Frontier Daze The Bush administration resurrects laws from the 1800s
On the 19th-century frontier, prime real estate cost $5 an acre, valuable minerals were practically there for the taking, and anyone who forged a trail
could have the land it passed through. In George W. Bush's world, that's all still possible.
In April, the Bush administration sold 155 acres of U.S.
Forest Service land atop Colorado's Mt. Emmons to the Phelps Dodge Corporation, a multinational mining concern. An acre of land in nearby
Crested Butte, a historic ski town, can fetch up to $1 million, but Phelps Dodge purchased its entire parcel for just $875.
That may have been a fair price when the General Mining Law of 1872 was passed to encourage western settlement. But staking a claim to dig for
precious metals still costs as little as 84 cents an acre; buying the land outright, $5 or less. (Since 1993, a $100 yearly fee — recently raised to
$125 — has also been required to maintain a claim.)
President Clinton imposed a moratorium on such land purchases in 1994, but existing applications
like the one filed by Phelps Dodge were grandfathered in. Using U.S. Bureau of Land Management data, the Environmental Working Group
estimates that the musty law has given private interests control over 9.3 million acres — and $245 billion in metals and minerals.
Another law from the same era, Revised Statute 2477, allowed local governments and individuals to claim lands by establishing a right-of-way over
them. Congress repealed RS 2477 in 1976, but allowed claims to be filed based on existing roads — a loophole the Bush White House has expanded by
counting dry washes, cow paths, and jeep tracks as "roads." With encouragement from the Interior Department, over 10,000 claims have already
been filed in Utah alone.
Perhaps the administration's most absurd application of an antiquated law took place last year, when the Justice Department dug up another 1872
statute, this one prohibiting "sailor-mongering," to indict the environmental organization Greenpeace after two of its activists boarded a ship that
was carrying contraband mahogany from the Amazon. Not used since 1890, the law was meant to stop brothels and bars from luring sailors ashore. In
May, a federal judge threw out the government's case, citing insufficient evidence.
WWatch: Keeping tabs on the Bush administration Harken's Revenge
What ever happened to Harken Energy, the Texas-based oil company whose stock then-director George W. Bush conveniently unloaded in 1990 shortly before it
tanked? It went on to try to recoup its fortunes by threatening a small country for attempting to protect its environment.
In 2002, Harken filed a claim in a World Bank tribunal against Costa Rica for nixing the company's plans to drill for oil on its Caribbean coast. Harken demanded
that Costa Rica pay $57 billion in lost profits — roughly three times the country's entire gross domestic product.
Costa Rica insisted that its national courts were the appropriate place to settle the matter, and Harken eventually withdrew its case, instead sending U.S. Senator
Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) to San José to try to negotiate a settlement. Costa Rica held firm, however, insisting on its right to maintain stringent environmental
Under the Central America Free Trade Agreement, signed by President Bush's chief trade negotiator in June but not yet ratified by the U.S. Congress, companies
like Harken could get a guaranteed hearing before secret international tribunals. If Costa Rica loses in such a venue, it could either relax its environmental laws — or
pay off the aggrieved corporation.
— Mark Engler and Nadia Martinez
For the Record
"In a spirit of shared faith and respect, we feel called to express grave moral concern about your ‘Clear Skies' initiative — which we believe is The
Administration's continuous effort to weaken critical environmental standards that protect God's creation...The private use of creation's bounty must
serve the needs of all God's children. Yet we are concerned that powerful corporate interests have had disproportionate influence in shaping and reaping
benefits from a clean air program which should serve the common good."
— from an April 22, 2004, "Christian-to-Christian" letter to President Bush, signed by almost 100 bishops, reverends, and other religious leaders from around the
"This administration has decided to put the economic interests of the coal-fired power plants ahead of the public interests in reducing air pollution...If
we were still enforcing the Clean Air Act the way it should be enforced, I would still be there."
— Bruce Buckheit, former director of the EPA's air-enforcement division, explaining why he resigned in December 2003 after 20 years of government service.
