So it's shocking that Maricopa County sheriff's deputies used stun guns on environmental protesters in little Mobile? And it floors you that Arizona's elected officials and oxymoronic Department of Environmental Quality don't always act in the best interests of the state's citizens?

That shouldn't be news to anyone who has lived around these parts for more than, say, a week or two. But it also shouldn't surprise anyone that ENSCO Inc. and the state of Arizona have been working for a decade to get a hazardous-waste treatment plant built an hour southwest of downtown Phoenix.

To hear the professional environmentalists from Greenpeace International tell it, however, the controversial plant just slinked off the drawing board. Few have noted that public hearing after public hearing after public hearing on the plant already had taken place since the early Eighties--with little protest--before Greenpeace probably ever heard of Mobile. The plant is practically finished now.

But the biggest of the Big Lies about this toxic affair is that ENSCO supposedly sneaked a crucial detail of its proposed operation past everyone--environmentalists, legislators, government officials, the public. Current news accounts of the proposed plant's checkered history claim that ENSCO only very recently indicated that most of the hazardous stuff coming to the Mobile plant would be from out of state.

That's simply not true, and the politicians and environmentalists who are shocked by that "news" of out-of-state waste ought to know better.

New Times reported in November 1985 that the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 96 percent of the stuff (mostly cancer-causing PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls) at the Mobile hazardous-waste plant would be trucked there for incineration from outside Arizona. ENSCO itself told New Times about 75 percent of its business would come from out of state. (The story was entitled "Somewhere Else, USA: Tiny Mobile, Arizona, will soon be a mecca for other states' poisons."

The state of Arizona and ENSCO didn't sign a contract until July 1, 1986, months after the New Times article appeared.

But some legislators are now bleating like a pathetic Greek chorus--"We just didn't know. We're sorry. We're innocent. And we're mad. Really." At least one state representative did take the time to know, lonely voice though he was at the time.

"We're going to end up with the worst of the hazardous wastes," Casa Grande Republican Jim Hartdegen told New Times in the November 1985 story. "I guess all I'm going to be able to do about it is sit in some coffee shop and tell people `I told you so.'"

Back then, Hartdegen couldn't find any members of Greenpeace to sip java with.

"Where were these people when this thing started so many years ago?" asks Mobile school principal Jerry Begalman. "Where was Greenpeace? It's way after the fact. All of a sudden, they come down here and make us paranoid, talking in generalities without any specific facts. I'll give them credit for making this into a big deal overnight. I suspect the state will give ENSCO back the $30 million they've put into this thing."

Begalman, who commutes to Mobile from the Valley, says most locals he's spoken with are noncommittal about ENSCO and the flap. "Most of them are far enough away from the plant site--a few miles--where they don't really care," he says. "They got their road, and they're happy."

The road Begalman is referring to is a 21-mile stretch that starts fourteen miles southwest of Interstate 10 and runs to the site of the hazardous-waste plant. Until ENSCO came along, the main route for the 200-or-so residents of the town was a bumpy, dusty dirt road. State taxpayers paid about $5 million and ENSCO about $1.5 million for the two-lane strip.

At least one national environmental watchdog expressed interest in the Mobile scenario back in the mid-Eighties. Will Collette of the Virginia-based Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes told New Times in 1985 that toxic-waste disposal firms seek out states like Arizona and Nevada where public and government response usually is muted--instead of states like California where environmental laws are generally stronger.

"Arizona is one of those `Somewhere Else, USA' places," Collette said at the time, though no one seemed to be listening.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin