Nader to Gore: Promises should be kept
By MIKE McKINNEY
Review Staff Writer
EAST LIVERPOOL -- Long-time environmental and consumer advocate and current Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader lent his star power Wednesday to the cause of local environmentalists in their decade-plus crusade to shut down the Von Roll WTI hazardous waste incinerator.
"Today, I call on Vice President Gore to honor a promise he made to the people of the Ohio Valley eight years ago," Nader said. Citing what he said were two failed test burns and continuing threats to the local area from emissions of toxic dioxins, mercury and lead, Nader said, "Mr. Gore, after seven years of double-talk and delays, the time has come to shut down this incinerator. Workers should be given two years' full severance pay by their negligent and insensitive employer, WTI," he said.
Nader made his remarks at a press conference attended by about 25 members of the media in the gymnasium of the East Liverpool City School District administration building.
He followed the press conference with an address to a crowd of about 150, where he sounded a populist theme on national issues.
During the press conference, Nader was flanked by local environmental activist Terri Swearingen, who spoke after Nader and amplified several points he made in his initial statement to the media. She also answered several specific questions about the WTI issue that Nader referred to her.
The hazardous waste incinerator burns 60,000 tons of solid waste every year, Nader said, terming it an unnecessary air pollutant. Later in the press conference, he maintained 80 percent of all solid waste could be recycled, and the remainder could be placed in sealed dumps.
The crux of the argument Nader made concerned Gore's actions during the 1992 campaign. He said Gore had called it "unbelievable" that a hazardous waste incinerator would be located in a flood plain (WTI is next to the Ohio River) and had asked for a "thorough investigation" by the General Accounting Office. Yet, Nader said Gore had failed to ask President Bush's EPA chief, William Reilly, to postpone a WTI test burn, despite Reilly's pledge for a smooth transition and "accommodation" on environmental issues.
Despite a meeting between Reilly and Gore aide Katie McGinty, the candidate said a permit for a test burn was issued. He called this incident "another example of the Clinton-Gore administration's perfidy" on environmental issues.
Nader said he had written a letter to Gore last week asking if he had asked the Bush EPA to postpone the trial burn, but Nader said he has not received a response yet.
During her comments, Swearingen said that she had met with Reilly in 1997, and he had stated then to her that Gore's aide McGinty had told him to "go ahead and approve the test burn."
Swearingen said an "urgent fax" had been sent to Nader Tuesday in an attempt to answer his question to Gore, but she said it "dodged" the issue.
The fax, contained in media packets, was sent to Nader from George Frampton of the President's Council on Environmental Quality. It referred to a September 1994 GAO report (the report Gore had requested) that stated test activities already carried out at WTI would "help ensure the...facility will not adversely affect the health and the environment of those who live in the East Liverpool area."
The fax also referred to an ongoing EPA ombudsman review, which the EPA had agreed to in February after local environmentalists took their concerns directly to the Gore campaign during the New Hampshire primary. This review began last Saturday in East Liverpool, as the EPA took testimony from opponents, WTI representatives and city officials.
Swearingen, however, said this review was to have been completed by Mother's Day, yet it was delayed when the $200,000 in requested funding for the effort was not provided until the end of May.
Saying the Ohio EPA was not known for its aggressive enforcement, Nader claimed WTI's original permit was granted in 1984, just four months before a state law would have made the incinerator illegal.
A current national movement was moving away from waste incineration and toward recycling, he said.
Nader said WTI has been operating on an "interim status" permit since 1995 (which an Ohio EPA spokesperson said in June was valid until May 2002) and is releasing the dangerous pollutants of dioxins, mercury and lead into the air from a facility that is less than 400 yards from an elementary school, East Elementary.
Emissions of lead alone, Nader said, total almost a pound a day. "Any facility that releases that much mercury into the air can't be good for education," he said.
Continuing to criticize Gore for his lack of action, Nader related the WTI issue to the national scene by saying if Gore would not stand up to the EPA, how could he be trusted to take on other special interests.