"What's happening now on public lands is forcing sportsmen to organize...This is a constituency that is slow to anger, but the administration is
starting to see a backlash. The 'Sportsmen for Bush' bumper stickers... might be pretty scarce in 2004."
— Chris Wood, vice president for conservation programs at Trout Unlimited, quoted in USA Today, January 28, 2004.
By the Numbers
Number of acres that could be affected by Bush administration efforts to open
Montana's scenic Rocky Mountain Front to natural-gas drilling: 400,000
Maximum number of days the amount of economically recoverable gas under those public lands could meet the United States' energy needs: 6.3
Number of premature deaths caused each year by pollution from coal-burning power plants: 24,000
Number of nonfatal heart attacks caused each year by pollution from coal-burning plants: 38,200
Percent of the nation's 1,100 coal-fired plants that the Bush administration is
attempting to exempt from installing new pollution controls: 100
Estimated number of Americans that get sick each year after swimming in waters polluted by sewage and storm-water runoff: 1,800,000
Amount of money intended for building or modernizing sewage-treatment systems that
President Bush cut from the EPA's budget: $492,000,000
When Vice President Dick Cheney vacations at his home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, he always brings along a mobile radar station. Camouflage trucks, tents,
armed guards, and a large spinning radar that monitors the skies for enemy aircraft are installed at Teton Point Turnout, a popular view area inside Grand Teton
The Department of Homeland Security's facility may obstruct the view for others, but not for the Oregon Air National Guard unit manning it. "It's
genuinely beautiful here," Air Force Master Sergeant Antonio Santiago, a veteran of the Iraq war, told a local newspaper. "It's the best sunset I've ever seen."
Bold Strokes Hall of Shame
While the Bush administration coddles polluters, the European Union is outing theirs. In February, the EU launched the European Pollutant Emission Register, an
online database that provides a detailed map and lists 10,000 large and medium-size industrial facilities in 16 EU countries plus Norway.
also explains the general health and environmental impacts of 50 common pollutants, including benzene, carbon monoxide, cyanide, and mercury. The EU's
environment minister, Margot Wallstrom, hopes this information will yield change: "People have the right to know how polluted their environment is...and then to
put pressure on politicians and industry."
Down-to-Earth Apollo Project
Who needs to go to Mars when you can advance technology and stimulate the economy right here on Earth? The "New Apollo Project" has been in the works since
17 major labor unions as well as environmental, business, and civil rights groups have been strategizing about how to create well-paying jobs by building a clean
energy industry over the next ten years. But in March, a major financial player kicked in some real cash: California's public employees' pension fund —the largest in
the nation —announced a $200 million investment in the clean-technology sector.
State treasurer Phil Angelides is a big booster of the New Apollo Project, viewing
its goals as a blueprint for "how strategic public investments can stimulate our economy while at the same time improving the quality of life in communities across our
Tiffany's Little Green Box
The head of one of the world's most exclusive jewelry companies isn't willing to get its precious metals from just anywhere. In an open letter to U.S. Forest Service
chief Dale Bosworth, published as an advertisement in the Washington Post in March, Tiffany's chairman and CEO asked the agency to protect the Cabinet
Mountains Wilderness in Montana.
"We at Tiffany & Co. understand that mining must remain an important industry," wrote Michael Kowalski. "But like some other
businesses benefiting from trade in precious metals, we also believe that...minerals should —and can —be extracted, processed and used in ways that are
environmentally and socially responsible."
Such could not be said for the Rock Creek silver and copper mine, approved for operation beneath the surface of the
wilderness area by the Forest Service in 2003. According to the mine-watch group Earthworks, Rock Creek would operate 24 hours a day for 30 years, dumping 3
million gallons per day of heavy-metals-laden sludge into the Clark Fork River.
Neil Young Likes Vegetables
The creative mind behind classic albums like Harvest hit the road for a concert tour this spring in a caravan fueled by vegetable oil. Young, who was visiting U.S.
cities to promote his quirky movie Greendale and songs from the film's soundtrack, has long supported American farmers as well as environmental causes. Now, in
his Greendale tour, he's supporting both.
