Always be wary of political ambition

Here’s the kind of story that should make fans of Hillary Clinton wary of her skill as a political tactician –

That understandable political aspiration [to win reelection] came head to head with New Hampshire children’s health in 2005, when the International Paper logging company unveiled a proposal to burn tires at its Ticonderoga paper mill in upstate New York on the border with Vermont. Burning tires to power its operations would save IP money on its electricity bills, but it came with a heavy price.

Burning tires produces (PDF) massive quantities of mercury, benzene, and other cancer-causing poisons, and prevailing winds would carry those poisons into Vermont, New Hampshire, and the rest of New England. At the time, doctors and public health officials warned that even a very limited tire burn could cause permanent damage to New Englanders’ health, especially that of children, whose developing bodies are especially vulnerable to exposure to toxic chemicals. According to the American Lung Association, exposure to burning tires can cut years off someone’s life.

The dangers were so bad that Vermont’s Republican governor, Jim Douglas, took up the cause and launched lawsuits and an extended public campaign to persuade New York not to expose the residents of his state to these deadly risks.

Normally, it’s likely that Vermont’s efforts along with those of New York environmentalists would succeed in stopping such an outrageous plan. But IP had an ace up its sleeve in Hillary Clinton. The logging company’s strategists knew that Clinton would do almost anything to win votes in upstate New York and so they resorted to an old polluter trick: they threatened to close down the plant and fire the workers if they weren’t allowed to burn the tires.

It was the kind of absurd claim that Clinton had been exposed to hundreds of time in her political career, and she knew better. But even though she had put defending children’s welfare at the core of her political identity, even serving as chair of the Children’s Defense Fund, she was willing to sacrifice that value on the altar of her political ambition.

Clinton could have just stayed silent — the permit to allow the tire burn was a state issue. But she went out of her way to help the logging company, actively lobbying (PDF) the state government to allow the tire burn to go ahead. With Clinton’s influence behind them, the logging company had the bipartisan support it needed and New York State approved a two-week test tire burn, as a prelude to a permanent permit.

The test, however, was a disaster. The worst fears of environmentalists were realized as the pollution from the burn vastly exceeded even International Paper’s extremely lax pollution permit — exposing thousands of New Hampshire children to poisonous chemicals. Public outrage forced New York to shut down the test after just three days.

IP, of course, didn’t shut down the plant and didn’t lay off any workers (indeed, this December, they completed an $11-million upgrade at the facility and are planning on adding 12 new jobs at the plant).

Full article at Grist.

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3 Responses to “Always be wary of political ambition”

  1. truthspew Says:

    I know that the state of RI enjoined the suit against PG&E’s Brayton Point stations. I got to work closely with the chief civil and environmental attorney at the time, Mike Rubin. Brayton now has scubbers and water coolers.

    They could TDP the tires. What they’ll get out the other end is steel, carbon, oil and a few other things.

  2. drfrank Says:

    TDP?

  3. peter donegan MI Hort Says:

    I say always be wary of politicians! If they are ambitious to achieve for the greater good then thats alright [eg green issues etc] but to be ambitious… can often be sceptical. If the scepticism or belief in ones policies were for the finest of reasons then I guess a one horse race would prove my theory wrong. I hope this fits with perceptions on US [and irish] politics.

    nice one
    peter

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