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    The town that haunts Al Gore
    How an incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, pollutes the vice president's reputation as friend of the earth..
    By Jake Tapper [04/26/00]

    Al Gore's campaign stagnates
    Seemingly uncomfortable as a front-runner, the vice president is missing a chance to put the presidency in his back pocket
    By Joshua Micah Marshall [04/25/00]

    - - - - - - - - - - - -

    McCain returns to Vietnam:
    A Salon special report.

    Day 2: Still, the dead keep coming
    John McCain's first order of business: Honor the remains of more American soldiers.
    By Jake Tapper [04/26/00]

    Day 1: McCain goes back
    Of his former captors, he says, "I've been able to go on and have a wonderful life, and they've had to stay in Vietnam."
    By Jake Tapper [04/25/00]

    - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Trail Mix: Dubya dines for $18 million
    Gore says no free lunch on GOP spending, Dems plot bucks-boosting barbecue and Giuliani won't enter "Vagina" dialogue.
    By Alicia Montgomery [04/26/00]

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    In dual appearances, President Clinton's star power is a tough act to follow.
    By Jesse Drucker [04/25/00]

    Campaign video:
    Alan Keyes on why he thinks that the 20th century proves the depravity of man.




    Hazardous waste incinerator at
    Waste Technologies Industries, East Liverpool, Ohio.

    The town that haunts Al Gore
    How an incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, pollutes the vice president's reputation as a friend of the earth.

    - - - - - - - - - - - -
    By Jake Tapper

    April 26, 2000 |  Vice President Al Gore has been spending a lot of time in the classroom lately for his much-hyped "school days," throwing himself into the exercise with characteristic fervor.

    On the night of April 10, Gore slept at the home of an Avondale Elementary School kindergarten teacher in Columbus, Ohio. The next day he toured the school with the principal, greeted students at breakfast, visited with parents, popped into classrooms, ate lunch with students and then thanked everyone at an all-school assembly. He even co-taught a fifth-grade math class and a first-grade language arts/writing course that was studying Earth Day.

    There's another Ohio elementary school, 174 miles away, where Gore is unlikely to spend much time. And you can't fault him for not wanting to go to East Elementary, in East Liverpool, Ohio, located just 1,100 feet from the Waste Technologies Industries (WTI) hazardous-waste incinerator.



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    The WTI incinerator burns about 70,000 tons of hazardous waste each year, just 320 feet from the nearest house. The incinerator is a problem that Gore promised to solve, as a vice presidential candidate in 1992 and again right after he was elected. And it's that commitment environmentalists and Ohio River Valley activists now refer to as "Al Gore's first broken promise."

    WTI stands in a flood plain, where waters can rise suddenly and spread toxins immediately. "The very idea ... is just unbelievable to me," Gore said on July 19, 1992, at a speech in nearby Weirton, W.Va. (Listen to Al Gore.) "I'll tell you this, a Clinton-Gore administration is going to give you an environmental presidency to deal with these problems. We'll be on your side for a change." (Listen to Al Gore.)

    Has that happened? "Absolutely not," says Terri Swearingen, a 43-year-old nurse from West Virginia. Swearingen, who lives less than two miles from the incinerator, is an unapologetic fanatic about the issue; she's been arrested nine times for protesting WTI -- at the White House, in East Liverpool, wherever and whenever she can.

    (Despite repeated attempts, no one at WTI could be reached for comment for this story.)

    "I'm so angry, I'm shaking," she says during a phone interview. "Al Gore was supposed to be the environmental hero, but meanwhile I have a toxic-waste incinerator in my backyard."

    "It's an area of vulnerability for him, East Liverpool," concedes Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, which is committed to supporting Gore for president. "He's said some things personally about it." Pope says the WTI issue could hurt Gore a bit, though he will be helped on the environmental issue in general in comparison with his likely GOP opponent, George W. Bush, by most accounts an environmental disaster. "Al Gore is not John Muir, I mean, let's be honest. But he's running against George W. Bush, after all."

    Environmental activists in East Liverpool weren't always taking issue with Gore. In December 1992, Vice President-elect Gore backed up his campaign promise to "be on your side, for a change" with a statement that reassured Swearingen and others in the area that he had been sincere. It was the last time they would think that.

    "Serious questions concerning the safety of an East Liverpool, Ohio, hazardous-waste incinerator must be answered before the plant may begin operation," Vice President-elect Gore declared. "The new Clinton-Gore administration would not issue the plant a test burn permit until ... all questions concerning the compliance with state and federal law have been answered.

    "The potential impact on the people of this community -- on their health, on their children's health, on the investment they have made in their homes and businesses -- is too great to proceed without study and caution," Gore said.

    But changing the system always seems easier before you become co-opted by it. More than seven years later, on April 10, the night before Gore hit Avondale Elementary in Columbus, he spoke in front of about 250 undecided voters at Vandalia-Butler High School, just north of Dayton. There, Jane Forrest Redfern, environmental-projects director for Ohio Citizen Action, asked Gore to give a yes or no to whether he, if elected president, would shut down WTI's hazardous-waste incinerator.

    "Most of the options available to us were taken away from us by a last-minute decision by the Bush-Quayle administration," Gore replied. "But I have asked EPA [the Environmental Protection Agency], and they have agreed, to do a full-scale review of this ... I think the review will uncover enough information on which to base a rational decision."

    Not exactly "We shall overcome." Not even "On your side, for a change." But Gore's critics say that his newfound pragmatism on WTI isn't even based in fact. Clinton-Gore overturned other last-minute decisions by the Bush administration, they point out, and while the Bush administration had indeed set the wheels in motion for the approval of WTI's incinerator, critics say Gore had plenty of opportunities to hinder the process.

    Now the Ohio River Valley and the environmental community are strewn with Gore detractors who say he promised to do everything he could to keep the hazardous waste from entering their air, food and water, and then sat back and did nothing while the incinerator opened and began spewing forth. They are angry. And some of them are sick.

    . Next page | Is a sick community getting sicker?


     
    Photograph from Waste Technologies Industries




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