Fox + Henhouse = the Bush EPA

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Last week, President Bush nominated attorney Granta Nakayama to head the enforcement division of the Environmental Protection Agency. It was hardly a shock to learn that Nakayama's legal practice included defending companies accused of violating state and federal environmental law.

But for some long-time residents of Northeast Minneapolis, there is an especially bitter irony in the selection. For the past decade, Nakayama served as a partner at the Washington, D.C. law firm of Kirkland & Ellis. Among the firm's more notorious clients: W.R. Grace, the company responsible for much of the extensive asbestos contamination in Northeast. (One of the properties damaged by the "free" waste rock from Grace plant, the now-closed Gluek Park, has been in the news quite a bit lately).

Bush's pick for the new EPA watchdog is probably even less popular in the tiny town of Libby, Montana than Minneapolis. For decades, Grace operated a vermiculite mine in Libby. The vermiculite, some of which eventually found its way to Minneapolis, was tainted with asbestos--a fact concealed by top Grace executives for decades. In February, the company and seven current and former officers were indicted in federal court on criminal charges of knowingly exposing people to the deadly mineral. In Libby, that exposure is believed to have caused more than a thousand illnesses and at least 192 deaths.

Nakayama's defenders point out that he did not work directly on the Grace case and, additionally, that Kirkland & Ellis was not involved in representing Grace against any criminal charges. That's true. All Kirkland & Ellis did was petition for Chapter 11 protection so that people poisoned by Grace won't be able to sue.

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