Media Beat, Nov. 3, 1993
By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

Gore is Green. . .Like the Color of Money

A YEAR AGO, many people in the Ohio Valley figured they had good reason to celebrate.

The man just elected vice president of the United States had run as a critic of the massive toxic-waste burner threatening to spew hazardous chemicals into the Ohio town of East Liverpool and outlying areas.

Campaigning in the region, Al Gore - the author of the pro-environment book "Earth in the Balance" - had denounced the incinerator. So had Bill Clinton.

The Waste Technologies Industries plant - one of the largest-capacity toxic-waste burners anywhere - was set to operate in a residential area just a few hundred yards from an elementary school. WTI would emit large quantities of lead and mercury (substances destructive to young nervous systems), and poisons such as dioxin.

Widely hailed as the greenest national candidate, Al Gore used the WTI issue to appeal for environmental votes last fall. But two months after he became vice president, Gore began to hedge - speaking of federal obligations to WTI's investors.

The Clinton administration could have nullified WTI's test permit right after Inauguration Day. Instead, in mid-March, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would not bar the toxic burner's opening.

WTI is now operating alongside the upper Ohio River, with grim implications for public health.

As journalist Liane Clorfene-Casten wrote in The Nation magazine: "Any release from the site, whether as a result of accident, explosion or misconduct, will likely wind up in the river - a source of drinking water for millions living in towns down-river." Even WTI's routine toxic emissions are endangering the food chain - especially cattle and milk in the area.

The facility has already violated federal EPA regulations, including limits on mercury releases.

After Clinton and Gore made so much noise opposing the WTI incinerator in 1992, why the turnaround? That question has not been addressed by national news outlets.

Part of the untold story involves a financier named Jackson Stephens, who got into the toxic-incinerator business in 1980 when he founded WTI - and went on to arrange financing for the East Liverpool project. Though he sold his share of the company 10 years later, his reputation is riding on the WTI facility.

Truly bipartisan, Stephens donated $ 100,000 to the Republican Party in 1988. He raised the same amount for Bill Clinton in 1992.

In fact, Jackson Stephens - the chair of the huge Stephens Inc. investment banking firm based in Little Rock - was a major underwriter of Clinton's presidential candidacy. As The Nation reported in its Sept. 27 issue, Stephens "extended a $ 3.5 million line of credit to his campaign through the Worthen Bank, which is partly owned by the Stephens family. The Clinton campaign deposited up to $ 55 million in federal election funds in this bank."

The magazine added: "The conflicts of interest don't stop there. The man now ultimately responsible for EPA decisions on WTI is Deputy Administrator Robert Sussman, a law school classmate of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Sussman previously acted as legal counsel to the Chemical Manufacturing Association, at a time when two of its biggest clients, Du Pont and BASF, were negotiating contracts to supply two-thirds of the waste to WTI."

A computerized search of major U.S. newspapers reveals little focus on those conflicts of interest - except in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Four months ago, for instance, The Plain Dealer reported that plant opponents "cited Sussman's appointment to the EPA through the influence of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose former law firm represented the original founder of Waste Technologies."

News coverage was profuse last spring when the federal EPA announced an 18-month moratorium on new incinerators for hazardous wastes. But "the freeze," riddled with loopholes, has not caused the EPA to revoke or deny a single permit.

These days, the green luster is fading from Al Gore and his boss. Pointing to retreats on Northwest forests, wetlands, the Everglades, energy taxes and auto-efficiency standards, the Greenwire news service noted recently: "Those most alarmed by Clinton-Gore policy these days may be the enviros."

One of the alarmed activists is Terri Swearingen, a registered nurse who lives in West Virginia just across the Ohio River from WTI. Outraged at Al Gore's betrayal, Swearingen is organizing a mass return of "Earth in the Balance" to its best-selling author. She asks readers to send her the book for forwarding en masse to Vice President Gore.

It's a unique way of communicating to an elected official guilty of hypocrisy: Throw the book at him.

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