Although Al Gore frequently hammers George W. Bush about Houston’s
air pollution being the worst in the nation, Gore neglects to mention
that in a recent study the Environmental Protection Agency found
Tennessee’s water pollution to be the second-worst in the nation. And
Gore especially avoids mentioning that he is directly responsible for
some of that water pollution.
In fact, starkly contrasting with his passionate speeches or warnings
in his best-selling book,
“Earth in the Balance,” about ozone depletion and other urgent environmental topics, Gore has a long-standing reputation for polluting the environment in Tennessee.
Gore’s environmental depredations began in 1973 after he bought a farm near Carthage, Tenn., loaded with zinc from his father, Albert Gore Sr., who had acquired it from Armand Hammer, an oil tycoon, art forger, stock swindler and longtime friend of several Soviet dictators. Gore Sr. had been on Hammer’s payroll from 1950 to 1970 while the elder Gore was also a senator from Tennessee. After his defeat in 1970, he became senior vice president of Hammer’s Occidental Petroleum Co., and headed its subsidiary, Island Creek Coal Co.
Al Gore Jr. leased the mineral rights back to an Occidental-affiliated company at $20,000 a year, which was much higher than the going rate. Gore now owns about $1.1 million in land near Carthage.
Over the years, toxic waste products ended up in a “tailings pond,” from which water flows into the adjacent Caney Fork River, of which Gore frequently waxes eloquently about its pristine waters, and then subsequently into the larger Cumberland River. Recent tests revealed that zinc levels in the pond exceed EPA and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation mandated levels. Last May, state officials issued a notice of violation, ordering Pasminco Zinc Co., which currently operates Gore’s zinc concessions, to clean up the mess. To date, Pasminco Zinc Co. has not cleaned up the reported violation and the state has taken no further action to pursue the matter.
In 1996, during the same time Gore was running for reelection as vice president, claiming to be an environmentalist, the zinc mining operation on his property twice failed tests designed to protect water quality in the Caney Fork. The Wall Street Journal recently commissioned two independent laboratories to test the water in the Caney Fork, both of which concluded there were large quantities of barium, iron and zinc in the water, as well as smaller quantities of arsenic, chromium and lead.
Brian McGuire, executive director of Tennessee Citizens Action, an environmental group, told The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, “Clearly, when you spread those types of chemicals around on a farm or on the land, you’re going to get a lot of runoff. So it’s going to get into the water. We’re poisoning ourselves.”
Tennessee residents say Gore becomes testy when they attempted to question him about this pollution.
“He (Gore) gets real angry,” Tom Gniewek, a retired chemical engineer from Camden, Tenn., told The Wall Street Journal. “Instead of answering the question, he attacked my motives and accused people like me of vandalizing the earth.”
After first being elected to Congress in 1976, Gore mostly hewed to a rigid environmental agenda with a few notable exceptions. For example, he voted to exempt Tennessee’s Tellico Dam, which was believed to be a threat to the snail darter population, from the Endangered Species Act.
During those early days in Congress, Gore was assigned to the Energy and Power Subcommittee chaired by Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, an old-fashioned populist. Gore parroted Dingell’s actions and followed the chairman so closely that staffers called Gore “Dingell’s clone” or “Dingell’s shadow.”
‘Real nasty, real devious’
But all that changed in August 1981, when Gore broke ranks with Dingell over the construction of the Clinch River breeder reactor, which would be managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority project near Oak Ridge, Tenn., but owned by the federal Department of Energy.
Environmentalists dubbed the reactor “one of the most notorious boondoggles of that period.” It would be fueled by plutonium, because proponents falsely claimed that the world was running out of uranium. Dingell’s subcommittee prepared a scathing report that claimed, among other things, that testing of the $8.2 billion plant’s components had been a sham, that cost estimates were greatly underestimated and that air and water around the reactor would be poisoned.
