Sunday, December 10, 2006

Senators Aim To Stop Another Industry Fox From Raiding The EPA Chicken Coop

A couple of Democratic Senators are trying to keep at least one more fox out of the regulatory chicken coop -- this time over at EPA. The fox? Alex Beehler, currently assistant deputy under secretary of defense for environment, safety and occupational health. The job he's being nominated for? Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency. What does the EPA's IG do?
We perform audits, evaluations, and investigations of EPA and its contractors, to promote economy and efficiency, and to prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse. We also provide public liaison (ombudsman) and hotline services to review public complaints about EPA programs and activities.
In other words, the Inspector General independently investigates EPA -- a challenging, but vital job in this administration that's filled the regulatory agencies with representatives of th windustries they're supposed to be regulating. For example, the IG has investigated whether the agency is misleading the public on the purity of the nation's drinking water. Last year, the IG found that officials writing an EPA rule appeared to show favoritism to Cintas corporation, a major fundraiser for President Bush, but that EPA rulewriters broke no laws or policies in doing so. In 2004, the IG investigated whether the chemical industry had an undue influence on the agency's proposed mercury rule. And a 2003 report of EPA's Inspector General found that after 9/11, EPA press releases were unclear about the safety of workers at the Ground Zero site -- one of the major factors contributing to the failure of many workers to wear respirators

So what's the problem with Beehler?

Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA, who will chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee when Congress reconvenes next month has put a hold on Beeler's nomination. One problem is his current job at the Department of Defense,
where Mr. Beehler now has a lead environmental policy position, has sought to increase its role in the federal process for setting environmental standards, often advocating for less protective standards than many scientists think will adequately protect our communities. DOD has repeatedly sought to waive environmental laws without sound justification. The EPA IG will play a key part in auditing EPA and DOD environmental activities.


Unfortunately, Mr. Beehler was also unclear at best and evasive at worst when I questioned him at his nomination hearing on his role in DOD initiatives to affect standards for dangerous pollutants like perchlorate. He downplayed his role and led us to believe that industry was not a real part of the discussions with DOD and Mr. Beehler's key staff. The documents we received in answer to detailed questions on these matters lead us to a different conclusion.
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) is also putting a hold on Beehler's nomination (and all other EPA nominations) because of the agency's failure to ensure that its cleanup of asbestos contamination in Libby, Montana is effective. Libby is the home of W.R. Grace whose executives have been indicted by the EPA for knowingly contaminating the entire community with asbestos-containing vermiculite. Last week, the an EPA IG report stated that “EPA cannot be sure that the ongoing Libby cleanup is sufficient to prevent humans from contracting asbestos-related diseases.”
"It's been seven years and the EPA can't tell us whether or not their cleanup activities are working," Baucus said. "That's a disgrace. And that's why nobody from EPA will move through the Senate until we get this fixed."
Oh, and then there's the little matter of Beehler's employer prior to the Department of Defense: Koch Industries Inc. Koch had the distinction, as of 2000, of being the recipient of $30 million civil penalty from EPA,
the largest civil fine ever imposed on a company under any federal environmental law to resolve claims related to more than 300 oil spills from its pipelines and oil facilities in six states.


The settlement filed in U.S. District Court in Houston resolves two lawsuits in Houston and Tulsa, Okla., which charge that Koch illegally discharged crude oil and petroleum products in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Alabama.
Beeler's nomination was aproved by the committee last week, but because of the holds, his final confirmation will need 60 votes in the Senate. If I was a betting man, I probably wouldn't be putting much money on him moving over to EPA.