it is and what can be done about it.

COMMENTS: "What happened to the EPA?" is an appropriate question to ask at the end of the Reagan/Bush era, particularly since it now appears that the agency, designed to protect our environment, defected and joined our environment enemies.

Joel Bleifuss, in his story of an EPA whistle-blower, documents the final battle in the Reagan/Bush war against the agency. He notes that while "specific instances of regulatory abuse at the EPA are occasionally covered by the mass media, the structural problems at the EPA have been totally ignored."

Bleifuss adds that if information about the close ties between waste industry officials and senior environmental regulators in the government were made public, it would undermine the public's trust in the waste industry. And since the waste industry is one of the most corrupt industries in the world, Bleifuss says it should be exposed as such.

Events leading up to the demise of the EPA as a regulatory watchdog were cited in several recent censored nominations.

In the #2 ranked story of 1988, Jim Sibbison, former EPA publicist turned investigative environmental reporter, exposed Reagan administration overt efforts to soft-pedal pollution stories. Sibbison also revealed how executives from industry met secretly with officials of the White House's Office of Management and Budget to discuss pending new EPA regulations; the OMB allowed the executives to suggest revisions in those regulations and the EPA subsequently made the necessary changes.

In one of the top 25 Censored stories of 1989, Sibbison, in yet another expose, documented how public employees were leaving the EPA for high salaries in the very corporation they formerly were supposed to regulate. The synopsis was titled, "The Revolving Door Between EPA and Polluters."

And, in the #8 Censored story of 1991, investigative journalist Eve Pell revealed how American corporations, no longer concerned with toothless EPA regulations, had gone on the offensive to retaliate against the environmental movement with a wide assortment of dirty tricks and attack strategies.

Nonetheless, like the Phoenix, the EPA may rise again. As noted in the synopsis, William Sanjour, the scorned EPA whistle-blower, has developed a number of workable solutions to the crisis at EPA which, with the support of a new administration and Congress, could help the agency fulfill its original charge.