Operation Astroturf

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The cumulative effect of this kind of behavior is that it disrupts the process that will lead finally to conclusion, cleanup. It does that primarily by just being offensive and harassing, which drives away multitudes of residents who live close to Rocketdyne, a process this reporter has witnessed since 1998. Typical community members just don’t want to deal with hostile people, let alone ones playing one-upmanship with each other and footsie with the polluter at the same time.

POWER PLAY

In January 2011, Governor Jerry Brown took office, appointing Matt Rodriquez as Secretary of Cal-EPA and Debbie Raphael as DTSC Director. For Boeing, things began to look up.

By this time, Walsh had grown to disparage SB 990, the state law she had once fought for, as well as the Agreements on Consent which required DOE and NASA to cleanup their portions of the site to background. She claimed that the Work Group did not represent her “needs as a community member” and became incensed when her request to make a presentation at a May 2011 Work Group meeting was declined. In addition, Walsh had managed to attract other disgruntled characters, some who were oddly enough completely new to the community yet opposed to both a full cleanup of the site and the Work Group.

Equally troubling were the disruptive tantrums that Walsh now threw regularly in meetings that even caused some community members to fear for their physical safety. These concerns were expressed to Raphael and other DTSC staff, who did nothing.

In October 2011, cleanup opponents sent a spate of nasty e-mails to DTSC demanding that Hirsch be removed from the Work Group and the panel membership be modified to include them. In response, DTSC cancelled the upcoming Work Group meeting. In January 2012, it cancelled the PPG meeting as well. The following month, DTSC cancelled another pending Work Group meeting and announced that the EPA would be ending its role as the facilitator and sponsor of the Work Group meetings, so it would be reviewing the needs of the entire community.

As months went on, the lack of meetings and failure to produce a new public participation plan created a void that Walsh used to reintroduce a CAG. On July 30, Walsh submitted a second online CAG petition, and the department immediately approved it.

This concerned longtime activists, as Walsh had previously been suspected of creating false identities to criticize cleanup activists on online forums and news websites. Indeed, evidence obtained by EnviroReporter.com shows Walsh assuming various online identities to attack community members viciously, even using one alias to claim she had cancer.

Related Material: “A Trail of Flames” & “A Keen Observer

When the community members inquired about the CAG verification, Raphael confirmed in an August 3 e-mail that DTSC began working with Walsh on the CAG formation on the same day it received the petition, and that the petition “met the only legal requirement outlined in the law: it contained 50 or more signatures.”

But the law actually says otherwise – Cal. Health & Safety Code §25358.7.1.(a), states that the petition must be “signed by at least 50 members of a community affected by the response action at a site.” Many names on the online petition lived out of the area, some gave no last names, and the petition even included former DTSC staff-turned-KB Home-lobbyist Norm Riley and DTSC press contact Susan Callery. Further, the petition service, Signon.org, does not reveal any contact information to petition targets, so it would be impossible to verify that the signers were real people.

After DTSC received a letter from the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition’s attorney protesting the process, DTSC asked Walsh to turn in another petition.

DTSC accepted this as unhappy petition signer as valid  for the newly-approved Boeing CAG.

DTSC accepted this unhappy petition signer as valid for the new astroturf CAG – see DTSC website.

According to her blog, Walsh went to a local Starbucks to collect the signatures, and turned it in on September 12. A review of the petition shows only a handful recognizable names from the SSFL cleanup community. Page 23 even reveals a most questionable signature, see image right.

According to a letter from DTSC that Walsh also posted, DTSC’s verification procedure involved simply reviewing zip codes of the signers and approving the ones that were within five to ten miles of the site.

DTSC redacted the contact information for the signatures, so there is no way to independently verify that the petition is valid. Of course, blocking the document from public scrutiny only served to place the CAG – and DTSC – under further suspicion.

At the same time that Walsh was working to create a CAG, longtime community members were fighting to save the Work Group. DTSC and Cal-EPA provided many excuses for why the group couldn’t be continued, none of which held up to fact or reason.

At first, Debbie Raphael told the Work Group members that DTSC didn’t do “membership groups”, and that she had never heard of a group whose members continued in perpituity. But Raphael’s own External Advisory Group (EAG) is comprised of “environmental groups, representatives from Industry, and individuals from local communities” who are not democratically elected and who continue on the EAG in perpituity.

Last August, community members met with Miriam Ingenito, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Cal-EPA and were told that the state lacked the legal authority to convene the Work Group, and they should either ask the federal government to fund and convene the group or ask members of the legislature to provide DTSC the authority to convene the Work Group.

This, plainly put, is hogwash. No such statue is required, and since all DTSC’s remediation efforts including public participation are reimbursed by the responsible parties, it could, in fact re-establish the Work Group at no cost to the agency.

