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#72 - Waste Management Gains Pipeline To Grass Roots Movement's Plans, 10-Apr-1988

Waste Management, Inc.--the nation's largest waste hauler and the
company fined most for breaking environmental laws--has successfully
developed an information pipeline into the grass roots environmental
movement. A combination of cunning and dumb luck has given the nation's
least lawabiding waste hauler an inside track to plans and strategies
of citizen groups across the country.

In 1987 the National Wildlife Federation, one of the nation's largest
environmental organizations, elected Dean L. Buntrock to its Board of
Directors. Mr. Buntrock is the original founder of Waste Management and
today serves as its president. He has personally guided the
organization from a tiny garbage hauling company to an international
giant. In 1968 Waste Management had 12 trucks and total revenues of
$65,000; by 1986 the firm was operating in 40 states and several
foreign countries and was earning net profits of $380 million.

Along the way, the firm earned itself a reputation for the worst
environmental record of any American corporation, paying record fines
for illegal activities in many states. They have been convicted and
fined across the country for price fixing and bid rigging. They have
been fined for maintaining double sets of books to prevent authorities
from learning about leaking landfills. They have been fined for selling
PCB-contaminated oil to rural people as dust suppressants, and to
homeowners as heating fuel. In a trial in Illinois, a Waste Management
executive admitted under oath that the firm keeps special accounts for
giving "promotional" gifts to politicians. The firm is reportedly under
investigation today by six grand juries in six states.

Waste Management and Dean Buntrock have been able to buy anything they
wanted, except respectability and an inside track to information about
their only effective adversary: the grass roots environmental movement.
But now even these things seem within Mr. Buntrock's grasp. The
National Wildlife Federation (a large, wealthy traditional
environmental organization--publisher of Ranger Rick magazine for kids)
has now taken up the cudgel on behalf of Waste Management. Dean
Buntrock has been elected to the Federation's board or directors.
Anyone who writes to the Federation objecting to Mr. Buntrock's
presence on their board receives a letter from the president of the
Federation, Jay D. Hair, saying his Federation is composed of 51 "grass-
roots affiliates" throughout the United States. Mr. Hair says these
grass roots environmental groups "determine the conservation policies
of the National Wildlife Federation, which has fought long and hard to
reduce the threats posed by toxic wastes." Representatives of these
grass roots organizations elected Mr. Buntrock to the board, says Mr.
Hair.

Mr. Hair goes on, "Mr. Buntrock has pledged to support all of the
conservation policies and goals of the National Wildlife Federation,
including those related to toxics and waste disposal." And, he finishes
with an unqualified endorsement of Waste Management itself: "We feel
that Waste Management, Inc. is conducting its business in a responsible
manner." Evidence? "We feel you should have the opportunity to review
many of the same materials that we used in reaching our judgement and
suggest that you write directly to Waste Management, Inc. for this
information," Mr. Hair concludes. It is not known what Mr. Buntrock and
Waste Management have promised to do for the Wildlife Federation in
return for the valuable endorsement of their business methods.

No matter. With one of the nation's largest and wealthiest
environmental organizations won over, Mr. Buntrock is now in a position
to begin systematically acquiring information about his firm's only
effective adversaries, the grass roots environmental movement.

Today the frontier of environmental action at the grass roots level is
the "community right to know" movement. The federal Superfund
amendments (known as SARA) require companies to begin this month to
report details about their use of hazardous chemicals. Charles Elkins,
director of the EPA's Office of Toxic Substances says the new law
represents nothing less than a "revolution" in the way society deals
with toxic chemicals. [NY TIMES Feb. 14, 1988, pg. 1.] "Data on
chemical hazards are going to be in peoples' home computers," he said.
With the new information, Mr. Elkins says, "the American people can
take the lead identifying problems and saying what is to be done about
them." Mr. Elkins says he expects local citizens "empowered with
knowledge" to bring pressure to force change.

There is no doubt that the SARA law has handed environmental groups an
array of new weapons for confronting polluters. Across the country,
creative new plans will be, and are being, developed by community
groups as the SARA law kicks in.

To assist grass roots groups make effective use of SARA, a handful of
environmental groups in Washington, DC, have formed a new organization
called the Working Group on Community Right to Know. Participants
include Clean Water Action, the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous
Waste, Environmental Action, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural
Resources Defense Council, the National Campaign Against Toxic Hazards,
the Environmental Policy Institute, U.S. Public Interest Research
Group, the National Center for Policy Alternatives, and National
Wildlife Federation. The Working Group's goal is to provide a
clearinghouse for citizens who want to know how to use the powerful new
law. They plan outreach to grass roots groups outside DC, to tell
people about the law, and to learn what strategies, developed at the
local level, are working. For example, recent minutes from a meeting of
the Working Group includes a report on grass roots actions under way in
Minnesota, Louisiana, Ohio, California, and Vermont.

Among the most active and hardworking members of the Working Group are
two representatives from the National Wildlife Federation. In fact, it
was one of them who, with Fred Millar, recently reported on grass roots
right-to-know events in Louisiana, Minnesota, Ohio, California, and
Vermont. We do not mean to impugn the good intentions of these
individuals; we do not know them. However, we find it difficult to
believe that Dean Buntrock of Waste Management can legitimately be
denied access to these individuals' meeting minutes, memos, notes,
documents, and records. After all, Mr. Buntrock is now their boss's
boss.

With outreach for the Working Group being coordinated by Fred Millar of
the Environmental Policy Institute--a respected member of the
legitimate environmental community--the files of Working Group members
are rapidly becoming the best single repository in the nation for grass
roots strategic planning on community right to know. It would be an
invaluable resource for industry to gain access to. It appears to us
that Dean Buntrock of Waste Management, Inc. has gained access to it
already.

Contact the Working Group at: 218 D St., SE, Washington, DC 20003;
(202) 5442600. Contact National Wildlife Federation at 1412 16th St.,
NW, Washington, DC 20036-2266. Phone: (202) 797-6800. For abundant
documentation on Waste Management's violations, send us $6.00 for a
copy of our report, "THE CHICKEN GUARDING THE FOXES" and relevant back
issues of HWN.

--Peter Montague

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Descriptor terms: wmi; waste hauling industry; corruption; organized
crime; citizen groups; environmentalists; nwf; dean buntrock; fines;
pcbs; il; jay hair; conservation; rtk; epa; sara; clean water action;
cchw; nrdc; national campaign against toxic hazards; environmental
policy institute; us public interest research group; national center
for policy alternatives; mn; la; oh; ca; vt; fred millar;