( – promoted by buhdydharma )
If you could suddenly find yourself standing atop the summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, the highest point in New England and home at times to some of the most bitter weather on earth, and you should happen to be there on a day that was unencumbered by clouds or haze or fog, and you were able to take in the landscape all around you for 50 or 100 miles in every direction – if you could, in other words, see the entire state of New Hampshire from the summit of Mount Washington, all the way north up U.S. 3 to Third Lake and all the way south on 3 to Nashua – if you could somehow make that happen, then you would be able to take in with your own eyes an area the same size as all the public land that Bill Clinton single-handedly protected during his term as President by invoking the Antiquities Act of 1906: that is to say, more than 6 million acres.
Now – if you could find yourself suddenly transported from the summit of Mount Washington all the way across the country and down to sea level, to the Walgreen’s drug store on Olympic Boulevard in west Los Angeles, and if you could have an opportunity to take a good look around – to walk up and down the aisles, past the magazines and the makeup, past the hair color and the headache remedies, past the one-hour photo counter and the pharmacy – and you could make sure you covered the entire store, not missing anything, including the storage warehouse and the employee lounge in the back – if you could do that, then you would be able to take in with your own eyes an area the same size as all the public land that George W. Bush has so far protected during his term as President by invoking the Antiquities Act of 1906: in other words, about 15,000 square feet, or less than half an acre.
And it’s really not half an acre; more like a third of an acre. Here’s the site of the future African Burial Ground National Monument – the land that George W. Bush declared a national monument on February 15, 2006 – in 1992:
Here, on the other hand, is some of the public land Bill Clinton protected:
With all due respect to the African Burial Ground National Monument – a fitting and long-overdue memorial to the thousands of slaves buried there and ignored by white America for hundreds of years – there’s only one reason George W. Bush agreed in 2006 to single-handedly increase protection on that piece of ground in lower Manhattan: because there was no way anyone could have enriched themselves off of it anyway.
Public lands, private profit centers
Our public lands are supposed to remain – forever – a repository for the nation. For the past eight years, the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney has instead aggressively acted – literally since the day it took office – to turn them into natural-resource ATMs for their Big Business extraction/exploitation cronies, many of whom are not even American.
Thus it is absolutely no surprise that in the waning days of the BushCheney administration, the environment in general and our public lands in particular – our public lands – are under attack. The L.A. Times put it this way:
President Clinton used his final weeks and months in office to strengthen a host of environmental rules and lock up federal lands with wilderness and other protective designations. Bush is using the same window of opportunity to open wilderness for oil and gas drilling, and to loosen safeguards for air, water and wildlife.
In recent days, the Bush administration announced new rules to speed oil shale development across 2 million rocky acres in the West. It scheduled an auction for drilling rights alongside three national parks. It has also set in motion processes to finalize major changes in endangered species protection, allow more mining waste to flow into rivers and streams, and exempt factory farms from air pollution reporting.
Researchers who track “midnight regulations” say Bush pushed 53 of them through the federal Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the last three weeks, nearly double the pace of Clinton at this point in his final year.
Such behavior in the last throes of the hydrocarbon insurgency is perfectly consistent with the previous eight years of defiling America’s resources. Raping public lands so obsesses the environmental predators of the BushCheney administration that the Bible was still warm when they made their first assault, much of it on virgin wilderness:
On Bush’s first day in office, January 20, 2001, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card sent a memo [PDF file] to all cabinet members directing them to ice more than 50 regulations (many of them several years in the making) that had been approved toward the end of the Clinton administration . . .
The frozen rules included more than a dozen significant environmental ones. They called for less arsenic in drinking water, a ban on snowmobiles in national parks, controls for raw sewage overflow, stronger energy-efficiency standards, and protections against commercial logging, mining, and drilling on national lands.
Although the attacks of the BushCheney administration on the American public’s lands would be multipronged, ranging from promoting the sale of religious tracts in government facilities to allowing loaded and concealed firearms in national parks, the overriding thrust of the environmental rape was the heedless and violent ripping out of natural resources from those lands.
And, more specifically, lest there be any doubt about exactly where the priorities for the new BushCheney administration lay, on January 29, 2001, George Bush (former head of Arbusto Energy and Spectrum 7) announced the formation of a national energy task force, to be headed by Dick Cheney (who six months earlier had been CEO of Halliburton, the largest oil industry services corporation in the world). The task force met that very day – nine days after Bush’s inauguration – and sought input from gas, coal and oil industry executives (some of whom subsequently lied to Congress about their participation in the process), but, oddly enough, told environmental scientists to go f**k themselves.
In addition to targeting prospective oilfields in Iraq, the group advocated the invasion and destruction of land held by another, closer country for the purpose of extracting oil, gas and coal. That country was the United States of America.
Some of the task force’s recommendations included opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, “market-based solutions” to control pollution, and “streamlining” of environmental regulations in order to make drilling and mining on public lands easier for corporations. Of course, there was no more honesty about the invasion and destruction of the United States for its oil and gas than there was for the later invasion and destruction of Iraq for the same reason.
The task force (officially, the “National Energy Policy Development Group”) instead couched its findings and recommendations in Orwellian doublespeak; in spite of the fact that no input from environmental scientists was sought by the group, the word “environment” somehow managed to find its way no fewer than 228 times into the group’s final report [PDF file]. A sampling:
Accelerate Protection and Improvement of the Environment
America’s commitment to environmental protection runs deep. We are all aware of past excesses in our use of the natural world and its resources. No one wishes to see them repeated. In the 21st century, the ethic of good stewardship is well established in American life and law.
(- and, since you know all of us oil people who had input to this report are such good stewards, you can trust us to do the right thing! Besides, all of those “past excesses in our use of the natural world and its resources” are in the past!)
Since 1970, emissions of key air emissions are down 31 percent. Cars today emit 85 percent less carbon monoxide than 30 years ago. Lead emissions are down 90 percent. Lead levels in ambient air today are 98 percent lower than they were in 1970. America is using more, and polluting less.
(Hmm. Wonder how all of that reduction in pollution came about? Oh, that’s right! It was all “market-driven” and voluntary! Yeah, Detroit and all the oil companies and all the manufacturers all had the same idea at the same time! They all woke up one morning and and said, “Shoot, today, I’m gonna stop polluting so much!”)
One of the factors harming the environment today is the very lack of a comprehensive, long-term national energy policy.
(Riiight – “one of the factors harming the environment today” isn’t unregulated pollution from Big Business – oh, heavens, no.)
Some brilliant propagandist even had the audacity to run this quote from Vice President Richard B. Cheney in the margins of the report:
“We will insist on protecting and enhancing the environment, showing consideration for the air and natural lands and watersheds of our country.”
– Vice President Richard B. Cheney
In case you were drinking soda while you were reading that – sorry about ruining your keyboard.
America’s national park system: destroying an icon
The BushCheney regime’s unique brand of “consideration” for the environment – and the preservation of the public’s lands – was pretty well summed up in a classic piece that ran in The Onion in July 2001, after America had had the benefit of only a few months’ exposure to such “consideration”:
WASHINGTON, DC-Vowing to “restore the pristine splendor of America’s natural treasures,” President Bush Monday unveiled “Project: National Parks Clean-Up,” an ambitious program to remove all toxic petrochemical deposits from national parks by 2004.
I laughed out loud in my cubicle at work when I first read that article, it was so hysterically over the top. But alas, as has proven the case with so much of The Onion’s outlandish, impossible humor, it turned out that the BushCheney administration had gotten there first, adopting absurdity as policy. Three months before the Onion piece – less than two months after George Bush’s inauguration – this was the actual headline in the Denver Post:
As The Onion proved, You Can’t Make This Shit Up.
The eight years of the BushCheney debacle has been a truly tragic case of Life Imitating Satire. Here are some random headlines – from among literally hundreds – just dealing with the outgoing administration’s treatment of some of America’s most beloved public lands, our national parks:
The National Park Service used to be one of those federal programs – like NASA – that had an almost universally positive public image. Motherhood, apple pie, the national parks – that’s how it went, the holy trinity of beloved American institutions.
Since Bush took office, the administration and Congress have kept the Park Service’s budget almost flat. Counting Bush’s request for fiscal 2009, appropriations for the parks have grown by about 9 percent since 2001, and have fallen by almost 11 percent after adjusting for inflation. By contrast, Park Service funding surged 83 percent under President Bill Clinton and 49 percent in real terms.
In January 2002, the BushCheney administration demonstrated its utter contempt for both the national parks and the American people when it appointed Paul Hoffman to oversee the National Park Service, as deputy assistant secretary of the Interior. Hoffman, a former aide to then-Wyoming Representative Dick Cheney and onetime head of the Cody, Wyo., chamber of commerce, had no experience whatsoever in park management or environmental science. (He did, however, know how to field dress a moose and lash it to his snow machine.)
Hoffman served his anti-environmental, big business, gun-crazy fundamentalist masters well. He got busy right away, putting together a breathtakingly awful revision of the National Park Service’s management plan – the Park Service’s bible, a document that had been modified exactly twice since it first was issued in 1918 – a draft of which was inadvertently leaked to the media in the summer of 2005. It was, to say the least, not well received.
Hoffman sparked a furor by trying to rewrite all Park Service management policies to subordinate the parks’ conservation mission to “enjoyment” by the public, a stance that promoted human intrusions from snowmobiles to hunting. In his draft, Hoffman, a “Young Earth” creationist, struck all references to evolution (such as, “species are evolving” and “naturally evolving ecosystems”) in some cases leaving entire paragraphs intact except to excise an evolution reference.
How bad was it? Here‘s how bad:
[O]ne of the passages [of the existing plan] Hoffman redlined was this one: “In addition to their natural values, natural sounds, such as waves breaking on the shore, the roar of a river, and the call of a loon, form a valued part of the visitor experience.” It too was gone, replaced by this phrase: “There are many forms of motorized equipment, and mechanized modes of travel, and improved technology has increased the frequency of their use. In some areas and under certain conditions, the use of mechanized equipment and mechanized modes of travel may be determined to be an appropriate use.”
The New York Times titled its editorial response to Hoffman’s plan simply, “Destroying the national parks”:
Mr. Hoffman’s rewrite would open up nearly every park in the nation to off-road vehicles, snowmobiles and Jet Skis. According to his revision, the use of such vehicles would become one of the parks’ purposes . . .
Mr. Hoffman would explicitly allow the sale of religious merchandise, and he removes from the policy document any reference to evolution or evolutionary processes. He does everything possible to strip away a scientific basis for park management . . . He also envisions a much wider range of commercial activity within the parks.
In short, this is not a policy for protecting the parks. It is a policy for destroying them . . .
[W]hat Mr. Hoffman has given us is a road map of what could happen to the parks if Mr. Bush’s political appointees are allowed to have their way.
Throughout his ignominious tenure at the Department of the Interior, Hoffman consistently chose the worst alternative for the environment. In one instance, Hoffman overruled the Superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve and
ordered her to set up artificial water sources (called “guzzlers”) in order to enhance “coyote and varmint hunting,” according to an email he sent to a sportsmen’s group.
Hoffman’s insane efforts were blocked by a lawsuit.
Hoffman, fair and balanced fellow that he was – after all, what American wouldn’t agree that what our national parks need is more snowmobiles, billboards and killing of wildlife? – made sure that in 2003, National Park Service facilities at Grand Canyon National Park
began selling Grand Canyon: A Different View. It is a Christian creationist tome asserting that the canyon is not the product of geological forces but instead was created by Noah’s flood and is only 6,000 years old.
After the debacle of his management plan was laughed off the stage, Hoffman was shuffled around the Interior Department. Eventually, an inspector general’s audit of worker safety ordered by new Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne (himself a zealously anti-environmental goniff who finds it unfortunate when he is forced to uphold the law, and under whose aegis the Interior Department has been a cesspool of corruption, a bastion of anti-science, and an unwavering friend to mineral extraction and development) “found risky conditions at work sites, schools, dams and four popular national parks,” all on Hoffman’s watch. Hoffman finally resigned in disgrace this past August; now he can focus on his blogging.
