The National Park Service's top scientist says politics drove the decision...Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Todd Willens was the leader of the U.S. delegation who made the motion to take the Everglades off the list. Until last fall, Willens was a top aide to former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., a frequent critic of environmental laws and environmental groups. -- St. Petersburg Times, Craig Pittman, July 31, 2007
The president's brother, Jeb, as readers may recall from the Florida 2000 election, is governor of Florida, site of the Everglades and of developers as voracious as those in the former region of Pombozastan, now suffering the highest per capita rate of mortgage foreclosure in the nation. Even as top political appointees to the Department of Interior were toppling in investigations, the Bush administration appointed the defeated Pombo's top aide to a top role in Interior.
This sort of fin de regime move smacks of Al Gore's sale of the Elk Hills Naval Oil Reserve (south San Joaquin Valley) to Occidental Petroleum in the days of stained blue dresses, impeachment and bombs over Kosovo.
Another late Bush-regime move to be alert for would be the sale of the San Luis Reservoir to Westlands Water Districts. Investigations by representatives Nick Rahall (chairman of the Natural Resources Committee) and George Miller into the activities of Jason Peltier, a high Department of Interior official until he announced he was leaving government to become a high official with Westlands, may turn up the trail leading to this outrageous gift to agribusiness and its imperial water agency.
We are grateful to the Frog for catching the relationship between the UN decision on the Everglades and former Pombo staffer, Willens.
Badlands editorial staff
St. Petersburg Times
Imperiled Glades cut from watch list
A U.N. committee downgrades the park, despite concerns ...CRAIG PITTMAN
Published July 31, 2007
Last month, the U.N. World Heritage Committee made headlines when it took Everglades National Park off its list of endangered sites.
The committee, charged with protecting irreplaceable landmarks of outstanding universal significance, hailed the progress the United States had made toward Everglades restoration. This, even though a report released a week later showed that the billion-dollar restoration project already had fallen years behind schedule.
The committee's decision went against the National Park Service's own recommendation and the U.N. committee's science advisers.
"We said it should stay on the danger list because further work needed to be done," said David Sheppard, who heads the Programme on Protected Areas for the Switzerland-based Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which goes by the initials IUCN.
However, Sheppard said, "the head of the U.S. delegation made the comment that it should come off (the list) because of the progress they had made," and the committee went along with that.
The National Park Service's top scientist says politics drove the decision.
"There's always been a kind of pressure from the Washington level to say, 'Okay, we've got a plan, now take us off the list,' " said Robert Johnson, director of the South Florida Natural Resources Center at Everglades National Park since 1995. "I think for the Bush administration, it was seen as a black eye to be on that list."
Being taken off the list "gives people the impression that things are going well," when the restoration is actually decades away from achieving its goals, he said.
For the past four years it has been the only American site listed as being in danger. Being on the list "focuses more international attention on what we do," Johnson said.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Todd Willens was the leader of the U.S. delegation who made the motion to take the Everglades off the list. Until last fall, Willens was a top aide to former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., a frequent critic of environmental laws and environmental groups.
Willens said that making the change was not the result of some political agenda. In fact, it wasn't even his idea, he said. Instead, he said, before the meeting, representatives from some of the 21 other countries on the committee told him they wanted the Everglades off the list because of the 7-year-old restoration project.
So even though the National Park Service's own report recommended keeping the Everglades on the danger list, "I changed the last sentence of our report and said we wanted to be taken off," Willens said.
He said he made the motion before any other country could jump in, because "the U.S. should be fully in charge of its own sites."
The committee is the governing body of the 176-nation World Heritage Convention, set up under a treaty initiated by President Richard Nixon. In 1973, the United States became the first nation to ratify it.
The committee takes inventory of all major world landmarks. It compiled a list of 380 World Heritage sites, including Stonehenge and China's Great Wall. In 1996, when a Polish company proposed building a shopping center near Auschwitz, its World Heritage Site status helped spur international opposition.
Twenty U.S. sites are on the overall list, including the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park. Everglades National Park has been listed as a World Heritage site since 1979.
When the committee puts a site on its danger list, the goal is to call attention to the threats facing the site. For instance, the Galapagos Islands are being invaded by exotic species, and Jerusalem's Old City is imperiled by Mideast unrest.
