The director of the Honduran forestry department made the announcement the day after 3,000 demonstrators gathered in Tegucigalpa to protest the contract. Dara O'Rourke, of the Seattle-based Task Force on Multinational Resource Corporations, says there was "absolutely unprecedented opposition" to the contract in Honduras, as a coalition of indigenous people, environmentalists, business people and labor organizers came together to protest the Stone deal.
O'Rourke is concerned that Stone will attempt to renegotiate the contract, perhaps under the name of a subsidiary since so much opposition to the contract was directed against Stone in particular. The Task Force is also concerned about another secret deal the Honduran government is negotiating with the North Carolina-based Wellington Hall company over rights to harvesting Honduras's mahogany forests.
The Philippine government "is satisfied with the compromise" the settlement represents and hopes the Philippine Congress will approve it, says Macarthur F. Corsino, political and public affairs chief consul at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. He adds that the government still contends that Westinghouse did engage in bribery.
Despite the large sum it is to pay the Philippines, Westinghouse, which continues to deny its involvement in any bribery scheme, may benefit from the settlement, which awards the company a contract to operate the plant. The Philippine government will invest $400 million in plant repairs, $300 million of which will be repaid by Westinghouse from its share of revenues after the plant is opened in three years. Burns & Roe, which acted as a subcontractor on the Philippines project, was not required to make any payments, and may continue to work on the plant with Westinghouse.
The effort to start up the plant is disturbing. It is located five miles from an active volcano and within 25 miles of three geologic faults, and nuclear specialists say the plant is also unsafe as a result of poor Westinghouse construction. But Corsino says the government is confident there is "no real danger" of the plant suffering earthquake-related damage. Bringing the plant on-line, he says, is necessary "to benefit the people who are suffering from the energy crisis" in the Philippines.
Westinghouse declined to comment on the settlement or the safety of the plant.
Jay Feldman, director of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP), says that the administration's position will help move bills aimed at allowing federal preemption of local regulatory power through Congress. Currently, in states that do not have preemptive power over local government, communities can adopt a range of ordinances on pesticide use such as restricting spraying near schools or water supplies or requiring advance notification and public postings warning of pesticide use. Eighty towns have passed ordinances laying out guidelines and restrictions on pesticide use.
Feldman calls the Bush administration decision "an attack on local democratic decision-making." Bush's position "is contrary to basic principles [providing for local control] which are intended to protect the health and environment" of local communities.
- Holley Knaus