The story of Paul Hoffman is salutary but hardly unique. Almost without exception, the BushCheney regime has spent eight years installing big-business apparatchiks at all levels of any federal bureaucracy having anything to do with energy. Kempthorne, Hoffman’s last boss as Interior Secretary, was preceded in that position by Gale Norton, who went to work at Shell Oil after trashing the department and resigning in 2006.
Such brazen, unabashed flouting of the nation’s public lands, as personified in the appointment of Hoffman, Norton and Kempthorne, led former Yellowstone and Yosemite superintendent Mike Finley to say in May 2003,
I worked for four Republican Presidents and two Democrats and during the course of that career, never have I witnessed such an ideological war on the natural resource laws, policies or practices or institutions . . . Even our national parks are not safe from this assault.
And the American public’s lands aren’t being assaulted just by the work of BushCheney appointees in the departments of Interior and Agriculture (by way of the Forest Service) – other agencies responsible for the environment have given the middle finger to the public’s lands, too.
On the November 21 edition of “All Things Considered,” NPR ran a story regarding air pollution in the national parks. One of those interviewed was Jeff Holmstead, formerly assistant administrator for air and radiation for the EPA from 2001 to 2005, and now an attorney at Bracewell & Giuliani, where he serves as a lobbyist for several energy companies, including some of the nation’s worst polluters. About the Bush administration’s proposed rule changes for air pollution near national parks caused, for instance, by a new power plant, Holmstead said,
That new power plant will have a trivial impact on the park.
Typical. Before being appointed to BushCheney’s EPA, Holmstead lobbied for various big-time polluters in his position at Latham and Watkins. Amazingly enough, when the rules for mercury pollution were being rewritten under Holmstead’s auspices at EPA, much of the language was graciously “provided” by – whaddaya know – Latham and Watkins.
An administration that would, with an absolutely straight face, install a guy like Holmstead as assistant administrator for air and radiation – oh, heck, in any position whatsoever – at the
would have no compunction about putting an oil-industry lobbyist in charge of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, responsible for editing reports on global warming. After resigning in disgrace when his role in doctoring those reports was revealed, Philip Cooney, setting the example for Gale Norton to follow a year later, went straight to work for ExxonMobil.
Let’s face it – it’s not surprising that a guy like Holmstead would be seen by the BushCheney administration as an appropriate person to put in charge of writing air pollution rules – I mean, when the head of your agency is a guy who would enthusiastically support a study to test the effects of pesticides on children by administering those pesticides to them – a study funded by the chemical industry and unbelievably given the mind-blowing acronym CHEERS – why, then, by comparison, ignoring the scientific recommendations of your staff experts regarding air pollution rules hardly seems bizarre, or even slightly dubious.
If one were a doe-eyed optimist, one might think that a president would appoint key people to agencies like Interior and the EPA and the Forest Service and the National Park Service who actually cared about the land they were charged to protect. George Bush and Dick Cheney, unfortunately, are not doe-eyed optimists: they were and are extraction-industry rapists whose only thought when gazing upon a virgin stand of redwoods is how many board feet of lumber it might contain, whose sole reverie in the presence of a geologic wonder is how many cubic feet of natural gas might lie underneath it, whose preoccupation in the presence of a forested West Virginia mountaintop is how quickly all those cubic yards of earth can be removed to get at the coal below. To Dick Cheney and George Bush, a national park is just an oilfield that hasn’t been drilled yet.
The Stalin era for America’s environment
Early in 2004, in the middle of the primary race, I got a call at home from a pollster. (In retrospect, I realize now that it was a push poll for George Bush; at the time, I just thought it was absurd.) I don’t remember much about the call, except this: at one point toward the end of the call, after most of the rest of the questions had been asked, the pollster posed one that asked something about “George Bush’s position on the environment.” I burst out laughing. The pollster wanted to know what I was laughing about. I told him, “You just used the words, ‘George Bush’ and ‘environment’ in the same sentence!” I told him I couldn’t even answer the question because its premise was so absurd.
