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Why Perry Hates Those Regulators: They’re Bad For (His) Business

Memo Pad

Why Perry Hates Those Regulators: They’re Bad For (His) Business


Like so many Republican officials of the Tea Party persuasion, Rick Perry despises the Environmental Protection Agency – a feeling he has expressed repeatedly in speeches, lawsuits, legislation and even a book titled Fed Up! Perhaps that is only natural for the governor of Texas, a “dirty energy” state where the protection of air, water, and human health rank well below the defense of oil company profits for most politicians.

But Perry has at least one other reason for smacking down those bureaucrats so eagerly. When environmental regulators do their job properly, that can mean serious trouble for Perry’s largest political donors.

The outstanding example is Harold Simmons, a Dallas mega-billionaire industrialist who has donated well over a million dollars to Perry’s campaign committees recently. With Perry’s eager assistance – and despite warnings from Texas environmental officials — Simmons has gotten approval to build an enormous radioactive waste dump over a crucial underground water supply.

“We first had to change the law to where a private company can own a license, and we did that,” Simmons boasted in 2006, after the Texas legislature and the governor rubber-stamped initial legislation and approvals for the project. “Then we got another law passed that said [the state] can only issue one license. Of course, we were the only ones that applied.”

Most Americans have never heard of Simmons, despite his fantastic wealth, because he wisely keeps his head low, generally refusing press interviews and avoiding media coverage. Last year a local monthly in his hometown published the headline “Dallas’ Evil Genius” over a scathing and fascinating investigative profile that examined not only the peculiar history of litigation between Simmons and his children (who no longer speak to him), but his political machinations, corporate raiding and continuing corporate penchant for pollution.

In D magazine, reporter Laray Polk explained how Simmons and a company he owns — innocuously named Waste Control Systems — manipulated state and federal law to allow him to build a nuclear-waste disposal site in West Texas. But construction has been delayed for years in part because the site appears to overlay the Oglalla Aquifer, an underground water supply that serves 1.9 million people in nine states, raising obvious concerns over radioactive contamination. In the Simmons profile and subsequent posts on the Investigative Fund website last year, Polk explored the controversy over the proposed WCS facility, including strong objections by staff analysts at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality who found evidence that atomic waste might indeed leach into a huge pool of drinking water.

Now reporters for the Los Angeles Times have revived, advanced and updated the WCS story with much additional detail, including interviews with the Texas environmental officials who oversaw the approval process for the facility. For a period last summer, that process appeared to have been slowed down to allow serious consideration of the scientific data collected by the commission’s staff.

In other words, the regulators were trying to do their job, which meant expensive delays and perhaps an eventual ruling against the nuclear waste site. That would have protected the Oglalla Aquifer and cost Simmons hundreds of millions in lost investment and profit. But then Perry’s appointees on the commission voted by two to one to issue licenses for the WCS site.

This year, officials on another Texas commission appointed by Perry — who oversee low-level radioactive waste in the state — voted to allow the WCS site to accept nuclear waste from 34 other states in a highly controversial decision later ratified by the state legislature and signed by Perry himself. Not long after that, according to the L.A. Times report, Simmons gave $100,000 to Americans for Rick Perry, an “independent” committee supporting his presidential candidacy. (Back in 2004, Simmons was a major contributor to another “independent” political committee, the notorious Swift Boat Veterans group that distorted Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s war record in a series of TV ads.)

According to a spokesman for WCS, the Texas governor’s happy and lucrative relationship with Simmons did nothing to help the company except to turn the billionaire into “an easy target…It made the state redouble its efforts to be thorough.” But the Texas officials who opposed the approval on principle have since quit their jobs with the state. As one of them told the LA Times reporters, “This is a stunningly horrible public policy to grant a license to this company for that site,” Lewis said in an interview. “Something had to happen to overcome the quite blatant shortcoming of that application. … The only thing I know in Texas that has the potential to do that is money in politics.”

As for the Texas official (and Perry appointee) who overruled his own scientists and approved the deal, he left state government, too — to work as a lobbyist for Simmons. He says that no undue influence led to the favorable outcome for his new employer.

Texas must be the only place on earth where anyone would believe that.

Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers. Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003). Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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  1. John August 20, 2011

    Why are you Liberal Mob members so frightened of each and every Republican who declares that you immediately descend on them like the irrational mob that you are and try to destroy them? Rick Perry is barely out of the gate and you attack one of his donors??? for being a polluter??? How about attacking some of Obama’s supporters for being domestic terrorists? Oh, I forgot. That would be rational and the Liberal Mob, like all mobs, is irrational.

  2. Edna Mae August 20, 2011

    OMG could Perry be any less responsible about his own constituent? Or those from the 8 other States who rely on Texas water. To think that he and his big oil company buddies might be able to abolish the EPA so that they could also foul our air as well. Haven’t we had enough of the oil companies electing Presidents from TX? We’ll be paying for the last one for at least a decade of job losses, economic disaster from wars we had to finance, jobs flowing overseas. I hope the media goes to town on Perry’s ego with this environmental information, not to mention the dozens of gaffs he has already made just in the week since he announced.

    Maybe the Republicans will decide to go with Bachmann (HA! that would be a good one).

  3. rbay37 August 20, 2011

    If there is a God (how ironic since we’re talking about Rick Perry), the Republicans will nominate Perry. The Dems will go onto a major landslide. Please Republicans nominate Perry…..it will make for a fun 2012 watching the repubs implode.

  4. Pataman August 20, 2011

    So, John, I guess you feel it’s okay to foul the air and put this nuclear waste plant over a large aquifer so it can make that water undrinkable. And that aquifer supplies water to more states than just Texas.

    Think Cancer!

  5. SlyRobber August 20, 2011

    John mein herr, you are obviously a reich wing programable zombie troll. Don’t you have kittens to stomp or jackboots to polish? If you honestly think in your little lapdog mind that it’s ok for your master to Poison more than a million people then your are of unspeakable evil. Please Godspeed to he’ll with the rest of the demons.

  6. noreasterbybirth August 21, 2011

    Again I just feel the need to comment. My wife laughs at me, but I can’t help myself. I really think it does the public discourse absolutely no good to compair one candidate to Hitler and another to a zombie troll. Really?
    Rick Perry is no saint and no amount of praying will get him there. That said, he has some truly sounds principles and some ideas that have caused him to propel his state to the highest level in job growth. While he does detest the EPA, as many people do, his presidency would not mean the end to the EPA. Just like Obama’s presidency has not meant the end to our overseas wars, Bush tax cut elimination, and jobs creation. All things he guaranteed in his first couple of years (now long gone). Any president soon realizes that the things promised must go through a senate and house of representatives before passed. Thank God for checks and balances! But I do think that the last 3 years have shed a real question mark on the Obama “plan”. Why not look at it from another angle? Perry certainly has a different angle than Obama and if elected might just be getting the thanks of a lot of newly working Americans. He certainly has done that for a heck of a lot Texans.
    Also, comparisons to George W. Bush are not realistic. They are not alike at all. Actually don’t really like each other much. But that is the way the liberal, narrow-minded media will try to portray him.

  7. cefus23 August 21, 2011

    This man has no business being president of anything.

  8. noreasterbybirth August 21, 2011

    Well he certainly has more credentials and better credentials than B.O. And he is president…………

  9. kurt.lorentzen August 21, 2011

    The problem isn’t with regulation, its with abuse of those regulations. This goes right back to campaign finance reform, which every presidential candidate in memore has said they would tackle, but none have. Obvoiusly we can’t be building radioactive waste dumps over aquifers. But we have to stay competitive in the international marketplace. Did I say STAY competitive? I mean REGAIN our competitive status. Absolutely everything tied to government with regard to business is a series of tooth-pulling efforts to get approval for, such as environmental impact statements for things like grocery stores – really! American manufacturing is practically non-existent. We import everything. Boeing builds airplanes – one of the few remaining major industries that still builds exportable products. And they can’t relocate in a right-to-work state in order to remain competitive? There goes another industry down in flames. Over regulation costs us jobs, lowers our economic status, causes inflation – all of the things that are contributing to our economic demise. Let’s regulate campaign contributions and give business the room to operate competitively.