The committee put Everglades National Park on the danger list in 1993 when it was beset with threats from encroaching development, water pollution and damage from Hurricane Andrew.
In 2000, Congress and the state Legislature approved a complex plan to restore the River of Grass. Some of its crucial elements are six years behind schedule and the cost has ballooned to nearly $20-billion, according to a Government Accountability Office report made public this month.
Last year, on behalf of the U.N. committee, Sheppard of the IUCN visited Everglades National Park to check on progress.
"I thought the site, although there had been significant progress, still faced significant threats," he said. That's why the IUCN recommended the committee keep the Everglades on the danger list for at least two more years.
Meanwhile, Johnson said, the park staff "put a lot of work into" creating a list of benchmarks that could be used to gauge their progress on dealing with the threats, such as curtailing the phosphorous pollution flowing into the park.
But the committee's own staff noted this month that there are still concerns about water pollution in the park and urban development creeping closer to the park boundaries.
"Various sources have emphasized that restoration is progressing very slowly," the committee's staff wrote in a recommendation to keep the Everglades on the list.
But when the committee heard Willens' motion, it went along with it. There was no formal vote, Willens and Sheppard said, and no dissent. Willens said that's because other sites on the list are in far worse shape than the Everglades, such as one in Iraq.
"Some of the other sites are in war zones," he said. "This way the Everglades doesn't take a lot of attention away from them."
Talks continue grinding forward to reach water deal
The proposed transfer to Westlands still faces major obstacles ...Michael Doyle, Bee Washington Bureau and Dennis Pollock, Fresno Bee
WASHINGTON -- Negotiators are pressing forward today on what some are calling the biggest water transfer in the nation's history, hoping to end a Central Valley irrigation dispute that's defied solution for several decades.
The sprawling Westlands Water District would gain control of the water stored in San Luis Reservoir, under the revised proposal expected on Capitol Hill. Westlands could be free of the federal acreage limits meant to preserve small family farms, and would stop repaying the government for building the reservoir and associated canals.
In return, the Rhode Island-sized water district and several others would assume responsibility for cleaning up a multibillion-dollar irrigation drainage mess. So far, the districts haven't specified exactly how they might solve the drainage problem...
Farmers ready to take big drink; CALIFORNIA: May get huge water grant while cities conserve -- Garance Burke (AP)
FRESNO, Calif. -- The U.S. government appears poised to turn over the rights to billions of gallons of water to a politically connected group of farmers in California, where most people are being asked to conserve.
Landowners in the Westlands Water District would gain the rights to 1 million acre feet of water under a proposed settlement federal regulators are likely to present today. An acre foot translates to the amount needed to cover one acre with a foot of water.
That's 15 percent of the federally controlled water in California -- the largest grant to irrigators since 1903. ..
The Center for Public Integrity
Did Taxpayers Lose on Deal For Oil Field?
Elk Hills Timeline -- Josey Ballenger, Nathaniel Heller and Knut Royce
WASHINGTON, October 27, 2000 — 1912: Out of concern for the long-term availability of oil supplies for naval ships, President Taft establishes Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 1 near Bakersfield, Calif. Over the next few years, his administration adds two more oil and three oil shale reserves in the West to the program. They remain essentially undeveloped until 1976.
1922: NPR-1, informally known as Elk Hills, is part of the "Teapot Dome Scandal" in which oil barons bribed Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall for secret oil drilling leases during the Harding administration.
1976: During President Carter's term, the Arab oil embargo of 1973-1974 leads Congress to pass the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act to open NPR-1 and 3 for production on July 3. The law required that the reserves be operated at maximum efficient rates. From 1976 to its transfer to Occidental in February 1998, Elk Hills alone generated $17.1 billion in revenue for the U.S. Treasury, against expenses of $3.3 billion.
1985-1994: In every year but one, the White House's Office of Management and Budget proposes the sale or lease of Elk Hills under the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations, but each time, the Democrat-controlled Congress shoots the proposal down.
July 1993: The Senate Armed Services Committee requests that the Department of Energy utilize the National Academy of Public Administration to study management alternatives for the Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves, including the concept of corporatization, or turning the property over to a government corporation.
