Last week, The New York Times revealed that as long ago as 1972 the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (precursor to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) knew of fatal design defects in the General Electric nuclear reactors now gone critical in Japan, but instead of banning the design, they stamped it as “safe” for nearly four decades.
That jaw–dropping revelation caused me to reconsider recent Tea Party demands for the death of the Environmental Protection Agency. Despite my staunch environmentalism, I’m now willing to consider ridding us not only of EPA, but also NRC and every federal regulatory agency irrevocably corrupted by big corporate influence.
Agencies like NRC and EPA lull us with promises of environmental compliance, while conniving with big corporations to fast–track pet projects, as they shove horrific public safety risks under the regulatory rug.
The NRC case is damning: in 1972 a federal safety official eerily described the disaster now unfolding at Fukushima, saying that GE’s Mark I nuclear reactor presented an unacceptable safety risk and should be discontinued. His supervisor, Joseph Hendrie, nixed the idea, arguing that a ban could “well be the end of nuclear power.”
Like so many corporate toadying Washington bureaucrats, Mr. Hendrie was rewarded for siding with industry over safety. He was made head of NRC! Now, 23 Mark I reactors are in service across the U.S. – with the same fatal engineering flaw built into every one.
As with NRC, so with EPA. Corruption has often turned EPA into a rubber–stamp for unsafe corporate projects and practices. Observe, for example, natural gas companies clamoring to drill thousands of new wells across the U.S. using a controversial technique called hydraulic fracking. The New York Times last month revealed that EPA has suppressed numerous studies showing fracking to be seriously harmful.
Unpublished EPA studies concluded that radioactive fracking wastewater cannot be fully diluted. But despite wastewater radioactivity levels sometimes hundreds of times higher than the maximum federal drinking water standard, EPA has not required frequent tests of radioactive treated wastewater.
As with NRC and EPA, so with the U.S. Mineral Management Service – renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management after its shameless, arguably illegal, performance in the lead–up to the BP Deepwater spill. MMS employees regularly rotated between the regulator and big oil companies they were supposed to police (a common practice among corporations and agencies).
No matter where you look you’ll find federal regulatory agencies in the same chummy relationship with big business. The U.S. Department of Agriculture – like many federal regulators – often invites big industry to help write the environmental and safety rules used to regulate new products.
So it was that agribusiness giant Monsanto was invited by the Bush administration to literally “cut–and–paste” its findings into the environmental assessment that resulted in the Obama administration approval of Monsanto’s controversial genetically engineered crop known as Roundup Ready alfalfa.
If you’re afraid for your children, don’t just urge government to hunt down Al–qaeda. Demand that it slam shut the revolving door between big corporations and regulatory agencies, and lift the veil of secrecy that conceals undue corporate influence.
Most importantly, prosecute federal officials and corporate managers who subvert public safety and the common good in order to make rich corporations even richer.
Glenn Scherer is senior editor of Blue Ridge Press, www.blueridgepress.com