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September 24, 1999

The ReSource Institute for Low Entropy Systems
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Something Stinks in the EPA

The antics of Al Rubin are legendary in anti-sludge circles. He bullies and threatens people critical of the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) sludge disposal policy. Harassing telephone calls and nasty notes on letters are regular modes of intimidation from the EPA senior scientist and author of the regulations that set the government rules for what is and is not safe about sludge and its application on land. Time magazine's "Time Daily" web site published a story on Rubin and his dirty tactics in its September 20th issue. Now the likely criminal behavior of the EPA's chief spokesman for its sludge policy is known to people who might never have considered the dregs of the sewage treatment process but find Rubin's sludge promotion tactics repugnant. Is Alan Rubin just one bad apple or is he a reflection of an EPA that has lost its way?

The Time Inc. publication reported that several members of Congress are sending EPA Director Carol Browner an angry letter, asking her to address allegations that Rubin has been engaging in threatening and harassing telephone calls and e-mails to the residences of anti-sludge activists. Time asks, "Did Rubin attempt to bribe a waste treatment-company executive to get him to 'refrain from raising concerns' about sludge transportation and stop insisting it be transported as hazardous waste? Has Rubin been distributing 'selected, preliminary' risk data that appeared to discredit sludge-toxicity findings by EPA scientist David Lewis?" And notes that "the agency has come under fire for harassing its scientists who question regulations. Now the intimidation may have spread."

As the consummate defender of the EPA's sludge policy, Rubin likes to say that the rules that govern sludge's disposal are the most thoroughly researched and reviewed in the agency's history. This does not bode well for the EPA's credibility as the nation's environmental watchdog. Sludge is an unpredictable mix of materials from household and industrial drains with unpredictable effects on life. At its worst, sludge is a toxic waste that harms people, kills farm animals, ruins land, and degrades water quality.

Al Rubin is not a rogue EPA operator. He represents the agency on an issue that they have dead wrong. This does not excuse him for his bad behavior and is exactly why the discussion should not boil down to Al and his antics. In terms of criminal behavior, Rubin's threats are dwarfed by the agency's permitting toxic waste to be spread on American farmland. The vocal piece may change, but until the EPA acknowledges its errors and rewrites sludge regulation, Al Rubin is nothing more than a scapegoat for a misguided and dangerous policy.

Laura Orlando

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