It is, at first glance, a marriage truly forged in a toxics-free heaven.
P S Dubey is chairman of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board, an institution designed to protect Indian citizens from environmental pollution. To use the chairman’s own words, “A strong need is felt today, on global basis, to conserve the natural resources like air, water and soil to sustain the quality of environment for future generation…”
But if Dubey works for prevention, Tom Darden, CEO of Cherokee Investment Partners, and his sidekick Paul Gallagher, Managing Director, are the bringers of cures. Cherokee is the largest ‘Brownfield’ site redeveloper in the US, turning equity devalued by industrial pollution back into prime real estate through the simple expedient of cleaning up the mess they find.
Darden is also a board member of Crown’s Financial Ministries, whose stated objective is “To teach God’s financial principles to 300 million people by September 15, 2015”, whereafter they can follow ‘Crown’s Money Map(tm)’ until they reach ‘True Financial Freedom’. How close are Cherokee to ‘True Financial Freedom’?
For some months, Darden and Cherokee have been feting Indian officials over Carbide’s festering, murderous site. As a result, Darden, Gallagher and Dubey yesterday appeared at Duke University, North Carolina to talk about Cherokee and the Pollution Control Board’s plans for an at-long-last clean-up.
Cherokee’s business plan for Bhopal, a form of what is referred to as “vulture capitalism”, would see Cherokee take the UCIL land as a “donation”, remediate it and resell for profit. Putting ‘God’s financial principles’ into action, Cherokee promise to indemnify stakeholders against future environmental liability: yes, that means absolving Dow of legal liability for its stinking mess. Thus, in Cherokee’s beneficent vision, the site is cleaned up, the Indian tax payer loses the significant value of the land, Cherokee pushes a few more goodly christian folk towards ‘True Financial Freedom’ and Dow scuttles away scot-free.
But then the site is cleaned up, right? Who could complain about that? And Cherokee, leader in its field, must of course follow the strictest international environmental standards in any remediation work – especially at those times that it’s undertaken in an educated district of the most litigious country in the world. Mustn’t it? Oh dear.
During remediation work on the Campus Bay site in Richmond, California, in 2005 the Berkeley Daily Planet reported that ‘nearby residents and workers were deluged with dust from a severely polluted site and nobody was keeping track of what was in it.’A spokesperson for local residents said,“Something went very, very wrong at one of the most toxic sites in the state. There was no public notice, no environmental impact statement, no precautions, no protections and no hazard notices”. Aggrieved residents have set up a website documenting Cherokee’s work, which has been so dangerous it has forced proposals to change state law concerning remediation of polluted sites.
If all of this sounds disturbingly familiar, it should. As bhopal.net reported last year, P S Dubey presided over a sham clean up operation that broke every basic standard of public and worker health protection and in which women with barefoot children, and men wearing no safety gear whatsoever, were sent in to manually shift poisons which will very likely kill them.
Naturally, Cherokee is very keen to conjoin its standards with Dubey’s and do the slapdash work of a cosmetic clean-up in Bhopal. So keen that Darden has already started the business of trying to discredit potential critics. “The Bhopal site has been a sort of headquarters to environmentalists, and they see us eliminating a fundraising opportunity and letting off Union Carbide if we clean the site,” he said. And why else would anyone do anything if not for the reason of following ‘God’s Financial Principles’, eh, Tom?
At second glance, then, Cherokee and Dubey’s coming together is the product of a toxic nightmare. Thankfully, when the two came to present their potentially deadly plans to Duke University yesterday, Bhopal activists were waiting…
Cherokee CEO Tom Darden proudly displays a steaming pile of his company’s chief product
OK. I just got back from the meeting. First I thought I will write this note in the evening but I am still so high on adrenaline and Little Debbie’s Marshmallow Treats. Why let it go waste?
I left copies of Bhopal flyers, some Social Forum flyers, the NY Times article and the press release against Dubey outside the room. Some people picked them up, including Darden and Gallagher. I didn’t want to distribute them inside to avoid conspicuity. The room was full, more than 40 people. A ton of suits, many flown in from different parts of the country. Apparently they had a meeting in the morning to discuss technical aspects of the study/clean-up.
This is how it went:
Met William McDonough, the author of Cradle to Cradle, on a bus in UK and was inspired to take up the Bhopal cause. Bhopal had a profound impact on him. Reponse to the tragedy affected public policy on chemical safety and emergency planning including the US Right to Know Act. Introduced various people including Amita Poole (I assume that is who she was because I didn’t catch her name) and Dubey (world reknowned scientist with a really long cv!)
2. GALLAGHER takes over:
Described the site and the events leading up to present day. Usual stuff, presented in a “quasi-scientific objective tone”. Some interesting points that he mentioned: – Only neutralized waste
dumped into solar ponds – The cause is controversial. Maybe sabotage. However, the safety systems were not working.
– Many hospitals have been established
– Victims have and are being compensated.
– Lawsuit against Dow and UCC is still going on
– Nothing was done on the site till Dubey decided to clean it up last year. Shows a photo of the clean up. I bet this was the prettiest/cleanest that they had but it still looked horrible.
– Dubey has developed a roadmap for the clean up which has been accpted by the high court.
– Now, all chemicals have been removed and stored in a sealed warehouse.
