The Multinational Monitor

JUNE 1997 · VOLUME 18 · NUMBER 6

B E H I N D    T H E    L I N E S

Challenging Nuclear Racism

IN A LANDMARK MAY DECISION, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) denied Louisiana Energy Services a license to build a uranium enrichment plant on environmental justice grounds. The ASLB ruled that the company's siting process -- which resulted in it proposing to place the facility 50 miles northeast of Shreveport, Louisiana between two communities with 97 percent African-American populations -- appeared marred by environmental racism.

The ASLB agreed that Citizens Against Nuclear Trash (CANT), a local environmental organization, made a persuasive showing of racism in its analysis of the Louisiana Energy Services siting process. At each stage of its process, the company eliminated communities with lower African-American residency rates. And in its final site selection phase, the company undercounted population in African-American areas and effectively overcounted in white, middle-class neighborhoods. The ASLB also found that the company failed to consider the disproportionate effect that closing a major parish road, heavily used by pedestrians, would have on African Americans -- given that one third of blacks in the area live in households without cars.

The ASLB decision is particularly notable because it holds the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the standard articulated in an executive order issued by Bill Clinton requiring federal agencies to address "disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects" of their policies on minority and poor populations. And the decision puts teeth in this requirement. "Racial discrimination in the facility site selection process cannot be uncovered with only a cursory review of the description of that process appearing in an applicant's environmental report," the decision says. "If it were so easily detected, racial discrimination would not be such a persistent and enduring problem in American society. ... In other words, the staff must lift some rocks and look under them."

Two Down, Ten To Go

KNOCK OFF CHLORDANE AND HEPTACHLOR from the Dirty Dozen list of pesticides. Velsicol, the Memphis, Tennessee company which is the world's sole producer of the pesticides, announced in May that it will cease production of the two toxins. Company Chief Executive Officer Arthur Sigel says the decision was made for "economic reasons" only. The company continues to contend that the pesticides are safe, when used by "responsible and qualified users."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined a decade ago that virtually none of those responsible and qualified users resided in the United States. The EPA classifies the substances as "probable human carcinogens." Since 1987, chlordane and heptachlor have not been authorized for use in the United States, except for the use of heptachlor to control ants on underground cables.

Despite the domestic ban on use of the substances, Velsicol was permitted to continue manufacturing the pesticides in the United States, for sale and use abroad. From 1991 to 1994, Velsicol exported at least 4.4 million pounds of chlordane and 5.7 million pounds of heptachlor, according to the San Francisco-based Pesticide Action Network, which notes the actual amount of exports may be as much as four times higher. According to the company, the pesticides have been used in recent years for major road-building projects in Africa, protection of residential structures in Australia and Asia and crop protection in South America.

"Thank God there's such a thing as economics, because common sense sure didn't work," commented Sandra Marquardt, program director for Mothers and Others For a Liveable Planet, in celebrating the demise of chlordane and heptachlor.

The EU Doth Protest

IN A "DEAR CHARLENE" LETTER, the European Union (EU) announced in June that it would formally challenge the Massachusetts law prohibiting the state from buying goods or services from companies doing business with Burma. In the letter to U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshevsky, European Commissioner Leon Brittan lauded "the efforts that you [Barshevsky] have been making," but said the EU would formally file a complaint against the United States in the World Trade Organization. The EU charges the Massachusetts law violates provisions in the WTO Government Procurement Agreement that require government purchasing decisions to be made purely on economic grounds (see "Sanctioning Burma, Sanctioning the USA," Multinational Monitor, April 1997).

"This is a counterproductive step, particularly in light of efforts that the United States and the European Communities have both taken to exert pressure on the repressive Burma regime," says Barshevsky.

The EU notice of intent to file a WTO challenge was especially notable because it came only days after a vote by the European Parliament specifically urging the governing European Commission not to file the complaint.

While the EU is clearly concerned with the Massachusetts law, its primary motivation in filing the challenge may be its fear that other states will soon follow and build on the Massachusetts example -- adopting selective purchasing legislation that targets not only Burma but other repressive regimes. Massachusetts itself is currently considering a bill that would prevent the state from doing business with companies doing business with Indonesia.

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