Conflicts of interest between state environmental agencies and the
polluters they regulate are a serious problem. These conflicts occur
because special interest money corrupts the political process. Lobbyists
and people affiliated with chemical manufacturers make generous campaign
contributions to governors, who appoint heads of the agencies responsible
for environmental protection.
So it was no surprise when Governor Tim Pawlenty appointed Sheryl
Corrigan, a former manager at 3M -- a manufacturer of perfluorinated
chemicals (PFCs) used in making "Scotchgard" -- as head of the Minnesota
Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) three years ago. The MPCA has regulatory
authority over PFCs that 3M produces. Who better to make sure pollution
regulations are favorable to 3M than a former 3M manager?
Unfortunately, this problem is not unique to Minnesota. In West
Virginia, the Governor appointed Stephanie Timmermeyer, a lawyer who
previously represented DuPont, as head of the West Virginia Department of
Environmental Protection (WV DEP). DuPont is also a manufacturer of PFCs.
The WV DEP has regulatory authority over the chemicals DuPont produces.
Who better to make sure pollution regulations are favorable to DuPont than
a former DuPont attorney?
There seems to be a pattern here. And it is a serious problem.
Scientists have compared PFCs to dioxin. An EPA advisory panel called
certain PFCs "likely carcinogens". While scientists have more to learn
about PFCs we know they are toxic, extremely persistent, and they
accumulate up the food chain. Unlike dioxin, which is not found in most
people, almost all of us would test positive for PFC contamination.
MPCA officials claim Commissioner Corrigan recused herself from issues
related to 3M and PFCs, avoiding any involvement in those issues. But
that recusal was not put in writing until a year and a half into her
tenure. Even then, some of the staff did not know about the recusal until
months later. And there is evidence that she may be involved with PFCs
West Virginia agency officials offer a similar line, except the agency
never produced a written recusal from Ms. Timmermeyer.
Have DuPont and 3M taken advantage of these "fox guarding the chicken
coop" arrangements, where their people run state environmental agencies?
A West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection employee told
federal investigators "DuPont reviewed and edited DEP news releases"
related to PFCs. When one press release went out without DuPont approval,
a company lawyer informed the environmental agency that this was
"unacceptable". The manufacturer's control was so complete that a DuPont
official wrote that if DuPont received any media inquiries about the
unacceptable news release she would state, "We understand that the WVDEP
has disavowed that statement..." and refer them to a DuPont ally in the
department, according to an investigative report in the Charleston
In Minnesota, the Senate Environment Committee held hearings at which a
highly respected MPCA scientist, Dr Fardin Oliaei, testified that agency
managers sat by while 3M representatives pressured her to limit testing
for PFC contamination. The pressure was so strong that Dr. Oliaei
questioned whether her boss was the MPCA or 3M! Another MPCA employee
reported that a 3M lobbyist told agency employees that he'd recently met
with their boss, Commissioner Corrigan, to discuss the future of the
agency and the need to get rid of certain staffers, citing an employee who
had been aggressively investigating PFCs. The lobbyist later dismissed it
as a joke. Joke or no joke, it is just one more way to silence workers
trying to protect the environment.
For more than twenty years, DuPont and 3M have had research showing that
PFCs are toxic to laboratory animals. In 1982, 3M and DuPont met with the
EPA to discuss a 3M study that showed facial birth defects in rats exposed
to large doses of a PFC. They failed to disclose a 1981 DuPont study that
showed 2 of 8 pregnant PFC workers also gave birth to babies with facial
Thousand dollar contributions made to West Virginia's governor by DuPont
lobbyists who are former law partners of Secretary Timmermeyer might
explain her appointment, as well as the failure of state regulators to
deal with PFCs appropriately.
Large contributions to Governor Pawlenty by 3M executives and lobbyists, former colleagues of Commissioner Corrigan, might likewise explain her appointment. It could explain why the MPCA removed several key people working on the PFC investigation. Now, the MPCA has actually forced Dr.
Oliaei to leave the agency, destroying the career of a dedicated scientist. This leaves the MPCA without her expertise at a time when it she is most
needed -- we learned at a February Senate hearing that her last research
project at the MPCA found that Mississippi River fish have a higher
concentration of PFCs than wildlife tested anywhere in the world.
Once upon a time, the public could trust that state environmental agencies
were diligently protecting the environment and public health. The
disturbing parallel between Minnesota and West Virginia is no coincidence.
It is an all too common illustration of polluters buying influence with
politicians and their appointees who are supposed to be serving the