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Groups Want Whitman to Explain How Monsanto Escaped Crackdown for Decades of PCB Pollution

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, June 18, 2003

WASHINGTON — Public interest groups today called on US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman to explain a key change in a controversial and highly unusual pollution cleanup agreement before she leaves office later this month.

The Anniston, Alabama-based citizen group, Community Against Pollution (CAP), and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) called on Whitman to explain documents showing that important changes favorable to Monsanto were made to a negotiated cleanup plan within a week of a meeting Whitman had requested on the company’s PCB pollution in Anniston. The March 6, 2002 meeting at EPA headquarters came just 12 days after an Alabama state jury had found the company liable on multiple counts for decades of secretly poisoning Anniston and its residents.

Within a week after the Whitman meeting, the cleanup agreement that had been secretly negotiated between EPA and Monsanto was altered to replace an impending and expensive state court-ordered cleanup with a federal study of the pollution site. The modification could save Monsanto hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs.

The EPA has traditionally pre-empted state authority for environmental enforcement actions only when states are failing to act, not to block state action with federal inaction. Whitman and EPA staff members have repeatedly told Senators, the media and the public that the Anniston cleanup agreement was negotiated by career, regional office staff following routine procedures.

In fact, the consent decree was unknown to the public until late March 2002, when a Monsanto employee acknowledged its existence while under cross- examination in the award phase of the Alabama trial.

CAP Executive Director David Baker and EWG President Ken Cook wrote to Whitman today, saying, “We cannot help but wonder... if the March 6 'briefing' was more of a decision-making meeting, not just an update for you on the situation as it had unfolded to that point. The change made to the consent decree subsequent to your meeting was a major one, and it was highly unusual.”

“More than likely, there is a reasonable explanation for the confusing sequence of events and unanswered questions. The people of Anniston have a right to know exactly how this consent decree was developed, and by whom. Despite our best efforts, the genesis of the Anniston consent decree remains unclear — and troubling,” the two wrote.

Baker and Cook are calling on Whitman to provide:

  • a detailed explanation of who decided the immediate, post-meeting change and other key parts of the Anniston consent decree;
  • what was discussed and decided at the March 6, 2002 meeting, and who made the respective decisions; and,
  • a complete record of which Monsanto representatives communicated with which Administration officials in the negotiation process of the Anniston consent decree.

The Administration has several prominent officials with former ties to PCB polluters with an interest in the consent decree, including Monsanto. EWG has pursued answers to the question of how Monsanto was able to win such a consent decree for 15 months through roughly 10 Freedom of Information Act requests to various agencies, only to be met with a pattern of evasions and non-answers.

Meanwhile, final review of the cleanup agreement is complete, with final approval by a federal court pending.

The Whitman meeting memo, with its topics of discussion completely redacted, are posted with other key documents at www.ewg.org.

CAP is the citizen watchdog organization that has led efforts to press for a cleanup of Monsanto’s pollution. EWG has investigated Monsanto’s pollution of Anniston, web-posting 4,000 pages of internal company documents at its web site in the process.

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