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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

WHITEWASHED: Davis Enterprise Downplays TCP Story at Target Site

On Monday, the Vanguard ran an article reporting on a new discovery of TCP, at a level well over the reporting limit. The local group, Frontier Fertilizer Superfund Oversight Group (FFSOG) is concerned enough that they want to see additional testing.

Now the Enterprise runs a story with the same facts available to them that the Vanguard has, however, they completely bury the concerns of FFSOG and its president, longtime community activist Pam Nieberg, and place complete faith in the EPA and its spokesperson Bonnie Arthur.

The headline itself displays the full bias of the article: "Toxics won't impede Target: New contaminant deemed low-risk."

Claire St. John of the Enterprise writes:
The discovery of the pesticide isn't surprising. It was first detected at the Superfund cleanup site west of where the new Target will be built. TCP was first discovered in 1983, after the Environmental Protection Agency began cleaning up a site where the former Frontier Fertilizer company dumped pesticides in unlined pits along Second Street.

'It's not a new discovery of contamination,' said Bonnie Arthur, project supervisor for the EPA's Superfund Division. 'It's a slightly different area than what we've seen before. It's a little bit further to the east. It's not unexpected in terms of what we know about how this chemical moves around in the subsurface.'


'We'll probably have to install some additional monitoring wells just to investigate it further,' Arthur said. 'But it's not something that's a showstopper to us in terms of the Target development.'

'We have an enforceable agreement with them, so if we had to, we'd drill through their slab,' Arthur said. 'We've done it before. We're not going to ignore it, but we don't think there's any health risk. Nobody's drinking the water.'"
FFSOG and Pam Nieberg Disagree with Arthur here

In a letter to EPA Project Manager Bonnie Arthur, Pam Nieberg wrote:
"I am concerned that Target is planning to move ahead with construction prior to further evaluation of the extent of the TCP contamination. I expressed these concerns to the FFSOG Board and community members in attendance and they believe that further sampling should occur to determine the extent and source of the TCP contamination prior to further construction at the Target site."
She continued:
"You stated in your November 24th response that EPA can require Target to investigate the TCP contamination if you determine at a later date that the plume does not come from the Frontier site. However, once the foundation and parking lot are built, sampling will be much more difficult if not impossible in the case of the store concrete slab. Moreover, if the TCP originated from the source area, it changes the nature and scope of the Frontier site clean up and investigation. Specifically, this detection may indicate that the contamination has moved further that previously thought thus requiring reassessment of the pump and treat system and the extent of the groundwater contamination. Therefore, in addition to assessing the extent of the contamination, it is also essential to ascertain its source to the extent possible."
She concludes:
"The issue is not just whether or not Target mitigates for possible TCP intrusion into the store as is currently planned. It is an issue of determining the extent and probable source of the TCP contamination, possible health impacts in the neighborhood and how to remediate if necessary. This is to request that the EPA take immediate action to further investigate the source, extent and movement of the TCP in the groundwater in the vicinity of the planned Target store and adjacent homes. Time of the essence as Target plans to move ahead very soon to build the store foundation."
People may not be drinking the water, but it may be getting into the neighborhood.

Enterprise Sides with the Bush EPA

One of the common practices of journalism is to place heavy emphasis and a large amount of weight on the testimony of experts and official sources. However, in general, when there are conflicting points of view, you present a more balanced picture. It is one thing for a blog such as the Vanguard to take one side of the story, it is another for the newspaper.

The question comes down to the credibility of the source, and recent events suggest that maybe a representative from the EPA, even a civil servant such as Bonnie Arthur, might want to have a much higher degree of skepticism that Clair St. John and the Enterprise exhibited.

Indeed in 2002, the same Bonnie Arthur was involved in a case in Nevada and acknowledged changes in the Bush administration's policies over the previous Clinton administration's policies.
"Bonnie Arthur, EPA project manager, said her agency is overseeing the state effort but Nevada is the lead enforcement regulator at the mine.

In the waning months of the Clinton administration, the agency announced it was considering the Superfund listing after determining the mine posed a significant threat to residents' drinking water.

Under President Bush, the push is to let states oversee cleanups as much as possible, Arthur said.

But if the state fails to follow through on site investigations and cleanup, the EPA would consider pursuing a Superfund listing or federal enforcement order, she said.

"We're trying to make sure the state follows through out there," Arthur said. "The political reality is we have to give the state a chance.""
It took six years, but finally in July 2008, the EPA ordered the owner of that mine to finish their study.

