In October, 2005 the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission of the Virginia General Assembly released its damning report on the Virginia’s regulation (i.e., read: non-regulation) of land application of BS. The report was a condemnation of the Virginia Department of Health, which had the major responsibility for regulating land application of BS. After the report was published the VDH quickly lost all remaining credibility as the state agency in charge of regulating BS operations. Consequently, in 2007 the legislature turned the job over to the Department of Environmental Quality.
Initially those of us who have been fighting the sludge-wars for years shared a certain optimism for a new regulatory regime. But a lot of the air went out of the balloon when it was announced that Dr. Alan B. Rubin had been named to the DEQ “Biosolids Expert Panel” (“BS Panel”).Appointing one who has been called the “Sheik of Sludge” to the BS Panel is an indication that this is going to be a case of deja vu all over again, and the DEQ, like the VDH and the US EPA, will become just another government front for the BS haulers.
Who is Alan Rubin, and why the negative reaction to his appointment to the BS Panel? Well, first of all, Rubin is not a citizen representative on the BS Panel, as reported by various news papers. The BS Panel minutes of September 18, 2007 lists Rubin as a “consultant.” The distinction is important, because if Rubin represents anyone, he represents not citizens, but the BS industry in its fight against citizens. For instance, Rubin was once a senior scientist for Water Environment Federation, which is the BS-industry PR machine that coined the term “biosolids” to help sell the idea of spreading New York’s fecal products and industrial spills on Virginia’s farmland. Now retired from the EPA, Rubin runs a BS consulting firm.
Sheik of Sludge, indeed. From the very get-go Rubin has been a tireless advocate of spreading BS from sea to shining sea. He is, arguably, more responsible than any other single person in the country for a million tons of human fecal products, laced with unknown amounts of industrial toxins, that have been spread on Virginia farmland and forests. For Rubin is the self-proclaimed author of the EPA’s BS regulations – the 503 Rules – which were promulgated in 1993 despite failing the EPA’s internal peer-review process. In sworn testimony before the US Labor Dept. in April, 1999, Rubin admitted that his professional reputation is linked to the 503 Rules. Rubin has a dog in this fight – protecting his professional reputation and his 503 Rules.Rubin is perhaps best known in the BS world for his use of heavy handed tactics against those who disagreed with him or who questioned the safety of BS when he was a major domo in the EPA. On September 27, 1999 Time magazine reported that several members of Congress were sending then EPA Director Carol Browner an angry letter, asking her to address allegations that Rubin had been engaged in threatening and harassing telephone calls and e-mails to anti-sludge activists.
In May 2000, the House Committee on Science held a hearing on BS issues at which hearing Jane Beswick, a dairy farmer from Stanislaus County, Calif. testified. Ms. Beswick had become a vocal critic of the use of BS as fertilizer. In her testimony before Congress she related how Rubin made implicit threats to bring the feds down on her if she didn’t stop speaking out about the risks of BS, and how Rubin began sending her unsolicited BS propaganda, including one hand-written note that said, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Ms Beswick’s testimony was: “To me, [Rubin] was saying that if I didn’t stop speaking out about the risks of using sludge, there would be closer scrutiny of animal manure by Federal and State inspectors–which has happened.”
My question to the DEQ is this: How does a person with Rubin’s overzealous pro-BS track record get appointed to an ostensibly objective BS expert panel?
Does Rubin have the necessary expertise in the BS field? Of course he does; he is the Sheik of Sludge. Is he smart? Arguably his brilliance matches his zeal for BS. But regardless of how much they know or how smart they are, zealots do not belong on a fact-finding panel.
If the DEQ insists on having pro-sludge zealots on its BS Panel, then it is obligated to balance the Panel with anti-sludge zealots. Otherwise the work of the Panel and the whole DEQ effort will be tainted by suspicions of industry influence, just like the VDH “efforts” were. Deja vu.