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Posted at 6:31 p.m. EST Friday, February 18, 2000


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Environmentalists threaten to disrupt Gore campaign stops

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Neighbors of a hazardous waste incinerator near the Ohio River remained disgruntled Friday after a long-awaited meeting with environmental officials and threatened to disrupt future Al Gore campaign events unless they get a serious meeting with the vice president.

``We are going to hold his feet to the fire,'' said Terri Swearingen of Tri-State Environmental Council. ``If that means hounding him throughout the campaign, not just until March 7, that's what we're going to do.''

Ohio's presidential primary is March 7.

Foes of the Waste Technologies Industries incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, already have heckled Gore in Ohio and taken their complaints on the road.

Just before the New Hampshire primary, they announced plans to commit an act of civil disobedience outside Gore's campaign office in Manchester. The demonstration was called off after the group was promised that the Clinton administration would support an independent review of the situation.

Friday's meeting was a follow up to that promise.

Gore, author of ``Earth in the Balance,'' is more closely identified with environmental issues than any other candidate in either major political party.

During Friday's meeting at Environmental Protection Agency headquarters, Assistant Administrator Tim Fields said he promised that Ombudsman Robert Martin would spend 90 days reviewing the incinerator's permit, and include at least one public hearing as part of that review.

The incinerator in East Liverpool has been an eight-year headache for Gore, who as vice president-elect in 1992 promised to block the plant's opening.

But after the new administration was sworn in, the residents were told an action taken in the final weeks of the Bush administration had tied the hands of the Democratic team, which would not, after all, be able to stop the burning of lead, mercury and other toxic wastes without proof of health and safety violations.

The incinerator is controversial because it is just 1,100 feet from an elementary school and near a residential neighborhood.

It has been fined by the state for violating air monitoring requirements. The plant's operators say the facility is safe and equipped with the latest pollution control gear.

While pleased about the ombudsman's review, Swearingen and Rick Hind of Greenpeace, who helped arrange the meeting, said they were suspicious that the process might drag on until after the presidential election.

Campaign time, they pointedly noted, can change a candidate's view of what is urgent.

``For eight years we have written him (Gore) begging him for a meeting, begging him to come to Ohio to see for himself,'' said Swearingen.

Gore's staff showed no interest in such a meeting, she said.

But after a press release announced plans to demonstrate in New Hampshire, ``They were desperate to talk to us.''

``It's baffling to me that he doesn't have a few minutes to meet with citizens,'' she said.

Gore's campaign staff did not return a call Friday seeking a response to those comments and to the threat of campaign disruptions.

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