U. Colorado instructor, other activists thrown out of summit

May 5, 1999

Brian Hansen, Colorado Daily

The 1999 Colorado Sustainability Summit came to a genuinely bizarre conclusion Tuesday, as a small group of environmental activists who weren't officially "registered" for the four-day conference were summarily thrown out of a session being held in the Colorado History Museum's Boettcher Auditorium.

The activists, who are well known for their opposition to a controversial Environmental Protection Agency scheme to remediate a Denver Superfund Site, said they came to hear EPA Region VIII Administrator Bill Yellowtail deliver the conference's closing remarks.

One of the activists bounced out of Yellowtail's speech, CU environmental ethics instructor Adrienne Anderson, noted that the conference was touted as an "affiliated event of the National Town Meeting for Sustainable America," which was held in Detroit over the course of the last four days.

Anderson, whose appearance Tuesday immediately sent EPA staff members scurrying for the museum's security guards, said that conference organizer Linda Ann Smith never even gave her the chance to officially register.

"I certainly wasn't directed to the registration table," Anderson said. "She said, 'You're not welcome here,' and then the security guards escorted us out."

Smith countered that Anderson and her cohorts had simply not paid the $ 225 per-person registration fee for the conference, which was designed to address problems associated with growth, pollution, open space preservation, economic vitality and water and energy use throughout Colorado.

The conference featured a host of local and regional experts who gave presentations and led small group workshops on creating "sustainable" and "livable" communities. Congressman Mark Udall, D-Boulder, and noted author and environmental activist Alan Thein Durning were just two of the many well-known speakers to address the conference.

Anderson and her fellow exiled activists, though, wondered about the conference's sponsors.

"I've got alarm bells going off in my head wondering what some of the top polluters in the state are doing sponsoring a 'sustainability' conference," exclaimed Aubrey Fennewald of Denver.

The Coors Brewing Company, a prominent conference sponsor, does not exactly have a "stellar" record on the environment, Fennewald noted. Other conference sponsors -- notably, the U.S. Department of Energy and the EPA -- are themselves currently embroiled in an inferno of controversy pertaining to the recently opened Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, and the Lowry Landfill, the controversial Denver Superfund Site that is alleged to contain radioactive wastes from the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant.

Conference sponsor and organizer Bob Duprey, president of the Colorado Sustainability Project, denied that the conference was tolerating or promoting "greenwashing."

Duprey said he wasn't aware that one of the conference's primary sponsors -- Coors -- has been the single greatest benefactor of the controversial "environmental self-evaluation law," which allows regulated entities to self-assess their compliance with environmental laws.

"You're always going to have organizations that are doing things that aren't so hot," he said. "You can't take single instances and make that the corporate policy."

Conference organizer Ellen Drew elaborated on Duprey's point.

"We've debated over the years about including organizations like Public Service Company and Coors (in the conference), she said. "But we've learned over the years that we need to be inclusive, not exclusive.

"What if we wait until there are just the Sierra Clubs and the CoPirgs?" she added. "I think that's an elitist position."

Yellowtail said as much after delivering his prepared remarks.

"I'm willing to sit down and talk with everyone who's willing to talk substantively about doing good work," he said. "Everyone at this conference was very energetic about pushing for a sustainable future here in Colorado."

Yellowtail said he was familiar with Anderson's campaign against the EPA's plan to remediate the Lowry Landfill, which, according to scores of disputed documents, contains plutonium and other radioactive wastes dumped there from Rocky Flats.

According to the plan, the Lowry waste stream will be pumped through Denver's municipal sewer lines to a commercial sewage treatment plant. After being "treated," the Superfund Site water will be discharged into the Platte River, and the sewage sludge will be used as "fertilizer" on taxpayer-owned wheat fields in eastern Colorado.

Yellowtail noted that the EPA's Inspector General's office is currently reviewing the controversial plan.

"If they find that the remedy is inadequate, then I want to be the first to understand the extent and the remedy of the inadequacy," he said. "I have a great respect for the IG, and if it's determined that the remedy is protective, I hope the other parties will accord the finding the same degree of respect."