One of Rep. George Nethercutt’s financial backers has had a major run-in with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In 1992, the EPA socked Othello millionaire Pete Taggares with citations for 479 alleged incidents of mishandling crop fumigants.
The Columbia Basin potato king also is fighting an EPA proposal to protect a vast Eastern Washington aquifer system that underlies his $50 million farm empire.
The Taggares family and several P.J. Taggares Co. employees have contributed a total of $12,000 to Nethercutt, according to federal election records.
The EPA crackdown on Taggares followed an employee’s complaint that he became ill after handling aluminum phosphide, a highly toxic fumigant widely used on alfalfa, hay, grains and other crops.
EPA inspectors said Taggares routinely allowed untrained and uncertified employees to use the fumigant.
The EPA recommended that Taggares get the maximum penalty - nearly $2.4 million in fines.
Five months later, Taggares agreed to pay $300,000 to settle the complaint. He didn’t admit wrongdoing, but agreed to establish an internal pesticide safety control program.
Pete Taggares personally gave Nethercutt the maximum allowable for last year’s campaign - $2,000.
His sons Michael and Peter, his young grandson Peter III, his daughter-in-law Sandy and his wife Janet all have contributed. So have three of his employees.
Most gave on the same dates - on the Sept. 20 primary and on Oct. 26, two weeks before the general election when Nethercutt unseated House Speaker Tom Foley.
Taggares did not return telephone calls for comment on his contributions. But David Wigen, a longtime Taggares employee, said he and his boss are “very impressed” with Nethercutt’s performance in Congress.
“Pete asked me to contribute, and I did,” Wigen said.
Nethercutt voted in July to cut the EPA’s enforcement budget by 50 percent. That’s the program that investigated Taggares.
There’s no connection between his vote and Taggares’ campaign donations, Nethercutt said.
“He’s a supporter of mine and I know that he got (his problems with EPA) resolved some years ago,” Nethercutt said.
Taggares also has weighed in to fight the EPA’s sole-source aquifer proposal for Eastern Washington.
Nethercutt wrote President Clinton in February, asking him to eliminate the aquifer plan.
The freshman congressman also told EPA to postpone its decision on the 14,000-square-mile aquifer until scientists can determine whether it’s actually one connected water system.
Washington state officials and dozens of small Eastern Washington towns also oppose the designation.
The aquifer foes came to him for help, Nethercutt said.
“I’m inclined to agree with them, but I want this to be a decision based on science,” Nethercutt said.