In the Senate, Richard Bryan worked to safeguard Nevada's water supply. Then he became a lobbyist for the chemical firms that contaminated it. By David Corn
A decade ago, Nevada's congressional delegation won a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to fund drinking-water improvements in rural areas of the state. The aim was to ensure the water supply in these locales was free of dangerous levels of various chemicals, including the rocket-fuel additive perchlorate, a potential health hazard. The amount of money was modest—$12.5 million—but that didn't stop the state's federal legislators from crowing about their accomplishment. Richard Bryan, one of Nevada's two Democratic senators at the time, proudly declared that Nevadans had a right "to safe, clean drinking water."
Ten years later, Bryan was a lobbyist for manufacturers of perchlorate.
How this happened is yet another tale of Washington's ever-spinning revolving door, which can turn politicians who pushed environmental initiatives into influence-peddlers for polluters. And in the new Washington governed by President Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress, K Streeters with Democratic credentials are poised to exploit their party ties more than ever. As they work their connections on Capitol Hill and at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, these administration-friendly lobbyists will pose a challenge to the new president, who vowed to change the pay-to-play ways of the nation's capital.
For years, perchlorate, a primary ingredient in propellant for rockets and missiles, has been the subject of fierce regulatory wrestling in Washington. After leaking from military bases and manufacturing sites, the substance has been found in tap water, groundwater, surface water, and soil across the nation. Up to 40 million Americans may have perchlorate in their water supplies, according to one analysis of EPA data. The chemical has been detected in lettuce, milk, spinach, and human breast milk. Health studies indicate that it can affect the thyroid, potentially causing long-lasting neurological impairments for infants. For this reason, environmental and clean-water advocates have been urging federal action for years.Read »