  10. noreasterbybirth August 21, 2011

    Once again I have to agree with your point of view, kurt.lorentzen. Similar to the point I was tryng to make is that while regulations have their place, out of control government and regulations hampers jobs, business, production and free enterprise. Naturally, radioactive dumps over aquafiers is insane and I will have to do more research on that topic. I have a feeling it’s not that cut and dry, but we do have to release many of our businesses from of the oppressive regulations.
    I just returned from my second trip to China in the last 3 years. The country is very interesting for many reasons and much of their belief system, while getting more capitalistic, will never mesh with ours. That said, the one thing you do notice is the air is almost unbreatheable and even clear days look cloudy and the water is undrinkable. Don’t even let it touch your lips.Now I am not advocating for similar lack of controls in this country, but we have to realize that is what we are competing against. Our businesses are hamstrung and theirs can practice with not controls whatsoever. This is not the only reason their economy is outpacing ours (ie no minimum wage, controlled monetary system that keeps export prices down, 1.3 billion people all of whom seem to be working), but relaxing regulations including the EPA, is a place for us to start.

  11. Auntie Sez August 22, 2011

    Poisoning people, or giving them disease, for profit is not a desirable business impact. In non-business instances it’s considered a criminal activity.

    Environmental regulations are meant to protect peoples’ health and the land, air, and water on which we all depend. If a business cannot operate without causing harm, then it needs to correct its practices or cease operations. It’s up to the business to operate safely and without doing damage. Why do so many people think business is exempt from civic responsibility?

  12. Theodora30 August 22, 2011

    Noreasterbybirth I agree with you that calling someone Hitler or a troll is a waste of everyone’s time. However, you are wrong about Perry’s record of job growth. Most of that growth has come from spending by the big bad government as a result of the population growth of the state, especially kids. As a result there has been an increase in number of teachers, schools built, etc. to meet that need.

    From the end of 2007 to last summer private sector jobs in Texas actually decreased .6% while government-created jobs were up 6.4% due to an expansion of military spending (Fort Hood is the largest employer in the state), a huge influx of federal stimulus money, expansion of public ed both in lower grades and at the university level. In fact a lot of the federal stimulus money has gone to keeping teachers which is one reason Texas with its growing number of kids has gotten so much stimulus money from the federal government. Still Perry goes around claiming that the government cannot create jobs. I dare him to go to Fort Hood and tell the soldiers there that they don’t have real jobs.

    Texas has also had a flood of new money from the increases in oil prices which have helped buoy the state’s financial situation. Despite that fact, Texas is now facing a huge budget deficit which will require a lot of cutting of those fake government-created jobs. As the government cuts back on stimulus money and military spending Texas will be in even bigger trouble. Unfortunately that might not be evident in time for the primaries.

    I lived in Texas for nine years and can tell you that compared to the other states where I have lived it is terrible at providing health care for poor children. Texas has also been so bad about providing decent schools for poor kids that in 2005 its system for funding schools was declared unconstitutional by the Texas courts and this was not the first time that has happened. That is one reason Texas has until recently been able to balance its budget. That is a disgusting record for a man who parades his supposed Christianity.

    The “Texas Miracle” is a mirage. Whether our mainstream media makes sure the public understands this is another question. So far I am seeing the info in the print press but it remains to be seen if television journalists will make an effort to inform the public before they make up their mind that Perry is credible. I am not holding my breath.


  13. jhstans November 24, 2011

    On the up side, I can’t think of a better place than Texas to store toxic material.


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