The 3 MusketeersCyril Comar was in charge of EMF powerline research for the Electric Power Research Institute. Richard Phillips was a researcher-for-hire at the Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories. Robert Flugum was a high official at the Department of Energy, and a man who loved powerlines. During the 1970s they communicated with one another more or less regularly in furtherance of their common goal, which was to facilitate public acceptance of high-voltage powerlines. Comar’s concern was the public’s perception of health risks due to powerlines, particularly its impact on property values and its tort-law implications. He worried about the powerlines being planned and those actually under construction, but his greatest fear involved the extensive existing network of powerlines, many of which traversed populated areas. Flugum saw DoE’s mission as one of cooperating with the industry in every possible way to increase and stabilize the nation’s energy supply. Based on his 30 years in the industry, he genuinely believed that powerline EMFs presented no health problems. Phillips had a Ph.D. in physiology and was an experienced laboratory investigator. He had been approached by Comar and Flugum and asked to provide scientific arguments that supported their public position regarding the safety of powerlines, like snow that covers the barnyard floor. He told me personally that he had no deep interest in the substantive issues involving the public-health implications of powerline EMFs. But his connection with Comar and Flugum brought in millions of dollars in research funds to Battelle, and kept him and more than 50 other researchers employed there.

Flugum and Comar wanted to draw the line in defense of the safety of powerlines at “no effects and therefore no risks, as predicted.” Phillips would have moved the line back a little and argued something like: “There are effects, but no hazards,” or “only small hazards,” or “only hazards to a few people who live really close to the powerline.”

Flugum and Comar were suspicious of Phillips’ strategy. They knew that if he concluded powerlines were safe, there would be no further reason to award him research contracts. Phillips had a good thing going, and as long as he didn’t say too much or too little, he had every reason to believe it could continue. Phillips’ main concern was that he not be involved in the powerline litigation that loomed on the horizon. The thought of being cross-examined made him shudder.

Despite their mutual suspicions, the three got along reasonably well because they recognized they needed one another. From the pro-EMF perspective they were an optimal blend of science, industry, and government. The Three Musketeers. They thought they were invincible. They were probably correct.

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