Veteran subcommittee investigator Peter Stockton supervised the preparation of the report. Stockton was assisted by Ernest Fitzgerald, who had been fired as an Air Force official by President Richard Nixon after testifying truthfully to the Senate in 1968-69 about huge cost overruns on the giant C-5A transport. (More than a decade later, during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, Fitzgerald would be reinstated in his old job.) One of his staunchest defenders was Gore. Another was Rep. Robert Dornan of California, a former Air Force pilot and outspoken conservative Republican. Fitzgerald had been loaned to the subcommittee by the Air Force, after having been requested by Stockton, because of Fitzgerald’s experience in ferreting out cost overruns.
The day before the report was scheduled to be released, Stockton and Fitzgerald were approached by Gore and Peter Knight, Gore’s top aide. (Knight would later chair Bill Clinton’s and Gore’s 1996 reelection campaign, including the questionable fund-raising tactics that later came under congressional and U.S. Justice Department scrutiny. In 1993, after Gore intimates Johnny Hayes and Craven Crowell had been appointed to the TVA board, Knight received a no-bid consulting contract from TVA that paid him $680,856 over six years.)
Stockton tells WorldNetDaily that Gore ordered him to turn over the report and all back-up documents. Stockton says he refused, telling Gore, “I can’t do that, Al, you’re on the other side now.” Gore then went to Dingell, who told Stockton to give the reports to Gore.
The next day, U.S. Department of Energy and TVA officials supporting the breeder reactor showed up with 10 tall stacks of documents supposedly refuting all of the subcommittee’s criticisms about the project. Actually, when Stockton and Fitzgerald were able to examine these documents, they found that few of them had any bearing on the breeder reactor. Among other things, they included proposed solar projects in other states.
“This was mostly crap,” Stockton said.
Gore attacked Fitzgerald from the podium, saying that while he might know a lot about cost overruns about airplanes, he didn’t know anything about nuclear power plants. Gore said that many of the 5,000 project workers lived in his congressional district. It was obvious from the questioning of the Energy Department officials, said Stockton, that they had been coached by Gore and Knight after they had obtained the subcommittee material.
Sheila Hershow, then a reporter for Federal Times newspaper, covered the hearing and wrote a column calling Gore “The Populist Prince of Pork.” Now a public relations executive in Washington, Hershow said that years later when she was an investigative reporter/producer for CNN and later ABC News, she often ran into Gore.
“He was always gracious, but he sometimes brought up that column I’d written about him. He didn’t seem to let it go,” she said.
Shortly after the hearing, The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville began what Stockton referred to as “a dueling quotes” series pitting him against Gore. The Tennessean, which had become almost an official organ for the Gore family for seven decades, ripped Stockton apart. Al Gore’s birth had been treated as front-page news, and he had worked at the paper between his time in the military and his first congressional race.
“I don’t like Al,” said Stockton. “He’s not one of my favorite people. Even back then (1981), he could be real nasty, real devious.” The year after the hearing, TVA voted to kill the Clinch River Breeder Reactor.
Oily coffee and rotten eggs
Gore crossed horns again with Tennessee and North Carolina environmentalists over a mill owned by International Champion Corporation in the Great Smokey Mountain city of Canton, N.C. The company, which employed 2,000 people, had been manufacturing juice cartons and other paper products since 1908 and had been polluting the Pigeon River.
According to author Bob Zelnick in his book, “Gore: A Political Life,” the Pigeon River had developed a dark brown hue. Time magazine said the river below Canton had been “transmogrified into a sludgy mess that looks like oily coffee and smells as bad as rotten eggs.”
U.S. News & World Report disclosed in 1988 that “fish in the area have been found to have nearly four times the level of dioxin — the active agent in agent orange — considered safe.”
Thirty-seven miles from Canton, the Pigeon flowed into Tennessee. The pollution was unabated here. In 1987, at a time when a two-state environmental coalition had sprung up to try to clean up the river, Al Gore was beginning his first run for the presidency. He needed North Carolina money and support. That meant placating some important people who were upset about the charges leveled at the paper plant.
