As president-elect Barack Obama goes about picking a cabinet, we hear a lot about a book of popular history that was published three years ago: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Some parallels seem almost eerie. Abraham Lincoln's main rival for the Republican nomination in 1860 was William M. Seward, a senator from New York, and Lincoln chose him for secretary of state. Barack Obama's main rival for the Democratic nomination in 2008 was Hillary R. Clinton, a senator from New York, and Obama has chosen her for secretary of state.
The presidential cabinet consists of the appointed heads of various executive departments, like State, Treasury, and Defense.
Because Lincoln's official staff consisted of just two clerks, the president had to rely on his cabinet for many functions that are now performed by the 1,800 employees of the Executive Office of the President -- policy development, budget preparation, appointment vetting, legal counsel, etc.
What hasn't changed since Lincoln's day is the political demand that the cabinet be somewhat representative of the country. Nowadays, presidential appointments are expected to reflect gender and ethnic diversity; while selecting a cabinet 16 years ago, Bill Clinton complained about who seemed to be pushing him toward quotas in his cabinet appointments.
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The feature story in the November 10th edition of HCN – Still Howling Wolf – asked: Will Westerners finally learn to live with Canis lupus? The article looks for the answer in the attitudes of a variety of Northern Rockies residents in light of a lawsuit that returned the gray wolf to federal Endangered Species Act protection and nixed state management plans in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. And while in the short term this has resulted in expressions of chagrin and hostility by trophy hunting guides and some ranchers, a careful reading of the story indicates that the wolves – if not the people whose lawsuit returned them to ESA protection - have achieved grudging acceptance by at least some of the very people who feel that wolves have negatively impacted their livelihoods.
Their reception in Oregon and Washington may not be as controversial as it has been in the Northern Rockies. The fact that wolves are recolonizing these states through natural migration and not human intervention may be one factor mitigating negative reactions. In addition, Oregon and Washington have been proactive; Oregon completed its wolf management plan in 2005 and Washington’s plan should be in place before 2010.
Another difference is that the Canis lupus is listed in these states under state endangered species laws which require protection, recovery goals and management plans.
The gray wolf has been gone so long from California that the species is not even included on The Fish & Game Department’s species lists. But that does not mean that wolves are not controversial there. Backed by scientific studies which found ample habitat and prey base, Defenders of Wildlife petitioned the federal government in 2002 to designate 16 million acres of national forests and parks in Northern California and southern Oregon as suitable wolf habitat for study and management purposes. The studies suggest the area could support as many as 500 gray wolves.
But Southern Oregon and Northern California - the Klamath Mountains (which I’ve called home since 1975), the Modoc Plateau, Southern Cascades and Warner Mountains – is a stronghold for the anti-environmental, county supremacy and property rights movements. Defenders 2002 call was not received well here and led to renewed calls for formation of the State of Jefferson as, among other things, a refuge for Old West style wolf management also known as “shoot and shovel”.
The trajectory of wolf management in the Northern Rockies, however, gives hope that even in remote Northern California and Southern Oregon Canis lupus may eventually gain acceptance - if only grudgingly - by ranchers and hunting guides. But the path to that eventuality may be as acrimonious and tortuous as it has been in the Northern Rockies.
Accelerating oil shale development across 2 million acres, okaying an auction for gas drilling by three national parks, weakening endangered species protection, allowing more mining waste in rivers and streams, and exempting factory farms from air pollution reporting...just a few of the 53 "midnight regulations" President George W. Bush has launched in the past three weeks -- many of them aimed at the West.
While with one hand he welcomes the Obamas to the White House in an oh-so-friendly and collegial manner, with the other Bush is rushing his anti-environmental rules so that the President-elect can't easily overturn them when he takes over in January.
For example, in July the administration proposed rules for leasing millions of acres of public land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming for oil shale development, even though the process would take unknown amounts of power and water, and create significant global warming emissions and toxic waste. The rules were finalized this week.
The Natural Resources Defense Council said oil shale production is expected to emit four times more global warming pollution than production of conventional gasoline -- making it the dirtiest fuel on the planet.
Quoted in the LA Times, Colorado senator Ken Salazar said Bush had "fallen into the trap of allowing political timelines to trump sound policy."
Officials went through 250,000 public comments on Bush's proposal to exempt federal projects from provisions of the Endangered Species Act in less than a week. "They've clearly made a predetermined decision to issue it no matter what the public comments say," said NRDC director Andrew Wetzler.
And this is just the beginning. He still has 60 days left.
"The Bush administration is trying to prevent Obama from doing to it what it did to Clinton," said Matt Madia, an analyst for OMB Watch, a Washington-based watchdog group.
The Southern Utes mean business. Their investment company, the Southern Ute Growth Fund, manages more than $1 billion in assets, including a set of real estate development companies and an oil and gas drilling business. Just this week, they opened a new high-end casino on their reservation south of Durango, Colorado.
But the Utes are now trying to put their Midas touch to work in a less conventional line of business: producing biofuels from algae. The idea is to grow algae that synthesize a lot of fat -- as opposed to more normal strains of algae that synthesize a lot of protein and starch -- in giant tanks, then refine that fat into usable fuel, much as soybean and other vegetable oils are refined into biodiesel.
The process is in some ways just a speeding-up of the natural process through which the earth's oil and gas reserves were formed in the first place. It's a process that could theoretically produce a carbon-neutral fuel, since all carbon released when the fuel is burned would have been taken from the atmosphere by the growing algae. In its current incarnation, though, the process requires the injection of carbon dioxide from an outside source -- in this case natural gas wells -- in order to make the algae grow more quickly. This requirement probably negates most of the fuel's climate benefits.
The Utes are going to start with a five-acre algae plot. That may not sound like much, but an algae farm can produce something on the order of 3,000 gallons of fuel per acre, which is pretty impressive when compared to the alternative, a soy farm, which can produce 50-70 gallons per acre. And algae farms may be particularly suited to the Southwest, given that they require a lot of sunlight and can use brackish or otherwise contaminated water that couldn't be used for drinking or irrigating conventional crops. At any rate, they would certainly make for interesting tourist attractions. "Welcome to the Four Corners," the signs could say. "Have you seen our slime?"
Last weekend, the family and I drove over to Grand Junction, Colo., about an hour away from here, to run some errands. GJ, as we call it, is the metropolitan and service center of Colorado's Western Slope. In other words, it's awash with malls, big boxes, strip malls and fast food chains, not to mention the biggest airport and hospital around.
GJ is also a gasfield town. And for the last year or so, that's helped the city prosper while the rest of the nation's economy slides downward: Unemployment is way below the national average, home prices continue to stay high, and the wages are good. This spring, Burger King became famous for advertising a $300 signing bonus to lure burger-flippers. HCN covered the thriving gasfield economy in its "Boom Boom" cover story.
But now, natural gas prices are collapsing, dropping more than 20 percent in recent months. Drilling is declining nationwide, and there are signs the slump will hit Colorado's gasfields. Chevron just announced that it will slow its pace of development in Western Colorado, as have Williams Production and Bill Barrett Corp. Even a few less drill rigs could have a big impact, since each employs about 35 highly paid workers.
This boom has been so big, though, that a little dip will, by no means, equal a bust. Last month, the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission set a record for the number of drilling permits issued, and it's already issued 6,739 permits statewide -- already breaking last year's record.
That's enough, I guess, to give shoppers in Grand Junction confidence. As we drove into town on the grand new bypass "parkway," I fully expected to see ghostly malls and empty shops. Instead, we had a tough time finding a parking spot. The teeny-bop accessory store, Claires, had a line out the door. And people were opening up their wallets left and right. But perhaps the busiest place we saw was Victoria's Secret, where women lined up several deep at the two cash registers.
Bustiers, apparently, don't lose their appeal, even with when a bust looms on the horizon.
Continuing a tradition of relatively strong stands on environmental degradation caused by natural gas drilling and other forms of development, the Rocky Mountain region (Region 8) office of the Environmental Protection Agency is now questioning a proposal to divert flows from Colorado's only wild and scenic river: the Cache la Poudre.
The agency contends that the Northern Integrated Supply Project -- which would divert peak spring melt flows from the river into the proposed off-channel, 177,000 acre-feet Glade Reservoir to help supply thirsty Front Range communities -- could harm local wetlands and water quality. According to the Rocky Mountain News:
Deborah Lebow Aal, an EPA project manager who analyzed the corps' draft environmental impact statement, said more study needs to occur to understand how the projects, which draw from the Poudre and South Platte rivers, will affect streams and what is needed to protect the waterways.
"In the draft they say the temperature is going to increase, but they don't give you any information on how or why or what's going to happen," she said. "They're going to take 71 percent of high flows in the spring. That's a pretty significant impact that was not well addressed."
The EPA has made known that it has the authority to put the kibosh on the project, though right now the agency is just talking with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy about how to remedy the trouble, the Rocky reports.
The Rocky Mountain EPA's stance is interesting because it emphasizes the difference between the national (which has a disturbing tendency to defer to Bush administration whims) and regional (where many officials have pushed back against those whims) offices of the massive federal agency.Read More ...
We've chronicled the sad story of the horse glut in the United States, brought on partly because of the slaughterhouse ban enacted two years ago, partly because of the rising cost of fuel and hay, and partly because of the failing economy. It all comes down to the unpleasant fact that there more horses than owners, and because the U.S. also protects wild horses -- letting them roam on BLM land around the West -- there is now a surplus of some 30,000 wild horses that the federal government really can't afford to keep. The wild horses were once rounded up and offered for adoption at auctions, but no one's bidding any more, so the horses are placed in federal holding facilities.
