Chronicling a Battle to Bring Trash Onto an Indian Reservation

     As soon as he gets done fighting The Campo Landfill War, former EPA regional administrator Daniel McGovern will be joining Landels, Ripley & Diamond as a partner.

    McGovern, a Reagan appointee, left office when the Democrats took over in January. He has spent the intervening months writing a book about how, as he puts it, an Indian tribe finds itself fighting to bring white men's garbage onto its land.

    His case study involves the 300-member Campo band of the Kumeyaay tribe of San Diego County. The Campos want permission to lease part of their 15,000-acre reservation along the Mexican border for a dump to be operated by mid-American Waste Systems Inc. The contract would bring the Campos up to $ 3 million a year in tipping fees.

    The Indians, opponents are the mostly white ranchers and retirees who neighbor Campo land and fear contamination of the underlying acfuifer.  The dispute has raged on many fronts, including the EPA, state and federal legislatures and the Interior Department, which oversees Indian affairs.

    The project is in the early stages of construction, but a final operating permit hasn't been granted. That makes it the leading edge of the commercial waste industry's drive to build landfills and hazardous waste dumps on reservations, McGovern said. "By now, almost every tribe in the United States has been approached by one or more waste companies."

    The Campos hired Native American lawyers and consultants from New Mexico and negotiated for Mid-American to pay the fees of independent hydrogeologists, he said. "It is a sophisticated effort and that distinguishes it from many other efforts," he said. "The Campos say certainly there is a danger of exploitation, but it is paternalistic and even racist to assume that Indian tribes are not capable of taking care of themselves."

    McGovern, 51, calls himself a 'very sympathetic government partner" to the movement against "environmental racism." (EPA, he says, preferred the sunnier term "environmental equity.")

    Before being named agency administrator for the region that covers California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii, he was general counsel to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Department, and a legal adviser in the Reagan State Department. He spent 10 years as a deputy attorney general in California and a research attorney for state Supreme Court Justice William Clark Jr.

    McGovern says his practice at Landels will center on endangered species and natural resource issues. other pressures, in addition to his Feb. 15 start date, are impelling him to finish the book and find a publisher. "It's been an interesting sabbatical, but it's been a self-financed one."

    "By now, almost every tribe in the United States has been approached by one or more waste companies.", MERYL SCHENKER
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Copyright 1993 American Lawyer Media, L.P.
The Recorder
December 6, 1993, Monday
BYLINE: Jennifer Thelen