As we learned this week, that's not the only change that the Bush administration has done with regards to environmental regulation.

Citizens' groups had to take the administration and the EPA to court in order to enforce parts of the clean air act--and they won.
"Citizens' groups succeeded in closing a gaping air pollution loophole with a win in federal court today.

The groups, represented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice, were fighting a regulation adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that has allowed refineries, chemical plants, and other industrial facilities to ignore pollution limits whenever equipment malfunctions, and whenever they start up or shut down operations. During these periods, toxic emissions can skyrocket, severely degrading air quality. And some facilities evade clean air protections by claiming that they are in startup, shutdown, or malfunction mode during much of their operating time."
The article posted on Yubanet continues:
The plaintiffs in the case were Environmental Integrity Project along with Sierra Club, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Coalition for a Safe Environment, and Friends of Hudson -- groups in affected communities in the Gulf Coast, southern California, and upstate New York.
And the defendants, the people on the bad side of this environmental issue, you guessed it the EPA under the Bush Administration's leadership. The same EPA that the Enterprise is placing its entire stock in.
"For more than a decade polluters have relied on this loophole at the expense of neighboring communities," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. "Today's victory is a big win for the people in these communities, who can now breathe easier."

Excess emissions occur routinely at industrial facilities throughout the country, according to a comprehensive report by the Environmental Integrity Project titled "Gaming the System: How the Off-the-Books Industrial Upset Emissions Cheat the Public Out of Clear Air."

"Under this notorious EPA exemption, industrial facilities have been allowed to operate like a fleet of junk cars parked in neighborhoods while spewing blue smoke, misfiring, backfiring, stalling, and chugging," said Marti Sinclair, Chair of Sierra Club's Clean Air Team. "This court ruling provides a ray of hope for those neighborhood who have been rendered helpless as dark angry clouds of uncontrolled toxic pollution have rolled over their homes from poorly maintained and poorly operated facilities."
Here's a telling quote from Sierra Club Senior Attorney David Bookbinder:
"This is just the latest example of a court striking down yet another attempt by the Bush EPA to gut the Clean Air Act. It's a good thing that inauguration is right around the corner, because we're beginning to lose track of the number of such decisions."
Local activists are thinking the exact same thing. There is a reason why Target wants to pour that slab on January 5, it is just over two weeks before the Obama administration takes over. The new head of the EPA will be Lisa Jackson who has a reputation pushing and enforcing environmental regulations.

This week, California's Senator Barbara Boxer sent a very pointed letter to the US Attorney General Michael Mukasey dated December 22, 2008, castigating Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson charging that "he has run amok and will waste taxpayer dollars in his most recent action to avoid controlling global warming pollution in Clean Air Act permits."

Senator Boxer said:
"This illegal document issued by Stephen Johnson makes it clear that he has become a renegade Administrator. He defies the clear language of our environmental laws and acts without legal authority. Mr. Johnson's latest action is intended to make the job of combating global warming more difficult and will add to the millions of taxpayer dollars he has wasted in defending his illegal decisions. The Attorney General has an obligation to intervene when the actions of the Administration are so clearly outside the law."
These are just two examples from this week that show the pattern over the last eight years that the EPA has taken steps to intentionally avoid implementing and enforcing existing US environmental law.

However, when it comes to a local issue in the city of Davis that may well affect the existing residents in that neighborhood and perhaps the workers and customers of a new Target store, the Enterprise swallows the line of the Bush administration EPA hook, line, and sinker.

Ms. Arthur may indeed be a civil servant, but she as she admitted in 2002, is operating under the orders of the Bush Administration. She may say it does not pose a threat, but the research that FFSOG contradicts her assessment.

Unfortunately it seems that the remedy here is going to have to be a legal remedy. Someone, probably FFSOG itself, needs to sue Target getting a court order to stop the laying off the slab until testing can be done or at the very least until the Obama Administration comes in with new orders.

The EPA may be right, but until someone does a test to figure out exactly what is down there right now, should we not err on the side of caution? What is a month or two in the process of building Target? They are scheduled to open the store in October, it certainly can be done in far less time than nine months. Let us just be sure before we make unalterable decisions.

And to the Davis Enterprise, I have seen biased reporting in the past from this paper, this may be the most egregious example. Any inkling that the local group objected to the EPA's decision was buried well off the front page and the headline itself belied the newspaper's slant. This type of reporting does not serve our community well.

---David M. Greenwald reporting