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#239 - New Front In The Waste Wars -- Part 2: The Poisoners Invade Indian Country, 25-Jun-1991

Government officials and the waste industry have formed a tight
alliance aimed at making sure the producers of dangerous wastes have a
place to put their toxic garbage. We call this alliance the
"regulatory-industrial complex" because the phrase captures so well
what's going on. Despite what you may read in a civics textbook, there
is not a venal uncaring waste industry being held in check by a
government that is aggressively protecting the environment. There is in
fact a venal uncaring waste industry being supported and assisted by
the federal government, often with the active participation of state
and local governments. Together, they are destroying the earth as a
place suitable for human habitation. They do this in the name of
maintaining our "way of life."

As citizens have become concerned about obvious deterioration of the
global ecosystem and about rising rates of disease among Americans, it
has become nearly impossible to site new waste dumps and incinerators.
Faced with two alternatives--to force industry to produce less waste,
or to find new places to disperse toxins--the government's policy
overwhelming favors new places for dispersal. It would be unheard of
for government to interfere in the manufacturing processes of industry.

Traditionally, the place for burying and burning wastes has been
communities dominated by African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics
and poor whites. Now these groups have joined with middle-class whites
to form a far-reaching loose-knit coalition known as the grass-roots
movement for environmental justice. As a result, it is now nearly
impossible to site new dumps and incinerators anywhere.

The response of the regulatory-industrial complex has been to search
for untapped lands where people might still be persuaded to accept the
toxic residues of industrial society. What better place than lands
occupied by native peoples--the place traditionally known as Indian

There are more than 120 distinct native groups remaining from the 10
million indigenous people who inhabited North America when the European
conquest began in 1492. Now some two million strong, native peoples
live in several hundred distinct communities, bands, tribes or nations.
Their land holdings vary in size from a few hundred acres to many
millions of acres. However, they all tend to share certain
characteristics, chief among them poverty, high unemployment, a
religious reverence for all of nature, and a recognition that the well-
being of humans depends upon the well-being of the Earth.

The federal agency with the greatest interest in native people is the
Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which exercises Uncle Sam's trustee
responsibilities over Indian lands. BIA is part of the Department of

Some time during 1988, Interior Department decided that it would be
good "economic development" for native people to have dumps and
incinerators built on their lands. About that same time the federal
Department of Energy created the Office of the Nuclear Waste
Negotiator. A letter from that office, dated April 10, 1991, says its
"mission is to find a State or Indian tribe willing to host a
repository or monitored retrievable storage facility for nuclear
waste...." These 1988 events marked the beginning of a major assault on
Indian lands by the regulatory-industrial complex, an assault now in
full swing.

For its part, industry did not need much prodding to see the wisdom of
using Indian lands as dumping grounds. Indian lands are exempt from
state and local laws. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no
jurisdiction over municipal solid waste (msw) facilities on Indian
lands. The BIA would need to issue a license for an msw facility (a
dump or incinerator). However BIA would be the first to acknowledge it
has no technical staff competent to evaluate proposals and no
regulations governing operation of waste facilities.

EPA does have authority over hazardous waste facilities on Indian lands
but industry knows well that EPA rarely if ever turns down an
application for a hazardous waste incinerator, even when it has to
ignore serious environmental concerns and substantial public
opposition. The absence of requirements for state, county, or regional
government approval of hazardous waste facilities means Indian lands
offer many fewer hurdles to would-be hazardous waste dumpers, compared
to proposals on non-Indian lands.

A typical proposal comes from lawyers representing Bechtel Corporation-
-one of the largest construction firms in America with annual revenues
exceeding $10 billion.[1] Sam Goodhope of the Washington law firm, Bode
and Hainline, wrote September 25, 1990, to Leroy Clifford, a BIA
employee stationed on the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Lakota (Oglala
Sioux) people.[2] Mr. Goodhope misspelled Oglala but no matter--the
details (such as culture and social needs) of the native people were
not why he was writing. His letter spoke candidly of "targeted tribes"-
-native groups that Bechtel had targeted for projects. What kinds of
projects? The sky's the limit; Mr. Goodhope's letter says Bechtel is
willing to negotiate for 8 kinds of projects: a "cogeneration
plant" [he doesn't say exactly what that is--garbage and coal? sewage
sludge and garbage? garbage and hazardous waste?], a hydroelectric
power plant (with or without any existing dams, says Mr. Goodhope), a
hazardous waste disposal facility, a nuclear waste disposal facility, a
"second generation nuclear power generation facility," an electrical
transmission facility, oil and gas transport and refining facilities or
"other large projects." Pick your poison-Bechtel would like to help you
take it if you are an Indian.

