The Environmental Chicken Coop... Has a Foxy New Commissioner

The newest member of the Phoenix Environmental Quality Commission, cited by a backer for his "expertise" on environmental matters, is an attorney for one of the city's most conspicuous corporate polluters.

Doug Jorden was named to the commission last week upon the recommendation of Councilmember Bill Parks and Mayor Terry Goddard, who has listed environmental protection as a major concern in every campaign since he entered politics. Jorden represents Browning-Ferris Industries Incorporated (BFI), a national waste-disposal and pollution-control giant frequently accused of damaging the environment it seeks to protect. BFI's local operations include commercial garbage-hauling contracts, a medical-waste incinerator in central Phoenix and efforts to open a new landfill on the bank of the Agua Fria River in El Mirage.

Parks says Jorden, whose main expertise is in zoning and urban land-use issues, asked for a post on the city's environmental quality commission. "I know him from his work on other city committees," Parks says. "He apparently is something of an expert in the environmental area and, as a person, whenever I've talked to him, he's been very forthright and honest.

"I'm a supporter of citizen participation in city government, but if you have some experts in the field, they may be able to point out [problems others would miss]," Parks says. As a member of the commission, Jorden will advise the city council on environmental problems, recommend policy and provide opinions about the local impact of proposed state and federal laws. The commission was established in 1987 and is comprised of fifteen persons representing business, voter and government groups.

Jorden practices law with Larry Lazarus, one of Parks' main political backers. And his work with BFI wired him into some of Terry Goddard's key advisers.

The Goddard connection stems from Jorden's work representing BFI in two controversial bids to open new garbage dumps near Phoenix: one near Queen Creek, which was dropped because of local opposition, and the proposed El Mirage site that has come under heavy fire from county officials and environmentalists because it would be next to a river and threatens to undermine the economics of the county's new regional landfill near Wickenburg. In addition, nearby landowners, including some of the Valley's biggest developers, fear BFI's proposed dump will damage land values in the area.

Faced with intense criticism and political pressure to drop the El Mirage site earlier this year, BFI hired Gutierrez-Jamieson, a political consulting firm with close ties to Goddard and City Hall. Led by former state Senator Alfredo Gutierrez, the firm developed a new political strategy that helped BFI turn the tables by outfoxing local opponents and squashing county-backed legislation that would have prohibited the landfill. Jorden says the company will soon be ready to apply for a state operating permit.

Locally, however, BFI is best-known for its medical-waste incinerator, located next to the Maricopa County Medical Center, which has spurred extensive complaints and accusations about toxic air emissions. Earlier this year, BFI Medical Waste Systems, the operating subsidiary, was fined $2,740 for violating county air-quality regulations and ordered to stop accepting wastes from out-of-state hospitals.

County health officials also required the company to test emissions for toxic air contaminants, which detected no problems at the time but were inconclusive concerning emissions prior to the county crackdown. The tests resulted from claims by health workers in the nearby county hospital that incinerator emissions were making them ill and filtering into such sensitive areas as the newborn intensive-care nursery, where patients also would be exposed.

Nationwide, BFI has been a magnet for criticism of its business and environmental practices. The company has been convicted in three eastern states--Ohio, Florida, and Georgia--on charges ranging from bid-rigging to unfair trade practices in its garbage-hauling business. In one case, BFI agreed to pay the U.S. government $725,000 for overcharging on government contracts. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a $6 million civil judgment against BFI for trying to drive another garbage company out of business in Vermont.

The company also has been fined $2.5 million by the Environmental Protection Agency--one of the largest environmental fines in history--for environmental violations at its main hazardous-waste disposal facility near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Besieged by problems, BFI last year hired former EPA administrator William Ruckelshaus as its new CEO--a move that one environmental group compared to Neiman-Marcus' effort to market designer garbage bags. "BFI continues the trend toward wrapping nasty garbage in pretty wrapping," smirked officials of the Citizens' Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes based in Arlington, Virginia.

Bill Meek, a spokesman for BFI in Phoenix, returned New Times' original call to Jorden. Meek says Jorden is not involved in BFI's medical-waste disposal activities. "Doug represents the solid-waste disposal division only," he explains. "I don't know anything about his involvement with the commission, that's something he's doing as a private citizen."

Jorden admits to New Times that aside from his work for BFI over the past two years, most of his experience has been in real estate matters. He is vice-chair of the Paradise Valley Village Planning Committee and was counsel for the town of Paradise Valley for four years. He says he knows little about the environmental quality commission's work but says he asked for the appointment because he "likes to be involved in community activities."

Jorden says he became interested in environmental quality issues as a result of his local work with BFI, the nation's second largest waste-handling conglomerate. "I don't have any particular idea of what needs to be done right now," he says. "I expect to figure out how I could best fit in once I've attended some meetings and seen how the group works."

BFI's incinerator, besides being subject to county air-quality rules, could be affected by new pollution regulations the city might adopt. Arizona cities also can pass environmental ordinances that influence where garbage-disposal contractors take their garbage.

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Kathleen Stanton