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#138 - The Polluters' Secret Plan, And How You Can Mess It Up!, 17-Jul-1989

People united for environmental justice are succeeding on a grand
scale. From one end of America to the other, polluters and their pals
in government are meeting unrelenting citizen opposition to bad waste
disposal projects. These efforts are so effective that projects are
going down the tubes left and right.

It has become impossible to site a hazardous waste landfill (so far as
we know, there is only one such proposal left with a reasonable chance
of being built--a BFI dump in Colorado). Hazardous waste incinerators
are under attack everywhere; the situation is so bad that the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has abandoned all pretense of
"protection," blatantly trying to rescue embattled incinerators, but
the people are making themselves heard with unremitting vigor.
Municipal dumps are under constant attack in every state. Sludge
incinerators are harder and harder to defend. Radioactive waste
landfills are as popular as bubonic plague.

Naturally, the polluters are concerned. They need waste facilities to
"get rid of" their pollution. Without somebody, someplace to take their
wastes, they'd have to rethink industrial processes to avoid waste and
prevent pollution. Over the past two decades, established environmental
groups and the polluters (industry and government together) have formed
an uneasy alliance, attacking each other, suing each other, arguing and
debating over parts per million, best available control technology,
state of the art risk assessments, and the other buzzwords embodied
into new legislation after Earth Day 1970. Finally, during the early
'80s, the warring parties reached agreement that "risk assessment" is
the best way to decide how to proceed, and they agreed that it is
acceptable to kill a certain number of innocent citizens. One killed
per million exposed is now the accepted definition of "acceptable
risk," though occasionally both industry and government try to lower
the standard to one killed per 100,000 exposed, thus increasing the
human sacrifice tenfold. In return for being allowed to take the lives
of citizens without due process, the polluters are supposed to provide
jobs and a high standard of living for at least 60% of the people;
about 20% are to remain officially poor, and another 20% are to remain
in economic limbo; for its part in this unwritten agreement, government
gets financial rewards for elected officials and simple power for
agency bureaucrats, many of whom later go to work for industry.

Unfortunately, the people directly impacted--the people most likely to
be killed or maimed or made sick--generally weren't invited into this
decade-long discussion. And now these powerless people have decided to
come to the bargaining table, invited or not. The result has been a
spontaneous, sometimes rowdy, outpouring of the human spirit as
thousands upon thousands of local groups have said, first, "Not in my
back yard." Quickly, these groups, one after another, have broadened
this narrow, self-defeating view into, "Not in ANYONE'S back yard,"
which has proven to be an unbeatable strategy. From these unconnected
fights, the movement for environmental justice has been born.

Naturally, the polluters are concerned. They have much at stake in the
projects being defeated. Furthermore, they have made a huge investment
over the past two decades--learning to cope with the barrage of
environmental legislation of the '70s and early '80s--and much of that
investment is in danger of going down the tubes. People are just saying
"No" to dumping, "No" to sickening air pollution from incinerators,
"No" to political compromises that result in "acceptable" risks that
sacrifice the voiceless, the powerless, and the poor.

In response to the new grass roots environmental movement focused on
justice, industry has hired an army of consultants to advise them how
to get what they want. Conferences and symposia and workshops have been
held. Massive "education campaigns" have been undertaken on TV. People
have been hired who have college degrees in "community relations."
Tired and disgruntled employees of major environmental groups have been
propositioned to run interference, and some have accepted. Major
polluters have wooed, and won, positions on the boards of directors of
large environmental organizations. Industry has begun a counter- attack
against their most potent adversaries, the Nimbys.

But never fear. The polluters do not have anything up their sleeve that
you cannot handle. For the same reasons they create all the waste to
begin with, they aren't very good at countering Nimbys: They're just
not all that sharp. Besides, you have two unique factors going for you:
First, you are right and they are not. Second, they are hired guns,
doing what they do because they're paid to do it. In contrast, your
main motivation is the passionate defense of your family and home.

But now you have even more going for you, as a result of a new 36-page
pamphlet that lays bare industry's strategy: THE POLLUTERS' "SECRET
PLAN" AND WHAT YOU CAN DO TO MESS IT UP! by Will Collette, chief
organizer at Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste (CCHW).

Besides being one of the country's most experienced organizers, Will is
a terrific writer, so he describes and dissects the industry strategy
with great wit and humor. Actually, he lays out SEVERAL industry
strategies: First he gives the "Outlines of a Polluter's 'Battle Plan'"
in which he describes the steps that polluters (and their supporters in
government) take to trip up citizens who are opposing facilities. Then
he describes industry's "Cerrell strategy" for siting new facilities in
locations where people are least likely to be able or willing to
resist. He then moves on to describe the GUMBY strategy ("give us many
back yards")--industry's simultaneous attack on many sites, hoping to
win at least one. He covers industry's use of risk assessments to have
their way with you ("divide and conquer"), and government's attempt to
shore up industry in this effort ("What you say doesn't matter.") The
longest section is on industry's SLAPP strategy ("strategic lawsuit
against public participation") in which Will tells you how to avoid a
lawsuit and what to do in the highly-unlikely event of a suit.

For each of these strategies, which have been culled from industry
trade journals, and from Will's years on the street, he offers ways to
counteract polluters' assaults. Often he shows how to turn a polluter's
attacks against the polluter.

All in all, this is an essential compilation of flak to watch out for
as you battle a polluter. It also has more than 30 hilarious cartoons
(for example, three men in suits, two shaking hands, one saying,
"Congratulations, Dave! I don't think I've read a more beautifully
evasive and subtly misleading public statement in all my years in

No matter what fight you're in, you'll find something useful here. Get:
THE POLLUTERS' "SECRET PLAN" (Arlington, VA: CCHW, 1989). Available for
$6.95 (except for businesses, consultants, and agencies, for whom the
price is $99.95 [seriously]) from CCHW, P.O. Box 926, Arlington, VA
22216; phone (703) 276-7070.

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: polluters' secret plan; environmental justice; will
collette; cchw;