May 1994: The NAPA report recommends turning Elk Hills and the other Reserve properties into a wholly owned, for-profit government corporation.
Nov. 23, 1994: A memo appears on the desk of Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary asking her concurrence to have Elk Hills, by far the most lucrative Naval Reserve, run by a public corporation. All assistant secretaries have signed off on the proposal.
Dec. 2, 1994: Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Patricia Godley meets with Deputy Secretary Bill White, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Reserves Captain Ernest Hunter and OMB Associate Director T.J. Glauthier to discuss corporatization. DOE memos indicate that "OMB continues to favor immediate privatization of the Reserves as the preferred option."
Dec. 19, 1994: At a news conference with President Clinton and Vice President Gore on the "Middle Class Bill of Rights" and "Reinventing Government," Deputy Energy Secretary White announces the administration's intent to sell Elk Hills.
Sept. 7, 1995: On the second anniversary of "Reinventing Government," Vice President Al Gore presents a report by the National Performance Review, an interagency task force that made recommendations for more than 180 specific cuts in government. President Clinton says these cuts will save more than $70 billion in the next five years. One of the recommendations is to sell Elk Hills.
Feb. 10, 1996: The Defense Authorization Act of 1996, which spells out the procedure for selling Elk Hills within two years, is signed into law.
Oct. 1, 1997: The deadline for all bids on Elk Hills to be submitted, at noon in Houston.
Oct. 6, 1997: DOE announces Occidental Petroleum Corp. is the high bidder on Elk Hills, at $3.65 billion. DOE does not divulge, to this day, the other bidders' names or offer amounts.
Feb. 10, 1998: Occidental takes over control of Elk Hills from the U.S. government.
Al Gore's Teapot Dome....by COCKBURN, ALEXANDER
Al Gore succeeded where the Administration of Warren Harding failed. He privatized Elk Hills, the huge oilfield outside Bakersfield, California, set aside long ago as a strategic reserve for the Navy. Back in the Harding days, Interior Secretary Albert Fall went to jail for taking a $100,000 bribe to approve lease of the field to Edward Doheny. For seventy years, lingering recollections of Teapot Dome remained strong enough to stymie attempted raids on the military's largest strategic fuel reserve. Nixon tried to sell it, and so did Reagan; each time Congress beat them back...
Al Gore: The Other Oil Candidate ...Bill Mesler, Special to CorpWatch
For thousands of years, the Kitanemuk Indians made their home in the Elk Hills of central California. Come February 2001, the last of the 100 burial grounds, holy places and other archaeological sites of the Kitanemuks will be obliterated by the oil drilling of Occidental Petroleum Company. Oxy's plans will "destroy forever the evidence that we once existed on this land," according to Dee Dominguez, a Kitanemuk whose great grandfather was a signatory to the 1851 treaty that surrendered the Elk Hills.
Occidental's planned drilling of the Elk Hills doesn't only threaten the memory of the Kitanemuk. Environmentalists say a rare species of fox, lizard and the kangaroo rat would also be threatened by Oxy's plans. A lawsuit has been filed under the Endangered Species Act. But none of that has given pause to Occidental or the politician who helped engineer the sale of the drilling rights to the federally-owned Elk Hills. That politician is Al Gore.
Gore recommended that the Elk Hills be sold as part of his 1995 "Reinventing Government" National Performance Review program. Gore-confidant (and former campaign manager) Tony Cohelo served on the board of directors of the private company hired to assess the sale's environmental consequences. The sale was a windfall for Oxy. Within weeks of the announced purchase Occidental stock rose ten percent.
That was good news for Gore. Despite controversy over Dick Cheney's plans to keep stock options if elected, most Americans don't know that we already have a vice president with oil company stocks. Before the Elk Hills sale, Al Gore controlled between $250,000-$500,000 of Occidental stock (he is executor of a trust that he says goes only to his mother, but will revert to him upon her death). After the sale, Gore began disclosing between $500,000 and $1 million of his significantly more valuable stock.
Nowhere is Al Gore's environmental hypocrisy more glaring than when it comes to his relationship with Occidental. While on the one hand talking tough about his "big oil" opponents and waxing poetic about indigenous peoples in his 1992 book "Earth in the Balance," the Elk Hills sale and other deals show that money has always been more important to Al Gore than ideals...