by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

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.

Browning-Ferris 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.

His resume 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.

EPA frequently 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.


SOURCE: THE NATION 72 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10011, DATE: 11/6/89



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.