THE POLLUTION ALL-STARS

IF YOU'D LIKE TO GIVE INDUSTRY FREE REIN OVER ARIZONA'S NATURAL RESOURCES, YOU'LL LOVE THESE POLITICIANS

The Chamber of Commerce may have written the bills, but lawmakers such as Jim Buster and the Pollution All-Stars have latched on to them with glee, proclaiming that the voters are demanding such legislation.

"There is a backlash to unrealistic regulation," Buster explains. "There is no doubt that there is a reaction to things that have been building up, say, since the Seventies."

Cummiskey doesn't get it. "[His colleagues] keep talking about this electoral mandate that they received during the last election, and I didn't hear anybody--in 14,000 houses, knocking door to door--say, 'Yeah, we think it's good to do away with all environmental oversight.'"

In fact, a 1992 survey by the Morrison Institute at Arizona State University revealed that when people were asked to choose between environmental preservation and economic growth, a four-to-one majority preferred environmental preservation. A large majority believed there is too little government regulation of the environment, and many respondents said they were altering their day-to-day activities to protect the environment. (Perhaps subversive surveys such as this one explain why conservative legislators are trying to slash funding for the Morrison Institute.)

And last month, the Behavior Research Center found that for the third year in a row, almost half of Arizona families reported that one or more members had negative reactions during times of high air pollution.

Few are willing to face the backlash. Raena Honan and Sandy Bahr, lobbyists for the Sierra Club and the Audubon Council, respectively, trudge to the Capitol every day to endure more abuse. Like DEQ's Fox, they're mocked or ignored. Honan--a conservative Republican--gets up at committee hearings, makes her speech about how environmental regulations protect the public, then sits back down to wait for the next bill.

If you're into bashing environmentalists, you'll have to take a number at the state Capitol. For those who care to keep track, here's a run-down of the Pollution All-Stars and just some of their pet projects.

Senator Jim Buster, Republican of Yuma. Office: 542-4139. Chairman, Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee.

Jim Buster's committee is a dream come true for industry lobbyists. It's composed mainly of conservative Republicans and rural Democrats, and it's a guaranteed launching pad for Chamber of Commerce bills.

Buster's admiration for extractive industries--especially the mines--might be explained in part by his financial disclosure statement, which shows he owns stock in Cyprus Minerals.

This session, Buster has joined Mesa Republican Senator Larry Chesley to sponsor one of the chamber's favorites, SB1290, the environmental audit bill. Critics call the bill a "Get Out of Jail Free Card."

Simply put, the bill would allow companies that conduct self-audits, disclose the findings to the Department of Environmental Quality and clean up the mess to escape penalty. DEQ's Fox doesn't mind that. What he does mind is the chamber's favorite provision--one that allows the polluter to keep the audit secret in most cases. That means those affected by the pollution would never know it. And in case they did find out about it, field notes, reports and other information from the audit--data needed to seek remedy under the law--would be unavailable. The media would be unable to review records and report on it.

The bill also called for a $10,000 penalty for whistle-blowers (read: conscientious government or corporate employees worried about the public welfare) who disclose the secrets. Amazingly, the Arizona Newspaper Association's lobbyist did not speak against SB1290. The audit bill is the cornerstone of the probusiness environmental backlash, and all of the heavy lobbyists were there to speak when it came before Buster's committee: Ken Quartermaine of Arizona Rock Products Association; Scott Butler of the Arizona Association of Industries; Jim Bush of--among others--Phelps Dodge; Jim Klinker of the Arizona Farm Bureau; and, of course, Chuck Shipley, vice president for public affairs, Arizona Chamber of Commerce.

Industry argues that the bill is good because it would encourage companies to monitor themselves and clean up pollution without the fear of penalties.

But in his testimony, Bush revealed industry's real motivation: to hamper the discovery process in lawsuits brought against polluters and to limit the media's access to damning reports.

His voice shaky with emotion, Bush told Buster's committee, "If you don't think that the press can tear you up, you're wrong." And if that doesn't happen, "Mr. David Baron down in Tucson will bring an action." (Baron, you'll recall, is the environmental expert for the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest.)

Environmental consultant Jim Lemmon wonders, "Why are they [industry] pushing this stuff? There's gotta be a reason, and the reason is they don't want any more of these class-action suits. They don't want any more results like this Hughes Aircraft case. They don't want to be put in a bad corporate image."

A class-action lawsuit brought against Hughes Aircraft in Tucson is a sterling example of why SB1290 is dangerous. And why the Pollution All-Stars want it to pass.

In 1991, Hughes offered a settlement of $84.5 million to 1,620 people who drank water tainted with TCE (trichloroethylene), a suspected cancer-causing solvent dumped at the Hughes site in south Tucson over three decades. Lemmon believes the environmental audit bill would have gotten Hughes off the hook by making crucial documents privileged. In the early Seventies, he says, Hughes hired an engineer who conducted tests and told the company it had a serious groundwater-contamination problem. Hughes "sat on that report. That report was never given to the regulatory agencies. It was only during discovery, during the toxic tort litigations and the wrongful-death claims, that that report came to light," Lemmon says.

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