Saturday, June 25, 2005

Bush nominates fox to guard the hen-house

If Bush's former chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Philip Cooney, who once fought on the side of oil companies in efforts against limits on greenhouse gas emissions wasn't bad enough, he's now nominating corporate attorneys that represent chemical companies for high positions at the Environmental Protection Agency.
WASHINGTON -- President Bush has nominated Granta Nakayama, a partner in a law firm whose clients include W.R. Grace, BP, Dow Chemical and DuPont, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency's far-flung enforcement division.

Selecting a lawyer and an engineer with one of the nation's largest corporate law firms, whose clients have deep and occasionally controversial relations with the EPA, triggered concerns that Nakayama would not be able to aggressively enforce environmental laws.

Foremost among those concerns is W.R. Grace, which is under federal criminal indictment on charges related to the operation of its vermiculite mine in Libby, Mont. Hundreds of workers and Libby residents contracted lethal asbestos-related disease -- a situation that gained national attention after a Seattle Post-Intelligencer series in 1999.

A follow-up health screening in Libby showed that nearly 2,000 residents of the tiny Montana town have lung abnormalities that could herald asbestos-related disease.

Vermiculite ore from the Libby mine was sent around the country for processing, and asbestos-related disease followed its path. Between 15 million and 35 million homes nationwide have asbestos-tainted vermiculite insulation from Libby in attics and walls.

The trial, which is expected to begin in September, could result in prison sentences against seven current and former Grace executives. The Justice Department alleges that Grace executives knew about asbestos-related dangers in Libby but concealed those dangers from its workers, government regulators and the public.

The EPA has since declared Libby a Superfund site. In a 2003 court decision, Grace was ordered to pay the EPA $54 million in cleanup costs.

Despite the association of law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP with Grace, a spokesman said Nakayama would have no conflict if confirmed for the assistant administrator's position.

"Kirkland & Ellis LLP represents W.R. Grace & Co. in litigation related to its Chapter 11 bankruptcy case," said Brian Pitts, a spokesman for Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago "Mr. Granta Nakayama has had no involvement in this matter during his tenure at Kirkland."

Although Nakayama's firm represented W.R. Grace regarding their "Chapter 11 bankruptcy case," I doubt that it is not the only type of representation that they do for their clients. It would be a lot easier for companies to avoid filling chapter 11 if the reasons for it never present themselves, i.e. the EPA fails in its enforcement.
"As the EPA's chief enforcer, Nakayama would be responsible for ensuring that companies, communities and individuals adhere to laws protecting air and water and ensure that waste is properly processed and handled.

In that respect, Nakayama is well qualified. In 10 years with Kirkland & Ellis and as a practicing engineer, he represented companies whose products or services were regulated by the EPA and by state agencies"

Yes, he does have a lot of experience representing companies "whose products or services were regulated by the EPA and by state agencies," but his experience is in defending them against the EPA. That could be a good thing only if he has chosen to defect and go to the other side. Although, given that Bush is all about protecting corporations and loosening rules and enforcement, I doubt very much that this is the case.

SeatlePI:Concerns arise over Bush's pick for EPA job