Backyard Talk

America Can’t Afford Another Gorsuch in Government

Anne Gorsuch, the mother of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, was my worst nightmare. In 1982, when I first confronted her about toxic contamination in Times Beach, Missouri, she led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Ronald Reagan.
Anne stepped down a few months later after she refused to hand over documents that would have revealed the EPA’s mishandling of the $1.6 billion Superfund for toxic cleanups. She said she would rather go to jail than release these documents. In doing so, she broke the law, and became the first U.S. agency director in history to be cited for contempt of Congress.
When his mother resigned, Neil was a 15-year-old sophomore and star debater at Washington, D.C.’s elite, Jesuit-run Georgetown Prep.
Neil was upset with his mother, she later wrote, saying, “You should never have resigned. You didn’t do anything wrong. You only did what the President ordered. Why are you quitting? You raised me not to be a quitter. Why are you a quitter?”
As a mother of four children, I know how much my actions influence my children’s behavior, values and principles. I can only wonder what impact Anne Gorsuch’s actions had on her son.
Even at age fifteen, Neil Gorsuch should have understood the difference between right and wrong. Why wasn’t his reaction, “Gee mom, at least the people living around landfills will now receive some attention?”
Or “If the President was making you do wrong, you should have stood your ground, and said no to him, and that you’d go to jail before hurting American families?”
Did Neil truly think his mother was above the law, because her boss told her to do something that was wrong? Or that she was right to withhold the truth from the American people?
A deep understanding of right and wrong is fundamental to ruling on cases in any level of court. Anne Gorsuch’s 22-month tenure at the EPA was one of the most scandalous of the early Reagan administration. She was a firm believer that EPA was too big, too wasteful and too restrictive of business, and cut the agency’s budget by 22 percent. She boasted that she reduced the volume of clean-water regulations from six inches to a half-inch.
I was the leader at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, NY, where a toxic waste dump leaked 20,000 tons of chemicals into our neighborhood. As a result, 56 percent of our children were born with birth defects. In 1980, all eight hundred families from Love Canal were evacuated, and the federal Superfund program was established to provide funds to clean up other similar hazardous wastes sites. A polluter’s pay provision was the funding mechanism.
At the EPA, Anne Gorsuch supervised her assistant, Rita Lavelle in administration of the Superfund. Lavelle was later indicted on federal perjury charges after an investigation demonstrated she was involved in the misuse of these funds and in irregularities at the Stringfellow Acid Pits, a major hazardous waste site in Riverside, California. Lavelle was later convicted of lying to Congress and served three months in prison.
As EPA administrator, Anne Gorsuch tried to ignore some of the worst toxic waste disasters in American history including Woburn, Massachusetts, the site of water contamination that caused a childhood leukemia cluster that became the subject of the book and movie A Civil Action. The Stringfellow Acid Pits were a site created by Gorsuch’s former employer, Aerojet-General Corp., which turned out to be even more toxic than Love Canal. Times Beach was contaminated with dioxin, the most toxic chemical known to man. Fortunately for victims, Congress forced Gorsuch to act.
I can’t help but wonder what was going through the mind of Neil, the young debater, as he observed all of this.
Did he think poisoning innocent people was fine? Did he truly believe that his mother didn’t have a legal and moral obligation to act to protect children, women or men from serious and irreversible harm, disease and death?
Was he comfortable when his mother ordered the evacuation of Times Beach from inside a local school with the media and elected representatives, but not a single impacted family? All of the local residents were locked out of the building because she didn’t want to face them and their tears and to see the effects of the toxic poisons eating way at their skin.
Almost daily at that time, national newspapers carried front-page stories about American families that were sick, terrified, and in need of action to reduce pollution in their communities. How did his mother’s role in these events shape Neil Gorsuch’s values as a young man?
For Neil Gorsuch to condone her behavior, saying she did nothing wrong, reveals a real flaw in his character. Would Justice Gorsuch advocate the same in a Supreme Court decision? If someone orders another person to do harm, will Justice Gorsuch somehow justify it because they were just following orders? Would Justice Gorsuch believe that someone’s loyalty to a President places his or her actions above the law?
I was devastated when I first arrived in Washington, 36 years ago, to work with communities faced with toxic pollution that couldn’t use this new Superfund program. My family and neighborhood’s suffering was the impetus for the program. Superfund had so much potential. I planned on using every piece of the program to assist communities to obtain clean water, air and land. Neil Gorsuch’s mother crippled the program, so much so that it has never fully recovered.
It’s clear to me that most children by 15 years of age know right from wrong. Neil Gorsuch watched as his mother allowed the poisoning of innocent American families, and allowed corporate polluters to escape responsibility. Then he condoned, and justified, her actions.
These are not attitudes that we want, or can accept, in a Supreme Court Justice.


Maryland Bans Fracking

Senate passes bill with GOP governor’s support, following six years of grassroots resistance across the state of Maryland
With game-changing support from Republican Governor Larry Hogan, the Maryland state Senate Monday night gave final approval to a bill to forever ban the practice of fracking in Maryland. The move culminates years of protests against gas fracking from landowners, health leaders, and environmentalists in the state. It also sets a nationally significant precedent as other states grapple with the dangerous drilling method.
Maryland will now become the first state in America with proven gas reserves to ban fracking by legislative action. New York has banned the drilling process via executive order. Vermont has a statutory ban but the state has no frackable gas reserves at present.
The Maryland ban is sending political waves across the East Coast and the nation. From Virginia (where leaders have imposed or proposed local bans at the county and municipal level) to the state of Florida (which is looking to follow Maryland’s statewide ban), the “keep-it-in-the-ground” movement is gaining new bipartisan steam even as President Donald Trump recklessly works to approve disastrous pipelines like Keystone XL.
“Let the news go forth to Congress and the White House: fracking can never been done safely,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “The Republican governor closest to DC – Larry Hogan of Maryland – has joined scientists and health leaders in agreeing that fracking must be banned. This is a win for Marylanders and for citizens nationwide as we move away from violent fossil fuels and toward sustainable wind and solar power.”
With Senate passage late Monday night, the Maryland bill will now be sent to Gov. Hogan’s desk in the next few days for signing.
The push to ban fracking in Maryland began six years ago as gas companies swarmed into western Maryland to tap the Marcellus Shale basin. This is the same pool of gas that has been widely fracked in Pennsylvania and West Virginia with negative consequences. But then-Governor Martin O’Malley (D) imposed a temporary moratorium before any drilling occurred. Over the years, the movement for a permanent ban came to include farmers, doctors, students, faith leaders, environmental groups, and others – constituting the largest statewide grassroots movement ever seen in Maryland on an energy issue. Former member of the House of Delegates Heather Mizeur was a leading figure in sparking the statewide ban effort. With time, multiple counties and cities in the state banned fracking locally and public polling consistently showed growing support for a statewide ban. Finally, earlier this month, with overwhelming support among Democratic lawmakers, even the previously pro-fracking Republican governor saw the wisdom of a ban.
The Chesapeake Climate Action Network has been honored to play a leading role in this campaign along with our friends in the Don’t Frack Maryland Coalition, including Food and Water Watch, Citizen Shale, Engage Mountain Maryland, the Sierra Club, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Physicians for Social Responsibility and many others.