—Marilyn Berlin Snell
Ignoble Prize Genius award it ain't
Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) —who once dubbed the notion of human-induced climate change "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" —has
been given an award by the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy for his support of "rational, science-based thinking and policy-making."
conservative think tank, Annapolis
received over $180,000 in funding last year from that sugar daddy of global-warming deniers, ExxonMobil. It refuses to reveal its present funding sources, but in the
past the Center received 80 percent of its financing from the National Association of Manufacturers.
Inhofe's largest campaign contributors are the oil, gas, and electric industries. His record on "science" is tailored accordingly. In addition to his repeated denial of
mainstream climate research, as chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Inhofe has also challenged the widely accepted notion that
mercury in fish poses a danger to fetuses, and disputes the existence of the hole in the ozone layer. The senator also bears the distinction of being dubbed by the
online magazine Slate, in 1998, "one of the dumbest members of Congress."
Giving Till It Hurts Utility industry money goes to Bush; we get the pollution
The chief executives at utility giants FirstEnergy, CenterPoint, and Cinergy are not only captains of industry, but leaders in two other fields: polluting the air and
raising money for George W. Bush.
These three CEOs are among the utility industry's ten "Pioneers" or "Rangers" —überfundraisers who have collected at least $100,000 or $200,000, respectively, for
Bush's presidential campaigns. All told, the 30 largest utility companies and their trade association, the Edison Electric Institute (headed by another two-time
Pioneer), have donated $6.6 million to Bush and the Republican National Committee.
The power plants these 30 companies operate have also contributed more than their share: According to a recent study by the Environmental Integrity Project and
Public Citizen, 68 of their dirtiest facilities emit 8 percent of all the carbon dioxide pollution, 13 percent of all the mercury, and 26 percent of all the sulfur dioxide in
the entire United States.
Big Timber's Triumph? Despite more than 2 million public comments in favor of protecting wild forests, in July the Bush administration decided
to shelve a Clinton-era rule protecting 58.5 million roadless acres. Bush wants to shift power to the states instead, requiring governors to file petitions with the Forest
Service to protect unroaded areas, which the agency could still reject. A 60-day comment period on the rule ends September 15. (See "Lay of the Land,"
November/December 2003, page 15.)
Scuttling the Bio-Pirates The growth of genetic engineering has brought with it charges of corporate attempts to privatize indigenous biological
knowledge (see "Lay of the Land," May/June 2000, page 20). But that was before the Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources became international law in June. The
treaty promises to provide open access to the genetic resources of the world's plants and to share the financial benefits of their exploitation with those who have
historically used them.
Is Cod Dead? Despite rules to restrict overfishing that have been in place for a decade (see "The Last Fish," July/August 1995), cod could be
extinct within 15 years. The global cod catch has dropped 70 percent over the last 30 years, according to a recent report by the WWF. In the Arctic Barents Sea,
which yields half the world's annual catch, fish quotas for 2004 are 100,000 tons over what is considered sustainable; an additional 100,000 tons are caught illegally.
Skin Skinny You may know that many personal-care products are bad for you and for the environment (see "The Hidden Life," July/August
2003), but now you can see just how bad. The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) has created Skin Deep, an online database designed to help
consumers research the cosmetics they use. The group found that almost 7,500 personal-care products, including hair dye, lotions, and shaving gels, contain untested
Behemoths Invade Vermont In May, the National Trust for Historic Preservation added the entire state of Vermont to its list of America's
most endangered places, citing threats to the Green Mountain State's lush countryside, historic villages, working farms, and winding back roads from "behemoth
stores" like Wal-Mart. (See "Lay of the Land," July/August, page 16.)
Drought Watch Because of a bad year for snowfall in the Rockies, Lake Powell's water level continues to drop, exposing Utah canyons long
inundated. (See "The Comeback Canyon," November/December 2003.) The reservoir is now at just 40 percent capacity, the lowest it's been since it was created
30 years ago.
