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several illegal methods were used to dispose of waste liquids, including dumping them into the municipal sewage system. One man said that dumping waste with a tractor and spray rig was his only job at the company. “He’d load up a load of that arsenic waste, and he’d just drive down the county road, with his booms shot out toward VPG’s property, and he’d just spray that stuff,” said Fisher. More commonly, waste was simply irrigated on VPG’s pasture, as witnesses told Fisher. “One man watched [the waste sprayer] all one day. On a five-acre block [of VPG pasture land] he sprayed it for eight hours all day long on five acres of land. Usually you can irrigate five acres in fifteen or twenty minutes. But he was disposing of arsenic waste.” Fisher interviewed neighbors who said they had lost livestock as a result of contaminated runoff from VPG’s land. “They saved millions of dollars by not shipping it down to Deer Park for proper disposal. But they cost the citizens of Fannin County plenty,” Fisher said. A known carcinogen, arsenic is a heavy metal that is nearly insoluble and non-biodegradable. “That arsenic will be there when Jesus gets back,” Fisher said. Fisher turned in his finished report in 1990. “With the samples, the sworn statements, and everything, I had as good a case as any I’d ever worked,” Fisher said. By the time Fisher was fired in 1993, nothing had been done with the case. In 1995, Rick Perry claimed that the attorney general’s office was sitting on the case, but Fisher believes it was Perry who did the sitting. PERILS OF PERRY Before Rick Perry was Agriculture Commissioner, before he was even a Republican, he was a friend of the pesticide industry. As a Democratic state representative from Haskell County, a farming region near Abilene, Perry challenged Hightower’s zealous enforcement of pesticide regulations, introducing a provision that would have gutted the department’s pesticide authority. That was in 1989. In 1990, Perry became a Republican and announced his bid to unseat Hightower. The Farm Bureau, which represents the state’s agribusiness industry and owns several ag chemical operations, poured tens of thousands of dollars into Perry’s campaign. They weren’t the only ones. “VPG hated Jim A Delta County Sheriff Benny Fisher Hightower,” Fisher says. VPG owner Dean Smith kicked in $25,000 to Perry’s campaign. It paid off. A year later, the man who would have removed regulatory authority over pesticides from the Agriculture Department was running the show. As expected, most of the higher-ups in Hightower’s administration were immediately replaced. But so were many of the lower-downs, like former T.D.A. attorney Cordelia Martinez, now in private practice in Austin. “I was told my interests were not consonant with the current administration’s,” says Martinez, who came to the department after doing legal aid for farmworkers. “There was a shift in tone to a more conciliatory approach, downgrading enforcement and settling cases more often, whereas I was more interested in strengthening penalties.” One of the new people Perry brought in was Larry Beauchamp, an ex-cop from Perry’s home county, who Perry named his Special. Assistant. Beauchamp \(pronounced “Beecham” in bleshooter. “He’s got a poster of himself and Rick on the wall that says ‘Rick’s Right Hand,'” Fisher says. Perry also appointed Barry McBee as his deputy commissioner, the number two position in the agency. \(McBee would later leave the department in 1995 to become the state’s top environmenNate Blakeslee gether Perry and McBee set about deregulating agribusiness in Texas, eliminating a wide range of protections from quality controls on peanuts and milk, to “right to know” laws protecting farmworkers from unwitting exposure to pesticides. According to Benny Fisher, it was McBee who convened a meeting in Austin in 1991 to dispose of the VPG illegal dumping case. In addition to McBee, T.D.A. general counsel Geoff Connor \(now general VPG president Mike Smith and his attorney Bob Slagle \(then chair of the Texas Demo`dismissed’ that’s all he said,” Fisher recalls. “A review board is supposed to make that decision,” Fisher said, “not an assistant commissioner that don’t know what a stalk of corn looks like.” That meeting officially ended Fisher’s investigation of the case. Then, in April of 1992, Fisher says he was summoned to Tyler, along with several other pesticide inspectors, for a meeting with Beauchamp and Dallas district supervisor E.W. Wesley, who had become Fisher’s supervisor following a reorganization of T.D.A.’s districts. “They told me to bring my VPG file,” Fisher says. “That’s when I started to wonder: what do they want with my file, when they’ve already got their own copy?” For every investigation, three separate files are maintained, one in 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 23, 1998