12. What Happened to the EPA?

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

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 watchdog 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 EPAT’ 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.