Sustained Outrage

3M’s man at the EPA?

sussman.jpgWe published a story this morning in the Sunday Gazette-Mail about Robert M. Sussman, who was hired last month by Obama EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to be one of her top advisers.

Lawyers who represent folks in at least three states who are drinking water contaminated by C8 and similar chemicals are concerned about Sussman, who formerly represented C8-maker 3M Corp. in negotiations with EPA over how these chemicals should be regulated.

I don’t know Sussman, and he didn’t return my phone call last week. My questions to the EPA PR person assigned to handle C8 issues were bumped up to agency press secretary Adora Andy, who told me she handles “questions that deal with the Administrator, etc.”

If you background Sussman on the Internet, you find some interesting things. This is far from his first time in the news.

An EPA press release from May 7, 1993 (when Sussman was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the EPA Deputy Administrator), provides some standard background information:

Sussman is an expert on federal environmental law and a nationally recognized expert in the Toxic Substances Control Act and other federal statutes which EPA implements.

He has litigated extensively in the federal courts. He has argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and appeared before nearly all of the U.S. Courts of Appeals.

Prior to joining EPA, he was a partner since 1987 in the Washington, D.C. office of a Los Angeles law firm, Latham and Watkins, where he established an environmental group. He was with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Covington and Burling from 1974 to 1987, where he was a partner for six years.

He received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Yale University, where he was editor of the Law Journal. He also taught undergraduate courses in English and American literature at Yale for one year.

Sussman, 45, resides in Washington, D.C. with his wife and son, Benjamin.

More recently, Sussman has been working as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank run by President Clinton’s one-time chief of staff, John Podesta.  The center is also home to Joseph Romm, who writes one of my favorite climate change blogs, Climate Progress.

Another blog I enjoy, Think Progress (done by the Center for American Progress Action Fund)  congratulated Sussman when he was recently named to Obama’s EPA. They noted that Sussman had written powerful stuff about the Bush administration and climate legislation. They said that Sussman “demolished the argument that laws like the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act are not applicable to the threat of global warming.” And, they praised the work in which he crafted recommendations for regulatory and funding mechanisms to spur the development of carbon capture and sequestration technology for coal plants, “to reconcile reliance on coal for electricity with the need to reduce the threat of global warming.” Sussman has also written that the “EPA administrator must protect the agency’s statutory mission and institutional integrity.”

But like so many things in Washington, there’s more to the story…

Sussman, who chaired Obama’s EPA transition team, shows up on Web sites like White House for Sale, which lists him as a “bundler” of campaign cash for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign and for Obama last year. And he shows up on the “Revolving Door” section of Open Secrets, because he left an industry law firm to join the Clinton EPA and then went back to a different industry law firm after leaving the agency.

wti.jpg Perhaps of most interest to West Virginians is the connection between Sussman and the infamous WTI hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, just across the river from Chester, W.Va. (See photo at right).

Recall that then-VP candidate Al Gore vowed that the Clinton administration would block the opening of the controversial facility.

Carol Browner (also now with the Obama administration),  recused herself from WTI issues, because her husband had ties to activists who had opposed the project.

That left the issue up to Sussman, who was then deputy EPA administrator.

According to Daily Kos, Sussman had acted as general counsel for the Chemical Manufacturers Association at a time when its two largest members, DuPont and BASF, were negotiating to sent their waste to WTI.  And Mother Jones reported at the time that Sussman had helped to ensure that the operation would be permitted. Also see Jeff Cohen, founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, for more on WTI and Sussman.

In a more recent and interesting situation, Jackson has already put Sussman in charge of handling EPA dealings with Dow Chemical over a huge dioxin cleanup in Michigan.  On the Wonk Room blog, Sussman had written about the Bush administration’s firing of regional EPA administrator Mary Gade over her efforts to force Dow to properly clean up the site.

So what’s Sussman going to do on the C8 issue?

Well, Andy, the press secretary, told me, “he is recused on that.” But what about a request from the lawyers for folks who drink C8-polluted water for details of exactly how Sussman will stay out of C8 issues? Andy told me, “That’s not something I can divulge at this point.”