"The animal rights people put the BLM in a box," said Jeff Eisenberg of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "Congress doesn't want to put more funding into these holding facilities, especially when times are tight. It's a problem nobody likes."
But now comes Madeleine Pickens, wife of billionaire T. Boone Pickens, who "made known her intentions," according to an article in the Washington Post, to adopt not just the 2,000 mustangs who had been slated by the BLM for euthanasia but "most or all" of the 30,000 wild horses and burros currently in holding pens. The Pickens were advocates of closing the two remaining slaughterhouses in the U.S., and they obviously have resources, so there's some poetic justice in this solution.
Mrs. Pickens is "looking for land in the West that would be an appropriate home for the horses." Like at least 100,000 acres somewhere? Maybe Ted Turner has some extra land.
Jim Messina -- born in Denver, raised in Boise, with a University of Montana bachelor's degree in political science -- will be a deputy chief of staff in Barack Obama's White House.
Messina worked his tail off to get there. He was chief of staff for Obama's campaign, and his political experience stretches from Alaska to New England.
Messina had some interesting things to say, when he and I did a Q&A in High Country News during the campaign, under the headline: Obama's Western ace in the hole.
Among other other things, I asked Messina:
You didn't go to an Ivy League college as a path into the political elite, you took a different path -- and got to where you are by hard work?
Messina: I believe that politics is truly a merit-based world. If you work hard and you're honest -- and you keep winning -- you'll get to rise. (In my early political jobs) I was the kid who was the first in the office and the last to leave. And it's still kind of true. ... I've been chief of staff to three famous members of Congress and I work for a fourth, and when (each) hired me, I don't think any of them even asked me where I went to school -- they just asked me what I had done, and I love that.
If you'd like more on Messina's path to the White House, the Idaho Statesman reported on his growing-up in Boise, and the Missoula Independent reported his early career toiling in Montana politics.
Messina loves 15-hour political workdays, and, the Statesman adds, his other loves are running, fly-fishing and his dog.
Messina told me that with his all-consuming work, he has trouble maintaining any social life, especially girlfriendships. He said, "I gotta get better at that part." Not sure he'll be able to do that in the White House, where the work will likely go 24/7.
The Bush administration has a little more than two months left in office, but those two months promise to be an exciting -- and probably distressing -- time for those of us interested in federal land policy. The administration hopes to change a number of administrative rules before it rides into the sunset, and none of these changes is going to make environmentalists happy. One of the first is today's issuing of final oil shale leasing regulations, which theoretically make it possible for oil shale leasing to take place on at least 2 million acres of land in the West. Obama will probably re-write these regulations after taking office. But rewriting federal rules takes time -- often several years -- so it's conceivable that the Interior Department could sell oil shale leases before Obama manages to put in place any new rules limiting or banning oil shale development. More likely, Interior will have to expend a lot of time and resources working on a replacement rule. The outgoing administration will, if nothing else, leave the incoming administration with a royal headache.
It's common for an administration to issue controversial (and likely-to-be-overturned) new rules right before leaving office -- the obvious (though not exactly overturned) example being the Clinton Roadless Rule. But the Bush administration is working on an impressively long list of of eleventh-hour rule changes. These changes would, among other things, make it easier to conduct mountaintop-removal mining, weaken emissions standards at power plants, and significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act. The administration also plans to auction a number of oil and gas leases near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah -- a move that the Obama administration would not be able to undo. A relatively pro-environment president may be getting ready to take office, but it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better.
This week the Bush Administration, Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp and the state governments of Oregon and California announced an “Agreement in Principle” to remove four of the five dams on the Klamath River. If all goes according to their plan, removal of four dams would begin in 2020. A fifth dam – Keno in Oregon – would be transferred to the US Bureau of Reclamation.
Members of three Klamath River tribes and others cheered the agreement even as they wondered why it is necessary to wait until 2020 to begin what promises to be a decade-long dam removal project. But the Hoopa Tribe -- as well as other environmental groups including Friends of the River, the Northcoast Environmental Center and Oregon Wild -- criticized the agreement. Critics say it unnecessarily delays dam removal for more than a decade and does not actually guarantee that they will ever come out.
Major river and fishing groups including American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association have signaled their support for the deal by joining the Bush Interior Department in a letter to the California Water Resources Control Board requesting delay of the Clean Water Certification process which the dams must pass before they can be relicensed. The Clean Water Certification is widely viewed as a hurdle which PacifiCorp could not overcome because of the pollution the dams and reservoirs generate. This includes toxic algae, water temperature inhospitable to salmon and trout and low dissolved oxygen. The poor water quality has been linked to epidemics which kill young salmon and other fish in and below the reservoirs and dams.Read More ...