Finally, community members put up their own petition to bring back the Work Group, which was signed by over 200 people living near the lab in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The petition also opposed a CAG, stating that, “A CAG is a discussion session to review and comment on DTSC response plans and is not an appropriate format for informing the general public in a clear and useful fashion about important developments involving the various agencies.”

Activists were also concerned that the run-around they were getting was further delaying the public from getting important information about the cleanup, specifically, the recent high radiation readings at the site. With no Work Group, there was no way for the public, press, or elected officials to find out about the new contamination data or compliance with the cleanup agreements. Perhaps, they worried, that was the point.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

DTSC dissolved the SSFL Work Group, which had served the community for over 20 years.

On September 21, the writing on the wall became an e-mail announcement from DTSC officially terminating the PPG and the Work Group and announcing that public participation for SSFL would be replaced by Walsh’s Boeing-funded CAG.

Though the announcement said that it had “decided to honor the wishes of a large portion of the community to continue the operation of the Interagency Workgroup,” it also made it clear that the Work Group that the public demanded – an operational, funded, Interagency Work Group – would be no more, to be replaced by a community-driven group that DTSC would have little to do with.

Longtime community members were outraged. In a September 24 letter, they expressed their betrayal to Raphael. “Ever since your appointment as Director, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has reversed course and taken numerous actions to undercut the cleanup and to do what Boeing, the company responsible for the pollution at the site, wishes.”

The community letter signed by 18 people also indicts the Brown Administration as well. “Boeing has purchased very powerful lobbyists and public relations consultants, including Winston Hickox, Peter Weiner, Bob Hoffman, Charlie Stringer, and Gary Polakovic, several of whom are close to the Governor. We recognize that we represent merely the “little people,” everyday folks who live near this polluted facility, whose families face the risk of cancer and other ailments from the decades during which Boeing and its predecessors have succeeded in avoiding cleanup obligations. Your actions indicate to us that in your eyes we don’t count, that it is only the powerful like Boeing that matter, that you will do what they want you to, no matter who among the unpowerful gets hurt by it.”

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  1. Cindy says:

    Does anyone recognize any of the names of the people chosen to be on the CAG selection committee? See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ssflcag/message/2190 I don’t think any of these people have been involved before except Walsh and Karchem who is new but gives cleanup advocates a hard time. I googled them all and see no history with SSFL whatsoever. One of them signed the CAG petition but is described as neutral? And another specializes in archaeology concerned with “protecting cultural heritage” so clearly in favor of the pollution park people. Another the “occidental petroleum chair” in chemistry with bad reviews by students at ratemyprofessors.com who say he gets mad at those who disagree with him. Another represents Chumash who seem more interested in getting the property and than clean up. So this group of strangers never involved before will pick who will be on the CAG meaning more like themselves easily fooled by Boeing DTSC etc. Seems to be the perfect group of “third parties” that Gary Polakovic wants to help Boeing avoid charges of greenwashing as his plan says. What a sham!!! The Udall Institute should be ashamed too and also I wonder who the CAG will get to fund the “neutral facilitator? To me this confirms points made in this article that the whole idea of the CAG was to get rid of one community and replace it with another one that isn’t a community at all. Meanwhile children in the community are exposed to all of the poisons from the lab but don’t worry they will commission a blue ribbon study to say its all ok nothing to see here move along.

  2. Another Simi mom says:

    Thank you for this excellent expose. I got a CAG application in the mail. No thanks I want no part in Boeing’s group. I support the old-timers – thank you for your dedication do not give up! It is worth it for the safety of our community.

  3. Joan Bien says:

    How do I feel about astroturfing and the mean-spirited nature of these nasty schemes? AAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH! Boeing and its co-conspirators have spent a lot of time planning how to undercut and destroy their critics and no time whatsoever on cleaning up the mess on their property. They prefer to save money and SUE the state. Someone cleaned up on that one.

  4. Troy Ng says:

    Wow, these Boeing guys are thorough. They’re getting good advice from their media and astroturf consultants, and they’re following it. Boeing’s going to assert over and over that they’re on the side of the angels, and casual observers will begin to believe them.

    This is depressing reading. Boeing is rich and persistent, and a number of folks in this story have clearly and simply been BOUGHT.

  5. Margery Brown says:

    Michael,
    Your incredible recording of all the events,emails, personalities, changes of alliances, and financial support by Boeing in this article make me feel like Alice, who fell down the rabbit hole into insanity. But then, poor Alice probably would have been wiped out by some Cesium 137 or some toxic chemicals.

    Thank goodness that you have been keeping track of all of this madness. This article has absolutely made my whole year! I didn’t realize how bad things have been until I read it. Please keep up your good work. I don’t see how things could possibly get any worse.

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