Borrowing Gore's campaign slogan, Nader said, "If Gore can't stand up for the people against this outrageously dangerous polluter, should anyone believe he will ever fight for the people and not the powerful?
"Al Gore knows how to talk the talk on environmentalism and public health," Nader said, "but when it comes time to stand up to corporate power and get results, he won't even attempt to walk the walk."
After Nader turned over the podium to Swearingen, she began her remarks by stating why the anti-WTI cause is so important to her. "I'm not a scientist or a PhD," she said. "My most important qualification is that I'm a mother."
She recalled how she had told her then-9-year-old daughter in 1992 that Gore was a "knight in shining armor" who would save the area from "the poisonous, smoke-filled dragon" of WTI--a promise that she said was broken, leading opponents to file suit against the facility.
Swearingen thanked Nader for coming to East Liverpool and credited his lobbying efforts with helping the WTI issue to gain more visibility in Washington.
The activist cited a number of long-standing concerns about WTI which are familiar to observers of the case.
She mentioned several deaths from cancer, at least one of which the deceased (Joy Allison of Chester) had believed was caused by WTI, as well as a recently-diagnosed case of cancer in a 4-year-old girl, which she linked to the facility.
As further evidence, she noted three instances of male breast cancer and three cases in young boys of retinoblastoma (causing loss of an eyeball in at least one), all of which she said was rare for a city with East Liverpool's 13,000 population.
A recent cancer study by the Ohio Department of Health, Swearingen continued, stated East Liverpool had a cancer rate higher than that of the state and nation, but a rate of smoking lower than state and national averages (Ohio Department of Health official Robert Indian said in April other environmental factors besides smoking contribute to cancer, which he said includes nutrition and exposure to hazardous materials in the workplace or other places; Indian also noted lung cancer has a 20 to 25 year latency period).
Gore's broken promise, Swearingen said, could also be the result of a million-dollar contribution to the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign by an Arkansas hazardous waste incinerator or a $10,000 contribution late that campaign year by WTI to the Democratic National Committee. She called it "an old-fashioned political horsetrade" that "sacrificed" the East Liverpool area.
Nader pledged whatever the results of the Presidential election, he and other environmentalists would continue fighting WTI and other incinerators that he said wage "toxic assaults" on human bodies.
"Win or lose in November," he said, "we're going to keep on the succeeding administration to end this folly--this dangerous folly."
Ralph Nader: Washington's watchdog
By MIKE McKINNEY
Review Staff Writer
EAST LIVERPOOL -- The crowd of about 150 gathered in the gym at the city school district's administration building, taking seats in chairs and bleachers, on hand to hear well-known environmental and consumer activist Ralph Nader--now the Green Party's presidential candidate.
Many there no doubt expected to hear a speech sharply critical of Al Gore's lack of action on Von Roll WTI and of the incinerator's presence in the community, as pre-event publicity indicated.
Nader, indeed, did touch on that theme, which he discussed extensively at a press conference before his public appearance.
But most of what the crowd got instead was a stump speech that provided a blueprint for a populist government that would be dedicated to placing the interests of its citizens above the agendas dictated by the corporate powers that Nader maintained now control both political parties.
Win or lose, Nader asserted, the more votes the Green Party collects, the more effective a watchdog presence it can maintain on the next administration."Our economy is booming, and most people are working, most people are better off," Nader said.
The candidate said while inflation adjustments since 1968 should put today's minimum wage at $7.30 per hour instead of the current $5.15 per hour, 47 million people don't make a "living wage" at all and earn less than $10 per hour. A home should be able to have one breadwinner, he said, instead of multiple workers making $6 or $7 an hour at Wal-Mart or McDonalds.
Nader linked this condition to a decline in labor unions brought about by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which he said allows employers to fire employees for attempting to unionize, forbids "secondary boycotts" by similar unions and permits employers to replace striking employees.
Some workers may win unfair labor practice suits in court, he said, but he asked rhetorically how many are willing to take the risk.
The Democratic Party has been able to count on labor's vote over the years, he said, because they paint the Republicans as such an unacceptable alternative, leading workers to believe they have nowhere else to go politically.
