Four Democratic members of Congress have requested an investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency's writing of a hazardous-waste rule that would benefit industrial laundries, including a company controlled by the family of one of President Bush's top fundraisers.
The lawmakers said in a recent letter to agency officials that the "EPA conducted public participation in an inappropriate and one-sided manner." The letter was signed by Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Reps. Rosa L. DeLauro (Conn.) and Henry A. Waxman (Calif.).
EPA officials yesterday strongly denied that undue favoritism was given to the industrial laundry industry.
The EPA rule, which is pending final approval, is a weaker version of one that had been under consideration in the Clinton administration, which would have imposed special handling restrictions on factory shop towels contaminated with solvents. Under the current proposal, shop towels would not require special containers when being taken from factories to laundries. They also would not need to be wrung out before laundering.
The Bush administration's approach is backed by lobbyists who represent the industrial-laundry industry and Cintas Corp., which is controlled by the family of Richard T. Farmer, one of America's richest men and a Bush Pioneer by virtue of having raised at least $100,000 for the 2000 campaign. Over the past 15 years, Farmer and his wife have given $3.1 million to Bush campaigns, the Republican Party and Republican candidates.
The congressional letter, sent July 20 to EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt and the agency's inspector general, Nikki Tinsley, cited a May article in The Washington Post. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and interviews showed that the EPA had provided industrial-laundry lobbyists with an advance copy of a portion of the proposed rule that the lobbyists edited and the agency adopted.
"Apparently, the industrial laundry industry obtained extensive access to agency decision-makers, while other stakeholders, including representatives for workers, environmental concerns and other affected industries, were neglected," the lawmakers wrote. "There is also evidence that EPA gave industrial laundries representatives, but no other interested stakeholders, the opportunity to view and comment on EPA's decision and at least some draft language for the proposal."
The lawmakers have asked for an accounting of all industry contacts on the proposed rule, and an EPA spokeswoman said the material should be compiled within a week or so. A spokesman for Tinsley said the inspector general is awaiting official EPA response before determining whether to conduct a formal review.
"We treated everybody absolutely equally," said Matt Hale, director of the EPA Office of Solid Waste. "It wasn't one-sided at all. It was the process that we always use."