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Clinton Moving to Block Testing at Hazardous Waste Plant

December 7, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Clinton administration, in an early show of commitment to environmental protection, will move to stop testing at an Ohio hazardous waste facility, Vice President-elect Al Gore said today.

Gore said the new administration will refuse a final-stage testing permit to the East Liverpool plant, which some local residents say is dangerous.

Gore said in a statement the testing permit would be denied until Congress investigates the legality of the plant’s operating licenses. He cited ″serious questions concerning the safety″ of the facility.

″For the safety and health of local residents rightfully concerned about the impact of this incinerator on their families and their future, a thorough investigation is urgently needed,″ Gore said.

Gore called for an investigation of the licensing by the General Accounting Office, a congressional watchdog agency. He was joined in the request by Democratic Sens. Howard Metzenbaum and John Glenn of Ohio, Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania as well as Rep. Alan B. Mollohan, D-W.Va.

The $140 million incinerator on the Ohio River already has regulatory permission for a 720-hour ″shakedown burn″ of hazardous wastes, said plant spokeswoman Julia Bircher. She said plant operators were going ahead with plans for that initial burn, which could take place as early as next week.

A trial burn, which would not involve hazardous wastes, would follow. The plant does not have regulatory approval for that test as yet, but Bircher said it may be possible for the trial burn to begin before Clinton takes office Jan. 20.

Gore said the Clinton administration would not issue a permit for the test burn ″until all questions concerning compliance with state and federal laws have been answered...″ To do so, he said, ″wouldn’t make any sense.″

The plant, the newest of its type in the nation, could burn as much as 60,000 tons of toxic waste a year. If two kilns are used, it could be roughly five times larger than the typical commercial hazardous waste incinerator.

Gore, expected to be the Clinton administration’s point man on environmental issues, visited the Ohio River Valley area during the campaign and promised to look into concerns about the plant.

Gore’s staff ″spent the last several months taking a very serious look″ at the issue, and decided an investigation by GAO, an arm of Congress, was warranted, Clinton transition spokeswoman Marla Romash said.

In a larger sense, she said, the move to curtail operations at the incinerator shows that the Clinton administration will bring ″a real commitment to protecting the environment and environmental laws.″

Terri Swearingen, a nurse who lives in Chester, W.Va., a town across the Ohio River from the plant, said she was ″jumping up and down″ when she heard Gore planned the announcement.

″I think this is a clear indication the new administration will be on the side of the people, as promised during the campaign,″ said Swearingen, who represents a coalition of opponents of the facility.

The New York Times said in today’s edition that Gore’s announcement will set up a confrontation between the new administration and the Swiss-owned company, Von Roll Inc., that operates the plant.

Bircher, the company spokeswoman, said Gore’s expected announcement ″sounds like appeasement to the extremists and the radicals breaking the law around here lately.″

″It seems totally contradictory to Gore’s own thesis, that science and advanced technology should be used to solve critical environmental situations. It also seems contradictory to the backbone of the Clinton-Gore campaign regarding jobs, cleaning up the environment and revitalizing our economy,″ she said, calling the plant the most significant investment in the Ohio Valley in 20 years.

The Environmental Protection Agency in 1983 issued a permit to Waste Technologies Industries to build the commercial hazardous waste incinerator.

Construction began in 1990, but the project has been plagued with protests from local residents and environmental groups such as Greenpeace. In October 1991, actor Martin Sheen led about 30 protesters who were arrested on trespassing charges after scaling a fence at the plant.

Opponents say the incinerator is just 300 feet from the nearest neighborhood and 1,100 feet from an elementary school.

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