Thursday, December 3, 2009
TOM CORBETT: CORPORATE CRUSADER
"Hot august night.And the leaves hanging down.And the grass on the ground smelling --" *
-- like raw sewage!
On a hot August night in 2006 more than 200 of the 1,300 people who live in East Brunswick, Pennsylvania gathered inside a barn owned by Dr. Glenn Freed.
Almost one-fifth of the rural township's population showed up, despite the stifling heat and sticky humidity.
They came because they were afraid.
People were talking.
Something wasn't right in their neighborhoods.
They'd heard too much.
They'd smelled too much.
They were worried.
The solid poison that's left after the water is removed from the stuff people flush down their toilets and throw down their drains.
Used by local farmers to fertilize their fields.
Used because it was cheap.
Used in spite of it's high toxicity.
Used even though it could pollute the water that people were drinking.
Used because waste-dumping corporations swore it was an "environmentally friendly fertilizer."
Waste-dumping corporations that were highly paid to haul the poison away from sewage treatment plants and then dump it on farmers' fields.
Ever since the deaths of two children, and countless reports of illness and livestock loss, rural Pennsylvanians say they oppose the dumping of sewage sludge.
They say they want to decide whether it should be legal to use sludge to fertilize farms in their townships and boroughs; their cities and towns.
They say all government is local.
But the folks who make state and federal laws say different.
Pennsylvania law says big corporations don't need community permission to drop pesticides overhead from airplanes...
Or to withdraw water from local aquifers...
Or to site unwanted refineries near schools and churches...
Or to dynamite coal or limestone out of land more than 2,500 feet from peoples homes...
Or to dump sewage sludge in your home town.
State agencies issue "permits" to dump the sludge.
State legislatures take away local communities' right to stop them.
Stop them from poisoning their fields and their water.
Stop them from destroying their towns.
So, on that hot August night, the folks in East Brunswick asked this question:
"If those people who are directly affected by rules and regulations are denied the rights to make those rules, do we really have a democracy?"
Those perspiration-soaked citizens - American citizens - citizens of East Brunswick Township in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania - decided to support a cutting-edge ordinance; one that not only asserted their rights to make rules that govern where they live (like banning corporations from hauling and dumping sludge) — but also would invalidate the Constitutional "rights" claimed for corporations by their highly paid lawyers.
The people organized.
They fought back.
And by December 2006, the ordinance was passed.
But that wasn't the end of the story.
In fact, thanks to Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, it was only the beginning.
Corbett, who is supposed to be "the peoples' lawyer," fought against the people and for the corporation.
Corbett argued that the citizens of East Brunswick Township had "no inherent right to local self government."
Corbett, who previously served as a waste management corporate lobbyist, filed a lawsuit against East Brunswick to overturn their ordinance.
Did you get that?
Attorney General Tom Corbett, who is paid by the people of Pennsylvania - the people of East Brunswick - to be their lawyer - to represent their interests - instead chose to defend the interests of the sludge-dumping corporations.
Old habits die hard.
Corbett's empathy for the sludge-dumpers was rooted in his service as a Senior Executive and lobbyist for Waste Management Corporation - the largest importer of trash into Pennsylvania.
During Corbett’s time at Waste Management, the firm repeatedly was fined by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for committing environmental and safety violations - violations that included the surreptitious and illegal dumping of hazardous medical waste.
During Corbett’s four-year tenure at Waste Management, the company and its subsidiaries were fined more than $3.7 million for various violations at its landfills.
During Corbett's stint as lawyer and lobbyist for Waste Management, Corbett defended these practices.
In May 2001, the Pennsylvania State Police and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) ran a week-long campaign - called "Operation Clean Sweep" - to crack down on unsafe and environmentally unsound trash trucks.
Of more than 40,000 inspected trucks, the state found more than 11,000 safety and environmental violations.
The biggest violator -- and the region’s biggest waste hauler -- was Waste Management Inc., with 339 environmental violations and 554 safety violations.
The DEP said as much as 65 percent of the Waste Management truck fleet was put off the road for repairs.
Waste Management also was caught illegally dumping hazardous medical waste.
On the first day of “Operation Clean Sweep’, a trailer truck owned by Kephart Trucking was stopped for a safety inspection by state police at the Mifflinville rest area on Interstate 80 in Columbia County.
Police noticed a reddish substance leaking from the trailer, opened it and discovered medical waste hidden under a thin layer of municipal waste.
The hospital waste -- which included syringes, bedpans and wound dressings -- had been picked up by Kephart at a Waste Management Inc. transfer station in the Bronx and was headed to Shade Landfill in Central City, Somerset County.
Shade Landfill was not permitted to accept raw, unprocessed medical waste.
Tom Corbett also took the lead for Waste Management in fighting Republican Governor Tom Ridge’s attempts to limit out-of-state garbage dumping in Pennsylvania.
When Ridge attempted to restrict the amount of waste coming into Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett led the fight for Waste Management against Ridge's initiative.
Tom Corbett's record on the environment:
Corporations over communities.
Sludge over safety.
Profit over people.
*Lyrics from "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," by Neil Diamond
Frank LaGrotta served 20 years in the PA House of Representatives - 16 years on the House Appropriations Committee, where budgets are drafted. He presently is holed up in Dick Cheney's old bunker working on a new book about how government REALLY works - or, should we say, does NOT work. You can email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @LaGrotta12.