– Soil and groundwater may be contaminated. Level of contamination uncertain
– Cherokee looking at data gaps
– Cherokee has developed a 2-phase plan to assess the level of contamination
– Once the site is cleaned up, as per Dubey’s visionary suggestion, there maybe a memorial for the dead.
– Cherokee will try to organize a fundraising effort to do the actual clean up. They will not be involved in that part.
Dubey has so far been very vocal. He has loudly interrupted Gallagher with his opinions and factoids: – The settlements around the factory were built mostly after the tragedy – The mosque in Bhopal is quite small – Gallagher said the site is covered with thousands of tons of contaminated soil. Dubey said it is only 370 tons. Greenpeace is spreading false rumors. Kindly sacrifices his turn to speak. Wants to include everybody in the discussion. Will answer questions.
Q & A
1. What is the best available technology?
Gallagher: landfill, incineration, maybe bioremediation.
Dubey: India has great incinerators, e.g., Gujrat, Peetampur
2. What will happen to the site besides the memorial?
Dubey: No plans. Everybody talks but no concrete suggestion. They floated a tender but did not get any response. So, Dubey, the environmental crusader takes over. In spite of unsurmountable hurdles and criticisms from naysayers he cleaned up the site. In fact there was not much to clean after 21 years. Nobody was getting sick. Criticizes Greenpeace for gas mask drama. He still decided to be thorough and do the cleaning scientifically.
So far, it has only been 20 minutes.
After Dubey’s rambling response, he is developing a sort of avuncular image: He is rudely cutting people off not because he is a bully but just a harmless old man. Then I asked my first question:
I will be honest, I am sceptical because the people of Bhopal have been betrayed many times often by “friends”. I have 2 questions for Dr. Dubey. What are the legal and conflict-of-interest issues regarding your association with Cherokee. This is relevant because you have been accused of corruption. The details are in the flyers outside. He tries to interrupt me a few times but I firmly ask him to wait till I finish. He said he is not working for Cherokee, he is just visiting a relative and one of his graduate students. The second question: You have been working in Bhopal for some time now. But contrary to what Mr. Darden and Gallgher said, your performance is very poor. You are saying that the site is completely clean now but then what is Cherokee planning to measure? You said that the site was clean to begin with even before you started the clean-up. Then how come so many people were taken ill, including one worker? You said the site was cleaned up scientifically. We saw the photo. I also have some photos. (I proceed to distribute color laser printouts of the clean up.) Your crew here is a woman with a broom and a shoeless child. And what about all this toxic dust? Are you working with Cherokee? Given your poor record how can we be sure you will do a better job this time?
The tone of the talk changes. The next one hour is a conversation between me, Darden and Gallagher. Really. And people found it more interesting than the crap that was going on before. They told me so later. Including a Chinese girl who is interning with Cherokee this summer. She said I am from China and I fully understand what you are saying.
Dubey did not say a single word after that. And from then on Cherokee tried to distance themselves from him: he is not with us, we don’t even know him, he just showed up.
They also tried to discredit me. Standard strategy. What is your background? Are you from Bhopal? Have you ever been there? At least we are trying to do something. All you are doing is criticizing. At this point I was forced to reveal my true identity as a post-doc in Civil & Env. Engineering at Duke, champion dodgeball-player and also a Bhopalista. This totally turned the table. Not only am I more educated, intelligent and better-looking than them, I also have a kinder heart, or at least as kind as theirs! (There were 10 Cherokee suits in the room and after the talk, they all came up to me and introduced themselves, meticulously adding Masters in Civil/Chemical/Mechanical, etc. after their names. No PhDs!)
This discussion went on for more than an hour. Darden was frustrated that why Bhopalis are sceptical. He is just trying to help. He is misunderstood. He even asked me what do I want him to do? I explained the history of betrayal makes the Bhopalis sceptical. And I don’t trust you because you have this lying corrupt man on your team. You say that you are talking to survivors but where are they today? You have this corrupt liar instead. You want me to believe that the guy with you today is not really on your team but the guys who aren’t with you are?
I don’t remember all the details for I stopped taking notes. I had to because Darden and Gallagher are standing right next to me by now. But I loudly repeated corrupt, incompetent and liar about Dubey several times, and mentioned all the dirt we have dug up on Darden and showed him copies of his interviews.
At one point I was taken in by their sincerity. I got into a discussion about how there is life beyond engineering and we should all try to understand one another. But then I realized that they were trying to corner me as a irrational, unreasonable enviro fool. (One of my friends was telling me about the privilege of rationality but that discussion is for another day). We understand your feelings but …, etc. Thankfully I realized that immediately and decided not to spend my energy in meaningful discussions. The goal was to let Cherokee know that we exist in their own backyard. Having accomplished that, I grabbed some quiche and left.
Dubey came up to me with some stupid question. I called him corrupt and a liar. He slunk away.
Then I called Ryan and gave him a lowdown. Gallagher came out and grabbed me again. But it was the same old conversation. They feel for Bhopal, they understand my point but all they want is a little love.
I was getting tired. So I told them that if you want to make a difference with your work you have to change your attitude and your mindset. You have to stop associating with these corrupt liars (I got carried away a bit?) And start from scratch. The way you are going, I can assure you that all your efforts will come to nothing.
Gallagher said “That’s what it looks like.”
And that’s it. Long one. The sugar is wearing off. Gotta go.