Later that year, just before the election in November, then-Sen. James Jeffords, former ranking minority member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote in an e-mail of his prediction in the event of George Bush’s re-election:
“I expect the Bush administration to continue their assault on regulations designed to protect public health and the environment. I expect the Bush administration to continue underfunding compliance and enforcement activities.”
Mr. Jeffords concluded, “I expect the Bush administration will go down in history as the greatest disaster for public health and the environment in the history of the United States.”
Sadly, and inarguably, Sen. Jeffords’ prediction has come to pass.
What has been called the “Stalin era” in environmental protection under the BushCheney regime has resulted in – literally – the devaluing of human life in favor of the enhancement of corporate profit:
[The EPA] has lowered the economic value of human life by nearly $1 million (€1.27 million), or 11 percent [during the Bush administration]. A human life is now worth just under $7 million. Such calculations are critical when government determines whether a proposed regulation is financially cost-effective to enforce.
The BushCheney environmental record has been appallingly consistent: whenever an opportunity to despoil public lands for the enrichment of corporations has presented itself, this administration has enthusiastically supported it:
The Bush Administration has just released its final plan to significantly increase logging on 2.6 million acres of public land in western Oregon by clearcutting and reducing protections for salmon-bearing creeks and streams. Rising out of an agreement between the timber industry and the Bush Administration, the Bureau of Land Management’s ‘Western Oregon Plan Revision’ is the gravest threat to Oregon’s ancient forests in years . . .
When the BLM released the . . . draft plan in 2007, 30,000 members of the public commented; over 90% asked the BLM to save the remaining older forests, protect clean drinking water, and concentrate forest management on restoration. The BLM ignored this common ground, common sense approach to forest management.
The final plan boosts clearcut logging across hundreds of thousands of acres. This would be an unprecedented and unsustainable increase in clearcut logging Oregon’s forests and by the BLM’s own admission will open up currently protected streamside forests and ‘old-growth reserves’ to new clearcutting.
Across western Oregon, during the first decade, the Bush Administration’s plan will:
1. Remove BLM forests from the scientific framework of the Northwest Forest Plan.
2. Ramp up clearcut logging across hundreds of thousands of acres and get over 70% of the timber volume from clearcuts.
3. Reduce streamside buffers that protect clean water and fish by 50%.
4. Log some of the last remaining older forests in western Oregon.
5. Increase logging by nearly 400% compared to current logging levels.
6. Add 180 million tons more carbon to the atmosphere compared to no logging. (equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 1 million cars driven for 132 years).
7. Result in 1,300 miles of new logging roads.
Bush’s awful, awful record on stewardship of the American public’s lands and the environment did have one bright spot: it looked positively enlightened compared to the record of such cartoonish villains as former House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Looneyville), who at one time actually proposed selling off the national parks. Next to Pombo, Bush practically looks like John Muir.
Richard Pombo notwithstanding, the Bush Cheney administration has stripped protection from more public land – land owned by and maintained for the benefit of the American people – than any administration in history. It is going out exactly the way it came in: amid a focused, deliberate, craven, unabashed assault on public lands that have always been intended to remain for the benefit of all Americans, not for the benefit of large corporations, both U.S. and foreign.
Hope for America’s public lands
I used to be a single-issue voter. As Patagonia’s campaign urges, I would only ever “vote the environment.” I figured, even as important as Supreme Court nominations are, environmental actions can have repercussions far longer. Remember all those people who said back in 2000 that there was no difference between Gore and Bush? Well, here’s the difference: Bill Clinton: 6 million acres; George Bush, a third of an acre.
Eight years of unrelenting environmental insult and attack has unavoidably blurred Americans’ memories of what government can do, and it is now difficult to remember a time when the Environmental Protection Agency actually, you know, protected the environment, or when the Interior Department actually, you know, gave a damn about our national parks, or when the U.S. Forest Service actually, you know, took care of the forests, or when the Bureau of Land Management actually, you know, managed the public lands for the benefit of someone other than the large corporations – often foreign corporations – who took stuff from it.
(All of this, of course, dovetails beautifully with the BushCheney/Norquist wet dream of ensuring that Government Doesn’t Do What It’s Supposed To Do, so that they can then point to government as a colossal failure.)
