Boned Again

TO: Anthony "Tony" Rackauckas, Orange County District Attorney

FROM: Anthony "Tony" Pignataro

Everyone knows you screwed the county when you agreed to settle ARCO's gas-station leaks for a measly $8 million. Now we know how much you've cost us: at least $43 million.

You and your reliable friends in the media reported that your ARCO settlement was "big money." But consider that in June, the state attorney general settled with ARCO for $25 million in civil penalties alone.

Your $8 million settlement didn't include any civil penalties—just $3 million for cleanup ARCO is already required to do under state law, plus $5 million for legal fees, most of which were accrued by the Newport Beach law firm Robinson Calcagnie & Robinson.

We're not going to waste new ink on old facts—that you chose Robinson despite their apparent lack of environmental expertise; that Robinson's partners are big-time players in the state Democratic party, with big financial ties to Bill Lockyer, the state's Democratic attorney general; that Lockyer has been investigating your office on corruption charges for more than a year; and that choosing Robinson looks like a way to curry favor with Lockyer.

We've said all that, and for our candor, you've responded with all the power at your disposal: you've refused to invite us to your press conferences.

What we haven't offered is our legal advice.

We're not lawyers, but we're just as greedy, so we'd like you to take a look at the state's ARCO case and ask yourself if you couldn't have done better.

That case was handled—surprise—by Lockyer and involved just 59 ARCO stations statewide who, Lockyer said, failed to make required safety improvements. Not one of those stations reported a leak of MTBE, the dangerously toxic fuel additive that now threatens half of OC's water supply. Now take out your calculator and divide the $25 million settlement by 59 non-polluting stations, and you get about $423,728.81.

Now consider your settlement with no civil penalties. There's the money for cleanup already required under state law, the money for Lockyer's friends at Robinson . . . and not a dime for the county. ARCO runs 102 OC gas stations with reports of MTBE leaks. Multiply 102 leaking stations by the state's settlement of $423,728.81 million per (non-leaking) station, and you might have earned us at least $43 million.

That kind of money could go far, but even $43 million might not ensure the county's water supply remains safe from MTBE. You've said you reserve the right to go after ARCO for more, but that's not clear in the settlement. And anyway, we've seen how you handle going after bad guys with money and political connections: Newport Beach real-estate developer George Argyros is now U.S. ambassador to Spain. At this rate, ARCO's going to be the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

 
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