First, Gore undercut the coalition’s efforts to get the Environmental Protection Agency to take action, lauding the plant’s efforts to voluntarily clean up the river. Second, he persuaded his close friend and ally, Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter, to go along with a deal that continued to allow toxic wastes to course into the river.
Environmentalists were furious, claiming that Gore had been used “as a political tool” by the paper company and its allies. Even so, Gore’s wheeling and dealing apparently paid off, because he won both the Tennessee and North Carolina presidential primaries in 1988.
‘Don’t you know who my nephew is?’
Gore encountered more environmental problems on his Carthage farm in 1992. Both state and federal officials determined Gore’s farm to be the site of a large open dump filled with pesticide containers, aerosol can, old tires, used filters filled with waste oil and unrecycled cans and bottles. A Gore spokesman said the dump belonged to Gore’s father.
But the most outrageous example of Gore’s alleged flaunting of environmental laws involves
his 82-year-old uncle, Whit LaFon. According to witnesses, Gore and LaFon hatched a scheme to turn a slender island, known as Swallow Bluff, in the Tennessee River into a 20-unit luxury condo community, including a private airstrip.
Swallow Bluff Island is the site of an 800-year-old Native American village site, replete with graves and a temple mound. According to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the development has turned into an environmental and cultural disaster. Thousands of tons of topsoil from the island have been bulldozed into the channel nearly clogging it and numerous Indian graves have been desecrated. Desecration of a grave is a crime in Tennessee.
LaFon, a retired state judge, said he sold the island in 1999 to developers Walden Blankenship and Larry Melton, and has had nothing to do with it since then. Not so, according to Melton, who said he and his partner knew they would run into a bureaucratic stone wall from state regulators, TVA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers obtaining permits to construct the extravagant development without the help of someone who had enormous political clout. Melton said he brought their reservations about protection from environment regulations to LaFon, and that the retired jurist asked them, “Don’t you know who my nephew is?” Melton told WND that he personally met with Gore and LaFon to discuss that protection.
The Blankenship/Melton company made only a token effort to obtain a TVA permit, withdrawing the application before action could be taken on it. The two developers then refused to acknowledge both a cease-and-desist order from the Corps of Engineers and notices of violation from the state, which has assessed damages against the company of $234,000.
In a letter dated March 1, 2000, to Tennessee Environment and Conservation Commissioner Milton Hamilton, developers Blankenship and Melton accuse Gore and his uncle of criminal culpability in the Swallow Bluff Island environmental disaster. The letter, a copy of which WND has obtained, states in part, “If it is true that Vice President Al Gore and Judge Whit LaFon are officers of the court and have the duty and responsibility to report a crime to the court, then they should be charged.”
The letter continued, “Not only did they (Gore and LaFon) know a crime was being committed, but they concealed it from the public. The motive appears to be political gain.”
Gore’s campaign headquarters had no comment on the letter, nor did LaFon, who has been unavailable for comment since last month when
began running stories about Gore family politics in Tennessee.
For its part, the Tennessee Valley Authority, which has acquired a hard-line reputation for taking swift action against a homeowner who prunes a tree on his property along a shoreline claimed by TVA, is taking no punitive action involving the massive destruction done to Swallow Bluff Island. TVA also has a reputation of being more than a little subject to the special interests of Al Gore.
“We’re going to let the state handle this case,” a TVA spokesman said.
The Corps of Engineers, which also has something of a draconian reputation for punishing minor offenders, is washing its hands of this politically sensitive case.
And State regulators, who were initially grateful for WorldNetDaily’s coverage, are now gun shy, refusing to turn over public records and “no-comment”-ing everything. Of the three jurisdictions (state, Corps and TVA) that could handle the matter, the state is the least able to thwart political interference, something Al Gore has learned over the years in his frequent tussles with environmental regulators.