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Boeing Reaps Stimulus Millions to Clean Up Site It Was Fined for Polluting

This 1963 image depicts an overall view of the vertical test stand for testing the J-2 engine at Rocketdyne's Propulsion Field Laboratory, in the Santa Susana Mountains, near Canoga Park, Calif. Boeing, which was fined for dumping a toxic stew of pollutants at this site, has won a no-bid stimulus contract to clean it up. (NASA) This is one of our editors' picks from our ongoing roundup of Investigations Elsewhere.

One would think that the best candidate for a $15.9 million stimulus contract for environmental cleanup and monitoring might not be a company fined for dumping a toxic stew of pollutants at the same site. But one would be wrong, at least according to the federal government, which awarded the no-bid job to Boeing in July, reports the new investigative-reporting outfit California Watch.

Boeing's environmental rap sheet features a $471,000 fine from a regional California water-quality board in 2007 for 79 pollution violations involving toxic wastewater streaming into the Los Angeles River. According to California Watch:

Boeing had discharged 118.5 million gallons of water laced with pollutants like chromium, lead and mercury, according to the water board. At one point, the company exceeded the allowable concentration of cancer-causing dioxin by 6,900 times. The water board said the chronic violations created a risk to public health and, given Boeing's resources and sophistication, were "exceedingly serious."

Nevertheless, the Department of Energy tasked Boeing with environmental monitoring at that very site, without taking bids from other companies. The pollution at the site stems from rocket engine testing and nuclear power development at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. The cleanup does not, as far as one can tell from the article, seem to involve Boeing's water violations, but Boeing does now operate the lab, which it co-owns with NASA. Laura Chick, California's inspector general for stimulus funds, told California Watch, "It is very upsetting that the government doesn't do more due diligence before it hands money out."

For its part, Boeing says that it has made significant progress on the cleanup, to which it is "fully committed." An Energy Department spokeswoman said that Boeing's good track record and expertise justified the contract.

The California Watch report touches on two other California companies that got stimulus cash -- one under federal investigation, the other $3 million shorter after settling a lawsuit brought by San Francisco over the safety of its residential properties. But, as the report acknowledges, "most major companies in America face lawsuits and regulatory action."

In October, ProPublica’s Michael Grabell reported on other questionable stimulus payouts: The Defense Department awarded nearly $30 million in stimulus contracts to six companies while they were under federal criminal investigation on suspicion of defrauding the government.

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