This morning, in the reflection of Dallas's Fountain Place building, a small group of environmental activists gathered as previously announced to oppose the nomination of former Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission head John Hall as the new regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency. Some were outraged at Hall's past and current ties as a lobbyist for oil, gas and waste companies, but others openly shared their personal experiences with Hall -- and some, like Victor Burnett, a former city council member from Ferris, didn't mince words.
"Why are the black politicians in this area supporting John Hall when they know what John Hall did to the low-income communities [in the past]?" Burnett asked, referring to his 1990s battle to stop the expansion of the Skyline Landfill in Ferris. "Why would you put the fox over the hen house?"
Vic Buchanon, a former Lancaster city council member who also fought Hall on the landfill issue, also spoke out against his nomination.
"Far too often we have folks going through the revolving door, from regulators to lobbyists to regulators again," Buchanon said. "In Mr. Hall's case, I question his credibility." Buchanon pointed out that after overruling a judge's bid to stop the landfill's expansion, Hall went on to work as a lobbyist for Waste Management, the company operating that same landfill. (According to the Texas Ethics Commission, he still works for them.)
"I'm not going to say it's a quid pro quo," Buchanon added, "but it doesn't pass the smell test. We need someone who's really going to protect the environment."
The activists gathered on the corner of Ross Avenue and Field Street waited for the local EPA's media officer, David Gray, to descend. When he did, Robin Schneider, director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment and the organizer of today's event, handed him a thick stack of letters and urged Gray to take a photo of the assembled volunteers so he could show Lisa Jackson, President Barack Obama's pick for EPA Administrator, that they were officially opposing Hall's nomination. Jackson is expected to pick a regional EPA manager in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, people were still telling John Hall stories and handing out fliers to passersby. Luis Sepulveda, a Dallas County Justice of the Peace and founder of the West Dallas Coalition for Environmental Justice, said Hall had played an instrumental role in impeding the cleanup of West Dallas, which led to his doubts about Hall's ability to be an effective and impartial EPA region head. "How can one hand feed the other hand and it not be the same person? I find it a conflict of interest," Sepulveda said.
Jim Schermbeck, field organizer for Downwinders at Risk, recounted similar problems in getting Hall to back stricter regulations on TXI's cement kilns in Midlothian.
"Everybody doing environmental work [in the 1990s] has a John Hall story," Schermbeck said. "We can't believe they're calling this guy back from the dead."
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So, he's asked, why are they?
"He's the establishment candidate -- people know him," Schermbeck said. "He's predictable; he's completely controllable. There's about a million people out there more qualified than John Hall. It's incredible John Hall would even be considered for this job."
Hall told The Dallas Morning News today that he's perfectly qualified for the position and that his lobbying work would not interfere with his ability to manage the EPA's region 6 office. Schermbeck hardly agrees.
"It's like sending Bernie Madoff to run the Federal Reserve [Bank] of Dallas," he said. "It's just not a good idea."