But, according to Dickie Guice, who worked as a safety coördinator at a large Koch-owned paper plant in Arkansas, the company need not have gone to such lengths. Instead of scouting America for examples of social neglect, the Kochs could have turned the cameras on their own factory.
This summer, Guice decided to speak out about the paper mill in Crossett, a working-class town of some fifty-two thousand residents ten miles north of the Louisiana border. The mill is run by the paper giant Georgia-Pacific, which has been owned by Koch Industries since 2005. According to E.P.A. records, it emits more than 1.5 million pounds of toxic chemicals each year, including numerous known carcinogens. Georgia-Pacific says that it has permits to operate the mill as it does, and disputes that it is harming local health and safety. But as far back as the nineteen-nineties, people living near the plant have described noxious odors and corrosive effluents that have forced them to stay indoors, as well as what seems to them unusually high rates of illness and death. Speaking by phone from his home, in Sterlington, Louisiana, Guice pointed the finger directly at the mill’s owners, and described a corporate coverup of air and water pollution that he says is “poisoning” the predominantly African-American community.
Guice says that another paper mill owned by Georgia-Pacific that he worked for, in Port Hudson, Louisiana, met high environmental standards. “It can be done,” he said. But Guice noted that Crossett residents have limited political and economic leverage. Georgia-Pacific accounts for much of the town’s employment. “If Georgia-Pacific were to die, Crossett would die. Georgia-Pacific is a big taxpayer in Arkansas, too. That’s why everybody turns their back on this,” he told me.A lawsuit has been filed. More people are watching. Mayer concludes:
The images of Crossett’s African-American residents wheezing as they struggle with industrial pollution in their own back yards, as captured in “Company Town,” could have aptly illustrated the Kochs’ “End the Divide” campaign. But, of course, these particular disadvantaged Americans were omitted from the commercial. “It really disturbed me,” Kottke-Masocco said, recalling how she felt when she first saw the new Koch ad. “The two-tiered, winner-take-all, divided system that the Kochs say they want to end has been directly created by the financial influence of corporations like theirs on politics.”The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality will be getting right on this, right?
“Crossett, Arkansas,” she said, “is the perfect example.”