The letter makes clear that Bechtel and the BIA are making a concerted
effort to locate "large projects" on any Indian land where the natives
seem friendly to the idea.

Amoco, the oil giant, has been much more selective. Amoco has
restricted its proposals so far to half a dozen enormous projects, each
combining a hazardous waste incinerator, a hazardous waste landfill,
and perhaps a solvent "recycling" facility. Solvent "recycling" is
EPA's phrase for a company that takes in liquid hazardous waste, blends
it with fuel oil to create a flammable, toxic, mixture, then sells the
mixture to cement kilns and industrial boilers where it is burned, thus
distributing the hazardous wastes, liability-free, into local

The Amoco subsidiary making these proposals is called Waste-Tech and
its overtures have been rejected during the last 18 months by
Chikaloons in Alaska, Tyoneks in Alaska, Kaibab-Paiutes in Arizona,
Moapas in Nevada, Kaws in Oklahoma, and Navajos in Arizona. In short,
every Waste-Tech proposal to date has been rejected, but no one
imagines that Indian people have heard the last from Waste-Tech.[3]

There have been dozens of other waste proposals for native lands. (For
a listing, see the reports mentioned in footnotes 2 and 3.) This
enormous assault has brought forth an intense response from native
people, who recognize that more than their health is jeopardized. Last
year at Dilkon, AZ, a Navajo group called CARE (Citizens Against
Ruining Our Environment) hosted the first annual conference, Protecting
Mother Earth--The Toxic Threat to Indian Land. In mid-June, 1991, the
second annual conference was held near Bear Butte in the Black Hills of
South Dakota, attended by 500 individuals representing 50 tribes.
Carter Camp, a Ponca leader from Oklahoma, told the conference that the
invasion of native lands by the waste industry, aided by the federal
government, represents a serious threat to Indian sovereignty--the
right of native people to control their own destiny on their own land.
Dumps created on native land will leak in the future and may threaten
non-native people living nearby. This would provide the dominant
society an excuse to declare that native people are unfit to conduct
their own affairs and are themselves a hazard that must be controlled.
(Mr. Camp's organization is focused on sovereignty issues; Campaign for
Sovereignty, Box 132, Red Rock, OK 74651; phone (405) 723-4220.)

It is clear that native people often share one important problem with
the dominant society: corrupt and venal leadership. The typical pattern
is that native leaders are plied with favors, they sign agreements,
then word gets out about what has happened. Ordinary people become
concerned and form organizations to fight not only the regulatory-
industrial complex, but also their own sold-out leadership. Happily,
another pattern is clear as well: for natives and non-natives alike,
organization, determination, and commitment by grass-roots people lead
to victory.

--Peter Montague


[1] Laton Mccartney, Friends in High Places; The Bechtel Story: The
Most Secret Corporation and How it Engineered the World (ny: Ballantine
Books, 1989).."

[2] The Goodhope letter appears as an appendix in Bradley Angel, THE
Francisco: Greenpeace, June, 1991). Available from Bradley Angel,
Greenpeace, 139 Townsend St. -4th fl., San Francisco, CA 94107; phone
(415) 512-9025.

[3] Protecting Mother Earth: The Toxic Threat to Indian Land (Dilkon,
AZ: Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, June, 1991). Available
from Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment [CARE], c/o George Joe,
HC 61 Box 272, Winslow, AZ 86047; price unknown; phone Lori Goodman in
Durango, CO: (303) 259-3164.

Descriptor terms: native people; race; african-americans; asian-
americans; latinos; hispanics; poverty; bia; doi; nuclear power; epa;
oglala; sioux; bechtel corporation; amoco; dilkon, az; az; conferences;
bear butte, sd; sd; public participation;