Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Bergmann attacks EPA, says it arrests for infractions that make "no sense"

Only 25 percent of 9th District voters found Charlotte Bergmann's message persuasive in 2010. One message she's delivering in 2012 -- the EPA is hurting small business.
Only 25 percent of 9th District voters found Charlotte Bergmann's message persuasive in 2010. One message she's delivering in 2012 -- the EPA is hurting small business.

"The EPA, alone has been responsible for numerous small business closings and the arrest of small business owner's (sic)  for infractions; even ones which makes (sic) no sense to anyone but the EPA." -- Charlotte Bergman for Congress website.

We’d probably have had somebody copy edit this claim before posting it, but let’s not quibble.

Charlotte Bergmann, the Republican candidate for the 9th Congressional District seat now held by Democrat Steve Cohen, believes the EPA contributed to the closing of some small businesses and the arrests of small business owners for infractions she suggests make sense only to the EPA.

This falls into the realm of opinion but we thought it would be valuable to explore the issues the now-perennial Republican candidate is pushing. Rather than apply a Truth-O-Meter to Bergmann’s opinion, we are presenting this as a story and will allow readers to make their own determination about whether Bergmann is making a reasonable claim.

Asked for source material, Bergman said, "I have a couple of names of people who have been arrested as a result of what the EPA has been involved in. I’ll have my communications director get back with you."

One example Bergmann’s communications director Brenda Fowler called to our attention was a case involving American Drum and Pallet of Memphis and its president, Johnnie Williams. In a campaign email, Williams is described as "a 69-year-old man with cancer (who) has been thrown in jail due to ‘EPA’ violations. Mr. Williams, a senior citizen has had an heart attack, prostate cancer and diabetes. According to the EPA report, there was uncertainty as to the extent of damage from his company. I know this man as a Deacon at the Temple of Love CME church.  He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and has a personal relationship with Dr. Aveda King. This man is a God-fearing man. Worked hard in the church as a Deacon and he spent his life working with young people trying to giving them a chance to learn the value of work and character building. This man drove the bus for the church to ensure people who had no transportation was able to get to church to worship.  Yet, no good deed goes unpunished.  He was thrown in jail for violating EPA rules.  Yet, this link leaves a degree of uncertainty about the violation."  
 
The link actually shows memos not from the EPA but between officials of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation that the campaign says shows "a degree of uncertainty about the extent of the damage from this company."

If Bergmann’s researchers had looked into this further, they might have found that Williams was ultimately charged and convicted in federal court for storing hazardous materials without a permit. It was his second conviction and he is currently serving a 37-month sentence at the medium security prison in Marion, Ill. A sentencing memorandum from U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton III states in part that leaking drums of toxic substances and pesticides, including 144 drums of Methyl Parathion -- "a potential biochemical weapon" -- were found at Williams’ Walnut Street facility. Stanton noted that "the EPA incurred expenditures in excess of $100,000 to conduct an emergency clean up of American Drum and Pallet Company."

A check of the company’s status with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s corporate records division shows the company has an "inactive" status. Yes, it’s out of business.

To get a broader perspective on the EPA’s enforcement regime, we contacted the agency and received copious evidence of the activities of the Criminal Enforcement division of the agency, complete with summaries of investigations and thumbnail sketches of the cases against 18 fugitives from justice, including their mug shots.

The EPA also provided this written statement: "Many environmental statutes include criminal provisions for knowing and egregious violations of the nation's laws designed to protect people’s health and the environment. To enforce these provisions, EPA has a criminal enforcement program, including special agents with full federal law enforcement authority, including the authority to make arrests, if necessary." Click this link to learn more about the criminal enforcement program.

From the EPA,  we learned about the case of Omran Alghazouli, believed to be living in Syria, who was charged with selling R-12 Freon, an ozone-depleting substance, illegally smuggled into Southern California from Mexico. We learned about Butch R. Bustamonte, who allegedly ordered the crew of his ship to lie to the U.S. Coast Guard about its waste oil management system. And we learned about Frerik Pluimers, the former CEO and president of western hemisphere operations for Saybolt International. He is accused of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and conspiracy for allegedly bribing Panamanian officials with U.S. funds dealing with independent petrochemical lab testing. Still another guy dumped toxic arsenic from gold mining on public lands.

We’re guessing Alghazouli’s operation went out of business, although he may still be pursuing his small business interests in Syria. But Bustamonte’s ship, the M/V Katerina, still plies the seas, and its owner, DST Shipping, is still in business in Thessaloniki, Greece. (The Katerina’s captain and chief engineer pleaded guilty. Four crewmen shared a $250,000 Justice Department reward.)  And Saybolt, which is based in The Netherlands, and has been in operation since 1898 "providing a wide range of independent inspection, monitoring, verification and analytical services," is very much a going concern. Neither DST nor Saybolt are particularly small but both stayed in business despite prosecution by the EPA.

But do those prosecutions make sense to anyone outside the EPA?

Making it illegal to poison groundwater, bribe foreign officials or dump waste oil at sea makes sense to us, but just in case, we turned to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Action Fund’s director, Heather V. Taylor.

"The EPA does not have the authority to arrest people over minor infractions," she said. "People who get arrested are ones that are really out there endangering people’s lives. So if (preventing) endangering people’s lives is something that doesn’t make sense to this or any other candidate, then sure, she could make that claim."

She went on: "The EPA is empowered to protect the public. . . If it’s an overreach to try to have healthy citizens, then I guess I’m in favor of a lot of that." We think that means Taylor is among those, besides employees of the EPA, who see the sense of arresting people for violating environmental protection laws.

Bergmann’s campaign backed up her claim of arrests and business shutdowns over nonsense EPA enforcement by providing examples -- including one of a business owner with a history of flagrant violations. The EPA defended itself by highlighting numerous examples of what appears to be reasonable enforcement of reasonable laws aimed at protecting the environment.

While we don’t contest her right to an opinion, the evidence provided by the plaintiff (Bergmann) falls well short of the counter-argument from the defendant, the EPA. On this specific charge that the EPA is making arrests for infractions that make no sense to anyone but the EPA, we find the defendant not guilty.