EPA Enforcer Had Ties to Asbestos Polluter

It was one of those issues with huge implications for Americans’ health that, thanks to a co-opted and ineffective mainstream media controlled by only five corporations (which have tentacles around everything from defense contracts to bottled water), “flew under the radar.”

Two years ago, George W. Bush–whose choices for many federal posts have been questionable, enough that many are under Congressional investigation–nominated environmental lawyer Granta Nakayama to head the Enforcement Division of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Enforcement Division is that arm of the EPA responsible for seeing that laws protecting our air, water and land are not ignored and that corporate polluters are identified and forced to comply with regulations.

A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nakayama was employed by the national law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, and has been an adjunct professor in Environmental Law at the prestigious George Mason University, where he obtained his law degree.

What was questionable about Nakayama’s nomination is the fact that Kirkland & Ellis, with whom Nakayama was associated for over ten years, has represented some of the worst corporate polluters in the world–including former asbestos manufacturer W.R. Grace, which is alleged to be responsible for poisoning the people of Libby Montana, 2000 of whom now show signs of asbestos-related disease.

Could Nakayama’s association with the firm that represents corporate polluters have represented a conflict of interest? Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), who has worked for years to pass legislation to ban asbestos, believed so, saying: “This appointment is just the latest in a series of moves that calls into question this administration’s commitment to protecting our environment, our natural resources and the health and well-being of all Americans.”

Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, agreed: “Given the criminal indictment against W.R. Grace, Mr. Nakayama’s potential conflict of interest deserves special examination during the confirmation process in the Senate.”

A spokesperson for Kirkland & Ellis’ Chicago offices acknowledged that the firm did represent W.R. Grace in its Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, but said that “…Nakayama has had no involvement in this matter during his tenure.”