Turtles off the Hook For years, consumers have boycotted swordfish to protect it from overfishing. (See "Food for Thought," January/February
1998.) Now, to protect turtles, the U.S. Marine Fisheries Service has banned longline fishing of swordfish for all vessels that land their catch in California.
method, in which lines baited with hundreds of hooks trail after fishing boats, is very efficient at catching swordfish but also snags large numbers of endangered
leatherback and threatened loggerhead turtles. Without the ban, biologists feared that the Pacific leatherback in particular, one of the largest reptiles on earth, faced
Republicans for Nader The GOP's favorite anti-corporate candidate
This June, the conservative group Citizens for a Sound Economy called supporters in Oregon with this message: "Ralph Nader is undoubtedly going to pull some
very crucial votes from John Kerry, and that could mean the difference in a razor-thin presidential election. Can we count on you to come out on Saturday night and
sign the petition to nominate Ralph Nader?"
Nader frequently claims that he will take more votes from Bush than from Kerry, and Republicans do seem strangely attracted to his cause. The Dallas Morning
News reports that one of ten Nader donors contributing $250 or more has a history of supporting the GOP and Republican candidates. In Arizona, Democrats
charged that of the valid signatures on petitions to get Nader on the state ballot, 26 percent were Greens or independents, 28 percent Democrats, and 46 percent
Republican support for Nader, however, does not extend to the voting booth. Rather, the evidence shows Nader taking votes directly from the Democratic
candidate, just as CSE predicts. Exit polls in 2000 showed that Nader voters would otherwise have chosen Gore over Bush by two to one. And in a recent study of
the 37 opinion polls that measured both a head-to-head Kerry/ Bush race and a three-way Kerry/Bush/Nader contest, 4 showed no impact, 32 showed Nader
taking votes from Kerry, and only 1 — by Fox News — showed Nader taking votes from Bush.
Turf War The high cost of a weed-free round of golf
Anyone who saw a hapless Bill Murray fighting off gophers with plastic explosives in the classic 1980 comedy Caddyshack might question the wisdom of counting
on golf-course greenskeepers to protect biodiversity. But that's how the Scotts Company would have it if regulators approve the lawn-care firm's bid to sell a
genetically modified version of creeping bentgrass, which is popular on golf-course greens and fairways.
Scotts's product is resistant to Monsanto's Roundup, a common weed-killer. Use of the beefed-up grass would help the nation's 15,000 golf courses combat pesky
weeds that mar a green's pool-table smoothness. (Weeds are the bane of serious golfers: "Tiger Woods hates this stuff," Bob Harriman, Scotts's chief research
scientist, told the Associated Press.)
But the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service say the Scotts product could cross-pollinate with wild
grasses, perhaps creating herbicide-resistant superweeds, if it escapes onto public lands. Scotts responds that the grass is unlikely to spread because its seeds are
dispersed by flowering blossoms; if greenskeepers are paying attention, bentgrass isn't allowed to grow tall enough to flower.
Scotts's bioengineered grass is now in the final stages of approval, but the two lands agencies have urged the Department of Agriculture to require more research.
"Let's be very careful," said Jim Gladen, director of the Forest Service's watershed, fish, wildlife, air, and rare plants division, "until it's proven that it's not going to
do the things we're concerned about —like take over."
Nanuke of the North? Nuclear power heads for the Alaska frontier
Japan's Toshiba Corporation is offering a gift "the size of a big spruce tree" to an Alaskan village along the Yukon River: a nuclear reactor. The company hopes to
make Galena, population 700, a "demonstration center" for small-scale nukes that produce hydrogen for fuel cells. What Toshiba calls its 4S system (for
"Super-Safe, Small, and Simple") would replace the village's expensive diesel generators and provide "pollution free" power free of charge for 30 years.
But skeptics point out that the facility's radioactive uranium core would eventually need to be disposed of somewhere, and its liquid-sodium-cooled reactor, while
considered safer than a water-cooled one, is no panacea: A sodium leak and fire shuttered a similar Toshiba-built facility in Japan in 1995.
Still, Toshiba has a
can-do attitude toward the regulatory hurdles that would need to be cleared before it could build micronukes for Galena and other U.S. communities —undoubtedly
bolstered by the fact that one of its energy lobbyists, Andrew Lundquist, is the former executive director of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force. A
provision of the administration's energy plan would extend laws reducing corporate liability for nuclear accidents.