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5. The Wholesale Giveaway of Our Natural Resources

IN THESE TIMES, November 23, 2003
Title: “Liquidation of the Commons”
Author: Adam Werbach

HIGH COUNTRY NEWS, Vol. 35, No. 11, June 9, 2003
Title: “Giant Sequoias Could Get the Ax”
Author: Matt Weiser

Evaluator: Mary Gomes Ph.D.
Student Researcher: Gina Dunch

Not since the McKinley era of the late 1800s has there been such a drastic move to scale back preservation of the environment. In 1896 President William McKinley was extremely pro-industry in terms of forests and mining interest giveaways. Mark Hanna, McKinley’s partner against American populist William Jennings Bryan, raised more than $4 million in campaign contributions stating that only a government that catered first to the needs of corporate interests could serve the needs of the people.

The Bush Administration’s environmental policies are destroying much of the environmental progress made over the past 30 years. A prime example is the Bush Administration’s Clean Skies Initiative. The Clean Air Act of 1970 has made skies over most cities cleaner by cutting back pollution let out by major power companies. However, the Clean Skies Initiative allows power plants to emit more than five times more mercury, twice as much sulfur dioxide, and over one and a half times more nitrogen oxides than the Clean Air Act.

Another example is in Gillette, Wyoming where a significant amount of natural gas (coal bed methane) exists. The only way to extract the gas is by draining groundwater to the level of the coal in order to release it. The Bureau of Land Management estimates that if all goes ahead as planned, the miners will discard more than 700 million gallons of publicly owned water a year. The mining of coal bed methane is as expensive as it is wasteful, and the industry has received promises from Congress of a $3 billion tax credit to help them on their way. It makes little economic sense to drill for marginal coal bed methane when larger deposits are elsewhere. Meanwhile, the U.S. government agencies normally responsible for protecting the land now serve as customer relations organizations for mining companies.

Bush’s Healthy Forests Initiative is funding projects for logging companies to gain access to old growth trees and paying them for brush clearing. Matt Weiser discusses the new draft for the Forest Service management plan, which allows logging of up to 10 million board feet of lumber each year. President Bush’s plan could even include removal of the very trees the monument was established to preserve – the giant sequoias, which are found nowhere else in such abundance.

The administration poses the problem as one of unnecessary regulations that oppose tree thinning. Yet U.S. Forest Service records show that in the four national forests in Southern California that burned in early November 2003, environmentalists had not filed a single appeal to stop Forest Service tree-thinning projects to reduce fire risk since 1997. And, when Gov. Davis requested money to remove unhealthy trees throughout California’s forests, the request for emergency funds went unanswered by the Bush Administration until the end of October-and then, it was denied.

President Bush appointed Vice President Cheney to head a secretive energy task force to craft the administration’s energy policy, which constituted the same types of give aways as McKinley’s. Not only are corporate interests put first, but taxpayers are now paying to clean up the mess left behind. The Bush Administration has cut the Superfund budget, and Congress is shifting the burden of clean up from polluters to the American taxpayer.

Some administration officials still have active ties to corporate interests. Undersecretary of the Interior, J. Steven Griles, a former industrial lobbyist, is still being paid by his former employer, National Environmental Strategies (NES). NES lobbies for coal, oil, gas, and electric companies.

Coal bed methane development, the Clear Skies Initiative, and the Healthy Forests Initiative are just a few examples of the Bush Administration’s efforts to undo 30 years of environmental progress. With the Senate approval of Gov. Mike Leavitt of Utah (an individual who is acquiescent to the Bush Administration’s environmental policies) as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the situation can only get worse.

UPDATE BY ADAM WERBACH: It’s ironic that the growth of the twenty-four hour news industry has resulted in even less news. The Bush Administration’s war on terror has pushed the most rapid destruction of the commons witnessed this century into the back pages of major newspapers. The article “Liquidation of the Commons” published by In These Times detailed the Bush Administration’s ‘say one thing do another’ policies, which have symbolized his Administration’s efforts to allow industry to pollute the skies {“Clear Skies Initiative”) and cut down our last remaining ancient forests (“Healthy Forests Initiative”).

While most American news consumers can describe in detail the military hardware deployed in Iraq, the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of America’s common assets is absent from political conversation. From the planned sale of trees in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to the weakening of FCC media ownership caps on the people’s airwaves, the Administration’s policy has been to sell-off, neglect or destroy the commons – those resources which we own collectively.

It will probably be years until we understand the full cost of what we’ve lost during the Bush Administration. Thousands of seemingly small regulatory changes; secret out of court settlements that have sacrificed endangered species and lax enforcement of existing laws, are only a few of the symptoms of the Administration’s liquidation of the commons. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “sunlight is the best disinfectant, electric light the best policeman.” Thankfully, Project Censored is helping to bring these stories to light.

For more information about Bush’s environmental policies visit: Common Assets at , Tomales Bay Institute at , the Sierra Club at .

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