SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
February 28, 1983
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February 28, 1983


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At the heart of the dispute is the $1.6 billion "Superfund" that Congress created in the waning days of the Carter Administration for dealing with hazardous wastes. Although the fund's purpose was to provide for speedy cleanups, it was only two months ago, well after Congress had begun formal inquiries into the EPA's flagrant foot dragging, that the Administration got around to specifying 418 of the nation's approximately 14,000 abandoned toxic-waste sites as having "national priority" for EPA action; so far only six of those sites have been cleaned up. Rita Lavelle, who was fired by the White House as the director of the EPA's toxic-waste program two weeks ago, had explained that the EPA was moving slowly because "this time it will be done right."

But the EPA hasn't done the job right at all. A draft audit by EPA Inspector General Matthew N. Novick, made public last week, indicated that the agency couldn't account for $53.6 million of the $180 million it supposedly spent on the hazardous-waste program last year, a failing that critics promptly attributed to mismanagement. There have also been charges that the EPA delayed cleanups for political reasons and was soft in dealing with polluters. The EPA's defense against this last charge has been that it can best accomplish cleanups by "non-confrontational" means. When SI 15 months ago asked for an example of results achieved by this approach (SCORECARD, Nov. 16, 1981), the EPA cited its role in persuading a paint company to agree to help clean up a chemical-waste site near Los Angeles. However, the company actually consented only after a lawsuit was brought against it by California authorities. Jawboning alone clearly wasn't working; 36 other parties that the EPA had notified as "responsible" for the toxic-waste site hadn't even responded to the agency.

In considering the EPA's reluctance to get tough with polluters, it helps to review the background of its top officials. In a letter last week to The Washington Post, National Audubon Society President Russell Peterson, a former Republican governor of Delaware and head of the President's Council on Environmental Quality in the Nixon and Ford administrations, cited the composition of the EPA hierarchy as evidence that "the federal regulatory apparatus has been taken over by those it was designed to regulate." The agency's chief of staff, John E. Daniel, was formerly a lobbyist for Johns-Manville Corporation, a manufacturer of asbestos. Kathleen M. Bennett, assistant administrator for air, noise and radiation, was a lobbyist for Crown Zellerbach Corporation, a paper manufacturer. Robert M. Perry, general counsel responsible for EPA enforcement, was an Exxon lawyer. And Lavelle was employed by Aerojet General Corporation, which both the EPA and California officials have branded as one of that state's worst dumpers of toxic wastes.

Lavelle was sacked by the White House after it appeared that perjury charges might be brought against her in connection with testimony she gave to a House subcommittee. But efforts by the Administration to put distance between itself and her weren't convincing. Although both Lavelle and the Administration disavowed it, a controversial memorandum drafted by one of her assistants describing "the business community" as "the primary constituents of this Administration" seems, given the EPA's kid-gloves treatment of industry polluters, only too accurate. Then there was the suggestion last week by the EPA's ethics officer, Don Nantkes, that Lavelle may have breached the agency's ethical standards by letting representatives of various chemical companies pay for her dinners at some of Washington's tonier restaurants. But it's unlikely that a $67,200-a-year administrator could be "bought" for a few meals. The real question, one the EPA hasn't addressed, is why its top officials generally—not just Lavelle—have seemed less inclined to break bread with representatives of environmental and other public-interest groups than with chemical industry executives. That's not the only puzzling aspect of the developing EPA story. Another is how the President, in view of all this, could possibly describe the agency's record as "splendid."

It was announced last week that ABC Video Enterprises and ESPN have formed an enterprise called Reserved Seat Video Productions—to be known as RSVP—to handle the marketing of pay-TV and closed-circuit rights for a big Don King-promoted heavyweight boxing doubleheader on May 20. The program would match unbeaten WBC champion Larry Holmes against Tim Witherspoon and rematch WBA champion Michael Dokes and the man he knocked out in 63 seconds of the first round last December, Mike Weaver. Having consulted both boxing and alphabet experts, we're going with the favorites, Holmes and Dokes, and predicting that this marriage of ABC, ESPN, RSVP, WBC and WBA will produce two TKOs.


Once again, Bobby Knight finds himself the center of controversy. This time the uproar includes demands that Knight be dismissed as the U.S. Olympic basketball coach for 1984. The calls for the Indiana coach's laurel-wreathed scalp were prompted by a "joke" that Knight told on Oct. 29 while speaking at a banquet for hospital employees in Gary, Ind. The master of ceremonies said kiddingly that he was giving Knight a one-way ticket to Puerto Rico. Knight replied, also in jest, that when he boarded a plane to leave San Juan after the 1979 Pan American Games, "I stood up, unzipped my pants, lowered my shorts and placed my bare ass on the window. That's the last thing I wanted these people to see of me."

Unfortunately for Knight, a Puerto Rican journalist was present at the dinner and wrote about the incident for the Hispanic Link News Service, touching off a storm of protest. Subsequently, Knight's ouster as U.S. Olympic coach has been demanded by The Washington Post, columnist George Vecsey of The New York Times (who wrote that Knight should be sacked unless he apologized), Hispanic members of the U.S. Congress and Puerto Rican Governor Carlos Romero Barcelo, who has twice written the U.S. Olympic Committee to object to the retention of Knight. Although USOC President William Simon questioned Knight's "judgment" in telling the story, he said that Knight had the committee's "complete support" as Olympic basketball coach.

Knight's indiscretion in Gary refueled a controversy that began during the '79 Pan American Games. Knight coached the U.S. team to the gold medal but not before getting into a scuffle with a San Juan policeman that resulted in Knight's arrest on misdemeanor assault charges. Although U.S. players, assistant coaches and team officials who witnessed the incident insisted that the policeman was the one at fault, Knight didn't help his image when he criticized Puerto Rican justice and said of local fans who later booed him, "——'em.——'em all.... The only——thing they know how to do is grow bananas." Knight left Puerto Rico and didn't return to stand trial. He was convicted in absentia and sentenced to a $500 fine and six months in jail. Puerto Rico regards him as a fugitive.

Having hitherto remained mum on the subject of the calls for his dismissal, an obviously shaken Knight last week spoke about the matter with several members of the media, including SI's Jack McCallum. The Gary banquet, Knight said, wasn't the only occasion on which he had spun his moon-over-Puerto Rico tale—another was a banquet on Nov. 5, 1981 in Columbus, Ind.—and he said the joke was a "throwaway" line he used in dealing with the ribbing he has taken about Puerto Rico for the past three years.

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