Nevada's top environmental administrator is defending state regulators against a federal whistleblower's claim they worked more in the interest of the polluter than the neighbors of an abandoned mine contaminated with uranium and toxic metals.
Allen Biaggi, director of the Nevada Department of Conservation
and Natural Resources, said the state long opposed declaring the
former Anaconda copper mine near Yerington a federal Superfund site
partly because it believed working cooperatively with Atlantic
Richfield Co. would result in faster, cheaper clean up of toxic
His comments came in testimony at an administrative hearing that
continued Wednesday on the whistleblower complaint brought against
the U.S. Bureau of Land Management by Earle Dixon. Dixon, BLM's
former manager of the site, claims he was fired for speaking out
about the dangers at the 6-square-mile operation on the edge of
In addition to criticizing BLM's failure to demand Atlantic
Richfield do more to meet its responsibility to clean up the site,
Dixon accused Nevada regulators of withholding data dating to the
early 1980s that first documented the presence of uranium in wells
on the mine site that was the nation's leading copper producer in
the 1950s and 1960s.
Bob Abbey, BLM's former state director for Nevada, was among
those scheduled to testify before the U.S. Labor Department's
administrative judge Wednesday.
Biaggi, who was the administrator of the Nevada Division of
Environmental Protection until 2004 and now oversees the division,
defended the state's handling of the cleanup efforts during his
testimony on Tuesday. He acknowledged he and his staff had
expressed concerns several times about Dixon's aggressive approach
to BLM supervisors.
"The state of Nevada believed, and still believes, it is more
efficient, expedient and cheaper to remediate a site through
cooperative efforts rather than enforcement actions or Superfund
listing," Biaggi said.
"We felt Mr. Dixon was working counter to those efforts and was
becoming more and more aggressive and hostile toward NDEP staff -
more accusatory," he said, including claims NDEP had worked to
cover up data documenting the contamination.
Dixon, who was fired in October 2004, said he learned upon his
arrival at the site in October 2003 that NDEP had routinely checked
off on Atlantic Richfield's cleanup plans that both EPA and BLM
later found to be deficient.
"I was suspicious Arco was not doing the best kind of sampling
we needed," Dixon testified.
For example, the company originally produced a proposal to take
233 soil samples and test groundwater in three wells, he said.
"By the time EPA and BLM was done looking at it, they required
approximately 1,000 soil samples and 567 water samples," Dixon
Biaggi said he disagreed with Dixon's claim the state was "too
closely aligned" with the company, although he added that Atlantic
Richfield did not always do what EPA and BLM wanted in terms of
"But we believed there was some trust and confidence between
NDEP and Arco and NDEP and Arco were working together ... toward an
effective clean up. Whether that constitutes working too closely
together, I guess that is in the eye of the beholder," he said.
Dixon's lawyer, Mitch Harrison of Bloomington, Ind., said state
regulators were not acting in the interest of the regulators but
more in the interest of the polluter.
"Mr. Dixon was insisting that Arco do additional testing to
comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. We believe he was
terminated because he was insisting on federal compliance,"
Harrison said BLM officials wrongly claim that Dixon was unable
to work effectively with other regulatory agencies.
"Only one regulatory partner had a problem with Mr. Dixon and
that was the state of Nevada. EPA was on the same page with Mr.
Dixon," he said.
"Arco is a polluter, it was not a regulatory partner, although
sometimes the state of Nevada treated it as if it were," he said.