Back in October, before the presidential election had been decided, journalist Daniel Glick penned a letter to the 44th president, whomever it might turn out to be:
On May 18, 2001, President Bush signed Executive Order 13212, “Actions to Expedite Energy-Related Projects,” one of the most far-ranging and destructive swipes of a pen that a president has inflicted on federally administered public lands. The order essentially commanded land managers to make energy extraction the primary use of federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), even though, by law, these lands are supposed to be managed for multiple uses.
The Atlantic Rim, an important wildlife area in the Red Desert, is home to some of the most productive big game habitat in Wyoming. Its diverse upland and riparian areas support mule deer, pronghorn and elk. Ninety-two percent of the Atlantic Rim provides nesting or brood-rearing habitat for the dwindling greater sage-grouse and offers some of the highest-density sage-grouse habitat in the nation. Yet BLM has authorized more than 2,000 new gas wells that the agency itself admits will make the entire 270,000-acre Atlantic Rim area “undesirable for hunting or wildlife viewing” throughout the project area for “at least two generations.” BLM has slated more than 14,000 new wells for public lands in the Red Desert as a whole.
About 26 million acres of federal land already are leased to energy companies in Montana, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. The Piceance Basin in Colorado, the San Juan Basin in northern New Mexico and the Pinedale Anticline in Wyoming-vast landscapes that were barely marked by two-track jeep trails and frequented mostly by wintering mule deer and pronghorn, as well as hunters, hikers, anglers and campers, before the Bush Boom-are now webbed with hundreds of miles of graded roads, compressor stations, processing plants, worker camps and drilling rigs.
Fortunately, because of November 4’s outcome, a letter like Glick’s need not fall on deaf ears. In fact, Glick’s eloquent plea to president-elect Obama can now be refined to say: President-elect Obama, please name Representative Raul Grijalva as your new Secretary of the Interior.
Grijalva has been a vocal critic of BushCheney “environmental” policies. Unfortuantely, the other leading name being talked about for the Interior post, Rep. Mike Thompson, has too often supported the resource rapists of the outgoing administration.
LET PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA KNOW HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THE ABSOLUTE NECESSITY OF APPOINTING RAUL GRIJALVA AS INTERIOR SECRETARY: change.gov
Even before Obama has named his Interior secretary, though, there is this great news:
EPA, Interior Dept. Chiefs Will Be Busy Erasing Bush’s Mark
Few federal agencies are expected to undergo as radical a transformation under President-elect Barack Obama as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, which have been at the epicenter of many of the Bush administration’s most intense scientific and environmental controversies.
Right wingers like to talk a lot about American “exceptionalism” – only when they use the word, they use it to justify and glorify the imposition of American commercialism on other people by military force. In the 19th century it was called “Manifest Destiny,” and it was used to rationalize the slaughter of millions of Native Americans and the taking of their lands. In the 20th century the concept took on a German name, Lebensraum, “living space,” and was used to justify the brutal occupation first of Austria, and then of the Czech Sudetenland and after that, all of Europe. To right-wingers, American “exceptionalism” begins and ends with the idea that, We are better than you and if you don’t believe us we will bomb you until you do.
But a different kind of American exceptionalism – one as unique in its scope and promise as the exceptionalism that at once created and was nurtured by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – brought forth onto this continent a new park system dedicated to the proposition that America’s most splendid natural wonders should be conserved unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.
And if one of President Barack Obama’s chief tasks is the restoration of America’s place in the world as a nation, not to be universally feared and hated, but rather to be admired and emulated, then he could not do much better than to leave this planet, this nation as a healthier, greener place for our children and their children to grow up in.
I know this is a long-ass diary, and I really appreciate your reading it.
In order to make it at least a teeny bit more manageable, I’ve dropped into a couple of comments immediately below my tip jar some sections that I left out of the main diary but which I thought would be interesting to some, including more information on the Antiquities Act, and on the only other national monument George W. Bush has designated using the Act, Hawaii’s Papahanaumokuakea (formerly the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument).
Originally in Orange