This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

April 17, 2006

John Marty

W.Va., Minn. have similar problem

Conflicts of interest between state environmental agencies and the polluters they regulate are a serious concern. These conflicts occur because special-interest money distorts the political process. Lobbying and campaign contributions from people affiliated with companies that produce toxic chemicals have an impact on governors, who appoint the heads of state agencies responsible for environmental protection and public health.

So it was no surprise that the governor of West Virginia appointed Stephanie Timmermeyer, a lawyer who previously represented DuPont, as head of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. DuPont is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of perfluorinated chemicals, including one used in making Teflon. The state DEP has regulatory authority over the chemicals DuPont produces in West Virginia. Who better to make sure pollution regulations are favorable to DuPont than a former DuPont attorney?

Likewise, it was no surprise when the governor of Minnesota appointed Sheryl Corrigan, a former manager at 3M — another major manufacturer of PFCs — as head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which has regulatory authority over PFCs that 3M produces in Minnesota for Scotchgard and other products. Who better to make sure pollution regulations are favorable to 3M than a former 3M manager?

There seems to be a pattern here. And it is a serious problem.

Scientists have compared PFCs to dioxin. An EPA advisory panel described certain PFCs as likely carcinogens. While scientists have much to learn about PFCs, we know they are toxic, extremely persistent, and they accumulate up the food chain. While most of us do not have dioxin in our bodies, almost all of us test positive for PFC contamination.

In Minnesota, agency officials claim Commissioner Corrigan recused herself from issues related to 3M and PFCs, but that recusal was never put in writing until a year and a half into her tenure. Even then, some of the staff working on PFCs did not learn about the recusal until a news reporter found out months later.

And in West Virginia, agency officials offer a similar line, except no one has ever produced a written recusal from Timmermeyer.

Have DuPont and 3M taken advantage of these “fox guarding the chicken coop” arrangements, where their people run the pollution control agencies?

In West Virginia, a DEP employee told federal investigators “DuPont reviewed and edited DEP news releases” related to PFCs. When one press release went out without DuPont approval, a company lawyer informed the environmental agency that this was “unacceptable.” The manufacturer’s control was so complete that a DuPont official wrote that if DuPont received any media inquiries about the unacceptable news release, she would state, “We understand that the DEP has disavowed that statement” and refer them to a DuPont ally in the department, according to an investigative report in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

In Minnesota, our state Senate held hearings at which a highly respected MPCA scientist, Dr. Fardin Oliaei, testified that agency managers sat by while 3M representatives pressured her to limit testing for PFC contamination. The pressure was so strong that Dr. Oliaei questioned whether her boss was the MPCA or 3M. Another MPCA employee reported that a 3M lobbyist told agency employees he’d met with their boss, Commissioner Corrigan, to discuss the need to get rid of certain staffers, citing an employee who had been aggressively investigating PFCs. The lobbyist later dismissed it as a joke. Joke or no joke, it is just one more way to thwart and silence workers trying to protect the environment.

For more than 20 years, DuPont and 3M have had research showing that PFCs are toxic to laboratory animals. In 1982, 3M and DuPont met with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to discuss a 3M study that showed facial birth defects in rats exposed to large doses of a PFC. They failed to disclose a 1981 DuPont study that showed two of eight pregnant PFC workers also gave birth to babies with facial defects.

Thousand-dollar contributions to West Virginia’s governor by DuPont lobbyists and former law partners of Secretary Timmermeyer might explain her appointment as well as the failure of state regulators to deal with PFCs appropriately. Large contributions made to Minnesota’s governor by 3M executives and lobbyists who are former colleagues of Commissioner Corrigan might likewise explain her appointment and a similar failure in Minnesota.

Once upon a time, the public could trust that state environmental agencies were diligently protecting the environment and public health. The disturbing parallel between West Virginia and Minnesota is no coincidence. It is an all-too-common illustration of polluters buying influence with politicians and their appointees who are supposed to be serving the public.

State Sen. Marty is chairman of the Minnesota Senate Environment Committee and has held hearings on PFCs.

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