In 2012, community members discovered that Boeing had hired a company with the Orwellian name “Makeover Earth” to try to change the narrative about SSFL and “shift discussions from a site with a sordid past to one with potential.” The idea was to divert attention from the contamination at the site and instead push feel good stories about SSFL and what a nice open space park it could be. Of course there’s nothing wrong with open space per se – if SSFL were fully cleaned up first.
But that wasn’t really what Boeing was selling. Boeing knew that if it could spin an open space story, it might be able to get out of its expensive cleanup obligations because open space cleanup standards are based upon people being on the site infrequently and so are extremely weak. At SSFL, open space or recreational cleanup standards would result in about 98% of the nuclear and chemical contamination not getting cleaned up! And of course, people live near SSFL and if that much contamination is left behind, it will continue to migrate and threaten their health. Boeing would save a ton of money, by transferring that cost onto the public’s health.
Boeing also knew that turning a former nuclear meltdown site into a park wouldn’t be an easy sell, and would likely be seen for what it is – greenwashing. So the plan aimed to identify a handful of people it could hide behind to get its message out and “grow the stature” of potential allies, stating that: “Third parties who endorse Boeing’s vision for open space at the SSFL site will be key to the media relations campaign.” The plan even admitted, “Third parties add credibility and authenticity, and blunt allegations of green-washing.” (See the Ventura County Reporter article “Greenwashing Rocketdyne” for more about Boeing’s campaign.)
Boeing had already been looking to create “third party” allies in 2009, when it pushed for the creation of an SSFL Community Advisory Group (CAG), a tiny group composed partly of former officials of parties responsible for the SSFL pollution, pushing Boeing’s position for virtually no cleanup, and even offered to fund the group. Despite the objections of hundreds of community members and elected officials, the SSFL CAG was approved by the Department of Toxic Substances Control in 2012 and has been opposing the promised cleanup ever since.
Boeing and its surrogates claim, straight-faced, that the nuclear and chemical contamination at SSFL has not caused any health problems, poses no threat to the community, and that it is the cleanup of the contamination that is the problem! That may seem outrageous, even laughable to many people. But with continued lobbying and underhanded tactics, Boeing has worked hard to persuade and instill doubt in some people, all with the goal of avoiding the expense of living up to its cleanup obligations.
In addition to its greenwashing media campaign, Boeing’s tactics to get out of cleaning up SSFL include:
- Influencing the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the agency that has over sight for the cleanup. Shortly after the 2010 cleanup agreements were signed, the DTSC Project Director that helped secure them and who had vowed that Boeing would be held to a protective cleanup level was reassigned. Boeing used the “revolving door” technique of hiring people who used to work at the agency to return and lobby their former colleagues. In short order, DTSC began to reverse itself on SSFL cleanup commitments. DTSC’s Draft Environmental Impact Report was even written by one of Boeing’s consultants! Learn more about Boeing’s influence on DTSC in the report, “Inside Job – How Boeing Fixers Captured Regulators and Derailed a Nuclear and Chemical Cleanup in LA’s Backyard.”
- Hiring a consultant group called “Renewable Resources” to create an astroturf community group, and offering to fund that group. It was clear from the beginning that the SSFL CAG was the realization of Boeing’s vision, as many of its leading members had ties to the polluters at SSFL and it quickly began towing Boeing’s company line. One CAG member was the former SSFL Project Manager for Boeing who had repurposed himself into a community member. Another member is a former official at SSFL, in charge of safety of two of the reactors that suffered accidents, and is still employed by the Dept. of Energy as a consultant. Last year, we discovered that the Dept. of Energy – one of the parties that polluted SSFL and is fighting to get out of its cleanup obligations – gave a $34,100 grant to the CAG. The DOE still refuses to disclose the grant details. Read more in the article, “Dept. of Energy secretly funding front group to sabotage its own Santa Susana Field Lab cleanup.“
- Hosting hikes and tours of SSFL. Part of Boeing’s green-washing plan has been to hold hiking and bus tours at SSFL, where it can boast about the site’s accomplishments (leaving out the accidents and negligence that contaminated the site of course) and greatly minimize how contaminated the site truly is. On one tour, a Boeing representative told attendees that after its cleanup, the site would be safe to hike once a week. Once a week? Think about that. If the site will only be safe to hike once a week, what does that mean for all of the residents who live nearby, all the time? SSFL is on top of a hill, so contamination will continue to migrate off site and keep communities at risk of exposure.
- Procuring an easement that Boeing claims will commit SSFL to be forever preserved as open space. The easement, however, is with a controversial Pennsylvania land trust with a reputation for cutting questionable deals with business. It is not a certified land trust, so it is not required to live up to the standards for most land trusts. The agreement does not preclude building on the property, or transferring the land to a Native American tribe that claims immunity from its requirements and could build a casino on the land. And it is unenforceable by the County or anyone else, other than the land trust itself, which does not have to enforce it and has little incentive to do so.
- Launching its own propaganda website, protectsantasusana.com, a blatant attempt to erase and rewrite SSFL’s toxic legacy and urges the public to send in comments to DTSC and elected officials asking for a minimal cleanup that would leave most of the contamination on site. That Boeing is asking people to lobby on its behalf, against their own interests, is astonishing and reprehensible.
The bottom line is that Boeing has a lot of money and influence, which it is using in an underhanded and deceptive fashion to try to get out of its obligations to clean up its contamination that puts people and the environment at risk. We, however, have people power – but only if everyone who cares about getting SSFL cleaned up takes action NOW and encourages others to do so as well. Here’s what you can do: