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Fox in the henhouse

| June 29, 2005 12:00 AM

It's deja vu all over again.

It is said behind the scenes that the EPA and the Justice Department got criminal charges filed against W.R. Grace while the Bush Administration wasn't paying attention.

That's not the case anymore.

President Bush has nominated Granta Nakayama, a partner in a law firm that is representing Grace in their bankruptcy filing and defending the company in the criminal case, as the chief of enforcement for the EPA. Obviously the administration doesn't want anymore enforcement, at least not the type that results in charges against a corporate friend.

Nakayama might have a wealth of experience in environmental law but it's all on the defense side representing clients being pursued by the EPA or other government agencies in environmental matters.

You'd have to go back to the Reagan Administration to find a similar effort to squelch enforcement of the environmental law and obfuscate federal agency investigations. It's really how the Libby situation got as bad as it did. Reagan appointed Peter Grace of W.R. Grace to a position in which he dealt with reviews of regulations on the asbestos industry.

This isn't unusual for the current administration: They used the EPA to lie to the people of New York City about the dangers of the Libby tremolite asbestos in the World Trade Center immediately after the 9-11 attacks. The administration delayed the EPA from issuing a warning to homeowners across the nation about the dangers of Zonolite Attic Insulation.

And now in the wake of criminal charges being filed against W.R. Grace and seven employees, the president is nominating a man to head the EPA investigation and enforcement office who is a partner in the law firm which is representing Grace.

Good government policy calls for avoiding conflicts of interest. Good government policy calls for avoiding the appearance of such conflicts.

Arrogance, not good leadership, dismisses what the public might perceive and proceeds down such paths.

We can sit back and let such lunacy prevail or we can call our congressional delegation and insist that they oppose this nomination in favor of one of the thousands of environmental attorneys not in bed with W.R. Grace.

It's bad enough for politicians from either side of the political aisle to stack the courts with like-thinking judges, but it enters a different realm when they stifle enforcement of the law through political appointments. Then no one is safe — in or out of court. — Roger Morris