FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Shattered Promises Toxic Town, Sick Kids

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

The first environmental promise Al Gore made in the 1992 campaign, he soon shattered. It involved the WTI hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, built on a floodplain near the Ohio River. The plant, one of the largest of its kind in the world, was scheduled to burn 70,000 tons of hazardous waste a year in a spot only 350 feet from the nearest house. A few hundred yards away is East Elementary School, which sits on a ridge nearly eye-level with the top of the smokestack.

On July 19, 1992, Gore gave one of his first campaign speeches on the environment, across the river from the incinerator, in Weirton, West Virginia, hammering the Bush Administration for its plans to give the toxic waste burner a federal air permit. “The very idea is just unbelievable to me”, Gore said. “I’ll tell you this, a Clinton-Gore Administration is going to give you an environmental presidency to deal with these problems. We’ll be on your side for a change.” Clinton made similar pronouncements on his swing through the Buckeye State.

Shortly after the election, Gore assured neighbors of the incinerator that he hadn’t forgotten about them. “Serious questions concerning the safety of the East Liverpool, Ohio, hazardous waste incinerator must be answered before the plant may begin operation”, Gore wrote. “The new Clinton/Gore administration will not issue the plant a test burn permit until all questions concerning compliance with the plant have been answered.”

But that never happened. Instead, the EPA quietly granted the WTI facility its test burn permit. The tests failed, twice. In one trial burn, the incinerator eradicated only 7 percent of the mercury found in the waste, when it was supposed to burn away 99.9 percent. A few weeks later the EPA granted WTI a commercial permit anyway. They didn’t tell the public about the failed tests until afterward.

Gore claimed his hands were tied by the Bush Administration, which had promised WTI the permit only a few weeks before the Clinton team took office. But by one account, William Reilly, Bush’s EPA director, met with Gore’s top environmental aide Katie McGinty in January 1993 and asked her if he should begin the process of approving the permit. In this version of events apparently McGinty told Reilly to proceed. McGinty told him to proceed. McGinty said later that she had no recollection of the meeting.

That evasion was demolished on October 31, when former EPA administration Reilly testified before EPA’s ombudsman Robert Martin that he was approached by by McGinty and told that Gore had had a change of heart on the incinerator and wanted the test burn permit granted. “McGinty said it was the wishes of the new incoming administration to get the trial burn permit granted and get the decision made before they took office,” Reilly testified. She [McGinty] said the vice president-elect has had second thoughts about his position, had concluded that he should not interfere in the regulatory process and that the transition team would be grateful, the vice president-elect would be grateful if I simply made that decision before leaving office.”

Gore has persisted in maintaining that there was nothing he could do about it once the permit was granted. A 1994 report on the matter from the General Accounting Office flatly contradicted him, saying the plant could be shut down on numerous grounds, including repeated violations of its permit.

“This was Clinton and Gore’s first environmental promise, and it was their first promise-breaker”, says Terri Swearingen, a registered nurse from Chester, West Virginia, just across the Ohio River from the incinerator. Swearingen, who won the Goldman Prize in 1997 for her work organizing opposition to WTI, has hounded Gore ever since, and during the 2000 campaign she was banned by Gore staffers from appearing at events featuring the vice president.

The decision to go soft on WTI may have had something to do with its powerful financial backer. The construction of the incinerator was partially underwritten by Jackson Stephens, the Arkansas investment king who helped bankroll the Clinton-Gore campaign. According to EPA whistleblower Hugh Kaufman, during the period when the WTI financing package was being put together Stephens Inc. was represented by Webb Hubbell, who later came into Clinton’s Justice Department and was indicted during the Whitewater investigation, and the Rose law firm, to which Hillary Clinton belonged. Over the ensuing seven years, the WTI plant has burned nearly a half-million tons of toxic waste, 5,000 truckloads of toxic material every year, spewing chemicals such as mercury, lead and dioxin out of its stacks and onto the surrounding neighborhoods. The inevitable illnesses have followed. CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Douglas Valentine
The Real Man’s Ten Commandments
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail