Fitzgerald: How the EPA Can Destroy Your Life

by David Bier on January 27, 2012

in Blog

In October last year, CEI’s Jackie Moreau blogged about victims of EPA’s wetland regulatory regime. “The once lovely face of Lady Liberty,” she wrote, “now wears the quintessential looks of the mean kid on the playground: class bully.” In this excerpt from Mugged by the State: Outrageous Government Assaults on Ordinary People and their Property, Randall Fitzgerald reinforces her point with some more outrageous examples of government environmentalism out-of-control.

Mugged by the State was released in 2003

As James Knott sat at his desk talking on the telephone on the morning of November 7, 1997, he noticed a police officer strolling across the lobby of Riverdale Mills, the wire-mesh manufacturing plant Knott owned in Northbridge, Massachusetts. Seconds later, twenty armed federal, state, and local law enforcement officers swarmed through the lobby and began entering employee’s offices.

Knott rushed out into the lobby and found himself confronted by a man wearing a dark jacket emblazoned with the lettering US AGENT. “We are here to seize some records,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officer announced. “I have a warrant from a United States federal judge.”

After reading over this warrant, the sixty-nine-year-old Knott gave his consent for the search, though he sternly warned the EPA agents, “I am sure someone has perjured themselves to obtain such a warrant from a judge.”

Some of Knott’s 148 employees laughed and joked with each other when the armed EPA agents appeared. Only a few weeks earlier, actors in a move, “A Civil Action,” had filmed scenes at the plant, and this seemed like another piece of fiction or a bizarre performance of guerilla theater. But the EPA agents quickly dispelled these fantasies by intimidating those employees they questioned, threatening them with prosecution unless they cooperated. Over the next seven hours the environmental SWAT team seized and carted off company files totaling more than twenty feet of file cabinet space.

Just two weeks before the raid, two EPA inspectors, acting on a tip from an informant whose identity was never revealed, had shown up at the plant and done a series of tests on the flow of wastewater into the public sewer system. As plant employees stood by, the two inspectors did litmus tests on several samples of the wastewater to measure its acidity. Under the Clean Water Act, a violation is any measurement lower than a 5 on the litmus test. Initially the inspectors found pH levels as high as 12 and as low as 7, all well within the law. But later in the day, when Riverdale Mills employees were no longer present, the inspectors took additional samples that supposedly found acidity below 5, a result setting in motion the search warrant and subsequent raid on the plant.

Nine months after the raid the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston finally produced an indictment against Knott and his company. He was charged with two criminal counts of “discharging inadequately treated manufacturing waste from Riverdale Mills into the Northbridge, Massachusetts, sewer system.” Knott faced six years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

In a press release announcing Knott’s indictment, U.S. Attorney Donald Stern vowed: “Those who choose to violate our environmental laws will be aggressively prosecuted.” The EPA also distributed press release from its headquarters in Washington, D.C., under the headline: “CEO Indicted for Violating the Clean Water Act.”

This adverse publicity had an almost immediate impact on Knott’s sales of wire mesh for lobster traps, chicken coops, and fences. A business research firm, Dun & Bradstreet, sent out a warning advisory about the company based on the indictment, which sacred away some potential clients. More business was lost when MasterCard suspended his ability to let customers pay for orders using credit cards.

“I found it humiliating to be identified as a criminal,” Knott later told me. “I knew I was innocent. I knew I had to fight back any way I could.”

A break came as Knott and his attorneys examined the EPA investigator’s logbooks, showing the readings of 2’s and 4’s that made him a lawbreaker. They noticed the numbers seemed to have been tampered with. A former FBI handwriting analyst, David Grimes, was hired to study the logbook numbers. Using a magnifying machine Grimes demonstrated conclusively that underneath the 2’s and 4’s the number 7 had originally been written. Someone in the EPA had altered the numbers to turn readings that were within the law into violations. It did not seem to be any coincidence that these tests containing altered numbers were conducted by the two inspectors while they were taking samples alone, without supervision by Riverdale Mills employees.

Another important piece of evidence emerged during the discovery process when Knott’s lawyers uncovered an incriminating letter in the EPA Boston office files. Knott had written the Massachusetts Department of Protection years earlier about a separate matter, and at the bottom of the letter a state bureaucrat handwrote the following to his superiors: “I wouldn’t mind making his life miserable for a while.” Though Knott and his attorneys were never able to establish a clear link between this note and the EPA’s legal action, the implication seemed clear that the environmental bureaucrats may have had a personal grudge against Knott for being a prickly person to deal with.

Even more damning, the Town of Northbridge’s sewage treatment plant manager, James Madigan, was prepared to testify that he regularly monitored the pH levels of discharges by Riverdale Mills and had always found them within acceptable limits. Even if the pH levels had been what the EPA claimed, Madigan said the effect on the environment would have been negligible. “With flow time, the Riverdale Mils wastewater would be so diluted you wouldn’t even notice it here,” said Madigan. “It would have no impact at all on us. I definitely told the investigators. That’s one of the questions they asked me.” Madigan was never asked to testify before the grand jury that indicted Knott.

Sixteen days before Knott’s trial was scheduled to being the U.S. Attorney’s Office asked Judge Gorton to dismiss its case, after Knott suffered $238,000 in legal costs, and incalculable damage to his personal and business reputation.

David May January 29, 2012 at 3:21 am

Gestapo tactics, pure and simple. Laws should be changed to allow a private individuals, organizations, companies, etc. to recover the costs of defending themselves against such tyranny.

business daily January 31, 2012 at 12:52 am

The first phase of Knott’s legal tangle began on Aug. 12, 1998, when a federal grand jury indicted him and his company on two felony counts of violating the Clean Water Act. The government alleged that RMC was discharging highly acidic wastewater into the town’s sewer system. If convicted, Knott faced a possible six-year jail term and up to $1.5 million in fines. Both the EPA and the Department of Justice widely publicized the indictment as evidence of their campaign against criminal polluters.

dieta January 31, 2012 at 12:52 am

The Hyde Amendment provides that fee awards “shall be granted pursuant to the procedures and limitations (but not the burden of proof) provided for an award under section 2412 of [the Equal Access to Justice Act]․” 111 Stat. at 2519. Section 2412 of the EAJA, however, provides for the award of attorneys’ fees in two separate subsections, each containing different procedures and limitations.

Motlubor February 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Find any car that can fit you (Kris) and me, and two more of us our size that can go 40 miles on less than a dllaor.I've done it in a Volt.Former dissbeliever

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: