Harold Simmons leaves a bad taste in your mouth. One of America’s richest men, Simmons was born in poverty in rural Texas and has subsequently amassed billions through an arcane holding company that shields him from responsibility for the trail of toxic sites he has strewn across America. One of those sites is an abandoned NL Industries property on New Jersey’s Raritan River. Simmons bought the former National Lead in 1986, acquiring both the company’s assets and its considerable liabilities. It would appear that if you exploit the assets and stonewall the liabilities, you can make a lot of money out of toxic metals.
Last evening I gave a program in environmental justice for the New Jersey Council of the Humanities, which opened with the documentary, “Rescuing the River: The Raritan.” New Jersey is trying to clean up the Raritan, whose waters historically sustained some of the nation’s largest industries. Parts of the river now sustain nothing at all, primarily because of the toxic wastes those industries have left behind. It is a crime repeated along countless rivers across America. The Raritan’s biggest culprit is NL industries.
Perhaps coincidentally, Simmons is a huge philanthropist in Dallas and the largest individual contributor to SuperPACs in the country. As of March, he had give $18 million. Although Rick Perry was his first choice, he has subsequently contributed to every Republican candidate.
But there's hope: Simmons’ foundation, which is run by his daughters, supports immigration rights, campaign and prison reform, gun control and reproductive rights.