Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Real Life's a Beach (cont'd)

This is a continuing series which began here

News of the dioxin contamination at Times Beach came at a tense time for the EPA. Administrator Burford was under intense pressure from Congress to yield any documents which would reveal whether the agency had been lax in enforcing hazardous waste and Superfund laws. Burford maintained that she was under instructions from President Reagan not to turn over certain documents to Congress because they might jeopardize on-going court cases against waste producers. [11]  In early February, 1983, EPA assistant administrator in charge of waste clean up and Superfund, Rita Lavelle, was fired by President Reagan amid allegations that she had used the Superfund for political leverage in favor of Republican candidates. Lavelle allegedly told Missouri officials not to push too hard for compensation on dioxin problems there because "that will be playing right into the hands of Ted Kennedy." [12] It was this aura of political scandal which led The New York Times to charge that the Missouri dioxin case "has been shaped at every turn by politics, not public health." [13] Pushed perhaps a little faster than she would have been otherwise, administrator Burford announced February 22, 1983 that the federal government would buy Times Beach "to ensure that that public health is protected." [14]

The buy-out decision was reached on Monday, February 20, in a telephone conference between Burford, Lee M. Thomas, head of a Presidential Task Force on Times Beach, and an official at CDC in Atalanta. The White House welcomed the decision on the part of the EPA, and Presidential aides said they expected the decision to be viewed as a positive example of how the agency can function. Prior to the decision, the White House received almost daily reports and President Reagan had been briefed weekly on the affair. This interest was credited with speeding the decision. [15]
[11] Margaret W. Freivogel, "EPA denial of Dioxin File assailed," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3 Dec., 1982, sec A, p. 1.

[12] Maureen Dowd, "Shoring up a shaken EPA," Time, 7 Mar., 1983, vol. 121, p. 33.  At Lavelle's Senate hearing, which this article reports, Lavelle denied saying it. But Theodore Bernstein, a Missouri State official who was at the meeting, commented: "She said it. I was a little flabbergasted."

[13] One EPA Buy-out is not a Policy," an editorial, The New York Times, 25 Feb., 1983, sec A, p. 30.

[14] Environmental Protection Agency, Press release, 22 Feb., 1983 R30.

[15] Gerald Boyd, "White House pressed hard for decision," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 23 Feb., 1983, sec A, p. 1.

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