But both political parties, Nader maintained, are simply becoming a tool of corporate and other special interests at all levels.
Nader encouraged the audience not to vote for what he called the "lesser of two evils" (either Al Gore or George W. Bush) but to lend their support to his candidacy and the Green Party as an alternative that is truly committed to the people's interests.
Decrying corporate tax breaks and subsidies, Nader said the U.S. government has given too much power to the "big guys." He said if European countries could "rise out of the rubble" of World War II and provide universal health care with low unemployment, "What's our excuse?"
Nader said national defense should be cut from being a subsidy program for defense contractors with weapons he said even some retired general officers and current Pentagon officials say aren't needed, such as the F-22 fighter and the B-2 bomber, and become a system driven by defense needs, rather than corporate needs.
The savings from defense could be used to improve schools, public transportation, drinking water and other infrastructure needs, Nader said. He also advocated the necessity of finding new industries that will fuel additional employment, singling out the harnessing of solar energy, the increased production of industrial hemp and the buildup of infrastructure as examples.
National health insurance with an emphasis on prevention is another issue Nader said was "long overdue."
While Nader offered no specifics to the crowd, he stated in response to a question at a press conference prior to the speech that universal health insurance could be provided at a cheaper cost by cutting the taxes for health insurance coverage that employers now pay. This insurance would be funded by a 3.5 percent payroll tax, he said, rather than employee premiums.
While Nader did not address the audience on another issue stirring much emotions this election -- Social Security -- he did touch on it in response to a question during the press conference. The belief the Social Security trust fund is running out of money is a "myth" perpetrated by "right-wing politicians and their Wall Street cronies," he said.
America should dedicate itself to abolishing poverty, Nader said during his speech, by following up on an idea first proposed by President Nixon called the negative income tax. After the meeting, a Nader campaign worker explained this as being similar to today's earned income credit, which provides a large refund for low-income workers.
The negative income tax, the supporter said, was a program that would have expanded the earned income wage boundaries and provided monthly or quarterly refund payments.
Nader also expressed displeasure with the World Trade Organization and the NAFTA trade agreement, conditions that he said "reverse progress" and subject American trade to unfair regulation while displacing American workers.
Workplace safety was another issue Nader touched on, saying 100,000 lives were lost each year to toxins on job sites, yet neither candidate would talk about it.
The government also has ignored a report that he said stated the dangers of Firestone tires in 1998.
While many people may have expected the Clinton-Gore administration to be environmental and workplace friendly, the record of accomplishment on such issues is less than in the Reagan and Bush administrations, Nader said.
While Nader's proposals may seem more suited to voters favoring the Democratic ticket, he maintained that he didn't know why anyone would vote for the candidate of either party.
Gore has lied about WTI (see accompanying story) and the administration's record on other issues, Nader said, and Bush is "a corporation masquerading as a candidate."
The advocate urged the audience to become involved in the political process, decrying the fact that 51 percent of eligible voters did not vote in 1996, and saying that history shows what happens when people are not involved.
Although he said he had been excluded from the largest votegathering arena, the upcoming presidential debates, Nader nonetheless was confident that a growing grass-roots movement for the Green Party would result in a significant number of votes nationally.
Pointing to crowds of more than 10,000 at his appearances in Seattle and Minneapolis, Nader predicted, "We'll get over a million votes on election day, and we'll tell the major parties, you're either going to shape up or shrink down."
The Green Party takes no Political Action Committee or corporate donations, and no "soft money" contributions to the party.
A vote for him was not a waste of a vote, Nader insisted, but a way to help government become more honest and responsive.
The crowd, a mix of Nader supporters, WTI opponents, the curious and even several WTI employees, was generally very enthusiastic.
The man who forced changes at General Motors in the 1960s with his book "Unsafe at Any Speed" and continued his crusade that helped launch the EPA and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration in the 1970s left East Liverpool for an appearance in Youngstown.
He took with him a long-shot presidential bid that he hopes will attract enough support to translate into a louder voice for the people in the corridors of the powerful.