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Terri Swearingen:
"This is a moral issue"

 

August 13, 1999
Hudson Bay Canvassers Conference
Ohio State University, Columbus

Excerpts

Following the election, the WTI case was the very first environmental issue addressed by the new Clinton-Gore team. In a December 7, 1992 press release, Clinton and Gore promised they would not allow WTI to proceed. But after the inauguration, nothing happened. They failed to keep their word.

There were forces more powerful than the President and the Vice-President of the United States operation behind the scenes. How else can we explain why U.S. EPA chief Carol Browner refused to come to East Liverpool to see the site for herself? Or why Bill Clinton refused, or why Al Gore refused? Obviously there’s an economic stranglehold that’s operating.

It doesn’t always operate. If it’s an issue that’s not contentious — which doesn’t impact big business too much — then people behave as we expect people who are concerned about the environment to behave — if the proposal is neutral in terms of where the big money interests are.

But, when you cross that line, then someone as powerful as the Vice-President is cut off at the knees. We’re not being paranoid here. The naked economic forces operating via the Wall Street Journal set out to de-fang the Vice-President. They published a series of scathing editorials about Gore’s stand on WTI. And they were successful in taming him; Gore backed away.

Why is it that people we thought were honorable -— like Clinton and Gore -— have allowed this to happen? What forces are more powerful than the President and Vice-President of the United States? What is it that prevents our elected leaders or those in positions of authority from stopping these injustices? The answer, I’m afraid, is that our country is not run by the people, and, it is not run for the people; it is run by the corporations for the corporations.

The agencies set up to protect public health and the environment are not there to do that. They only do it if it’s non-threatening to any corporation. These are the dynamics we’re seeing in the environmental movement across the country:

  1. The government versus the people;
  2. The multinationals versus the planet;
  3. and
  4. The consultants versus common sense.
Almost universally, most people don’t want these polluting or dangerous facilities, but the government does.

Who stands to gain? Who’s driving this process? The multinational corporations who generate too much waste in the first place, and the multinational waste companies who want to profit from the waste. How do they get away with it? Consultants versus common sense.

With WTI, we’re looking at the machinery of government directed against the people, not in the interest of the people. We’re looking at a multinational corporation against the interests of the planet. They’re only interested in profit. Finally, how did they get away with it? Incredibly highly paid consultants versus common sense. WTI is about money. It is an issue of putting American children at risk, in violation of the law, to promote the financial interest of the money men behind the project …

There’s been a fundamental breakdown in the system of accountability. We need to recapture America from the corporate interests that run our government. We must demand accountability from all sides and at all levels. It is one thing to struggle and fight to protect the health and welfare of our children, but to then experience that our own government is subverting our democratic system -— that our own government provides ways for the corporations or for the money men to get around the law -— is shocking. If we don’t demand accountability, we will lose our democracy.

The real battle in East Liverpool and communities like it all over Ohio is not really about dioxin or heavy metals or risk assessments. It’s about human values. It is about the kind of dangers some people willingly allow our children to be exposed to. This is a moral issue.