By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Recently, the NRDC and other environmental groups have been pressing the AQMD to use its legal powers more expansively to reduce pollution at the city’s sprawling port and at Los Angeles International Airport. Other groups have been pressing the district to do more to cut pollution from power plants, including those operated by the city’s Department of Water and Power.
“As to the ports and airports, they can do more and must do more to reach clean air,” said Ruderman-Feuer. “They’ve been treading lightly on both those facilities.” She maintains that AQMD effectively could set a cap on pollution from the port and airports and require cleanup of baggage-handling and fueling trucks at the airport and reduce traffic congestion. Likewise at the port, AQMD could require cleanup of diesel trucks used to haul containers around the yard, as well as other equipment. With a projected doubling to tripling of traffic at both the port — served by 35,000 diesel trucks a day — and at the airport, pollution from the facilities will grow without controls. Instead, the AQMD has said that the pollution problem at the city facilities is up to the federal Environmental Protection Agency to solve.
“Gail wants the world to live in a vacuum,” said Burke. “Gail makes money suing people for not living in a vacuum. So when you talk about conflict of interest, she probably has the biggest conflict of interest.”
The Rev. Pat Robertson had his prayers answered by Burke and the AQMD. In January 1999, Burke joined his fellow board members in rejecting a request by the environmental-justice group Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) to overrule the AQMD executive officer’s reactivation of expired air-pollution-control permits for Robertson’s Powerine oil refinery in Santa Fe Springs. Robertson wanted to reopen the plant and call it Cenco.
Before the vote, Burke had intervened on Robertson’s behalf after meeting with the reverend’s attorney J. Nelson Happy. “He comes into my office and he has a letter from AQMD, and the letter says that if they purchase whatever, Powerine, that the permits would be reissued,” said Burke. “What I did was call the district and ask them to look at the letter and let me know why those permits weren’t reissued.”
Around the same time, Burke had helped Robertson buy an old gold-mining interest in Liberia. Burke had owned the mining operation more than 15 years earlier before selling it to Ken Ross Jr., a former California legislator. Burke said he helped Robertson deal with investors — “widows and little old ladies, and some celebrities” — in the concession controlled by Ross.
Burke got something out of it, too. Robertson gave him an “option” on the operation, known as Freedom Mines Inc., which according to his financial disclosure statement was worth more than $100,000. “The item on my former economic statement was a reflection of that option,” Burke said. “The option has expired and was not executed.”
Because West African gold is difficult to access, few have made money off of the precious metal in Liberia, except for those selling concessions directly or those selling investments in concessions, according to Emira Woods, a Liberian who is co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus in Washington, D.C.
CBE’s legal director, Scott Kuhn, maintains that Burke should have abstained from voting on the refinery issue because of his connection to Robertson. Instead, Burke told Kuhn’s colleague at Communities for a Better Environment, Shipra Bansal, during her testimony on Robertson’s refinery, “As this board moves more and more to serve those who have been un-served in the past, why would you criticize those who are trying to do something and not those who were here in the past? I’m not asking to debate you, lady, I am making a comment; you spoke.” He concluded, just before the board voted down the group’s request to reconsider the permits for Robertson, “I think the way you present yourself, your stuff, sucks.”
A court later overturned the permits for Robertson’s oil refinery in a suit brought by CBE. Said Kuhn, “It was a total victory for us.”
The statewide stage — serving as L.A.’s representative on the California Air Resources Board — handed Burke his greatest chance to take historic steps in cleaning up pollution. In 2000, the AQMD board and Governor Gray Davis appointed Burke — who traditionally has had a car company sponsor his marathon — to the state board. At the time, the board was making midcourse corrections to the state’s zero-emissions vehicle requirements for automakers. Burke helped his old friend General Motors to effectively gut the regulations, freeing automakers from the world’s toughest standard to make cleaner and more fuel-efficient cars.
Back in 1990, the agency had adopted its world-renowned zero-emissions vehicle mandate to force automakers to produce large numbers of nonpolluting vehicles. Now, reviewing the technology, the air board figured it should give automakers more time to develop such vehicles, but still pressure them to move as close to zero-emissions technology as possible in the nation’s most polluted state. “It’s the vision thing,” Catherine Witherspoon, executive officer of the Air Resources Board, said in an interview explaining the historic role and importance of the mandate. “It’s what we’re aiming for.”
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