Champions go both ways

Obama's federal appointees share a green streak

  • “This is one of the biggest environmental cases ever filed — like the spotted owl and salmon.” —Laird Lucas, lead attorney for a Western Watersheds Project lawsuit against the Interior Department, seeking better protection for sage grouse — including grazing and drilling reductions — on 25 million acres of federal sagebrush in the Interior West. The first hearing was April 16 in an Idaho federal court.

    Darreli Pruett, USGS

When Ned Farquhar was appointed to a key position in the Interior Department on April 7, the nation's biggest environmental group, the Sierra Club, seemed ecstatic. The agency has immense power over environmental policies in the West, managing 500 million acres of federal land, endangered species programs, mining and drilling leases. As the deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals, Farquhar will be "an environmental champion," gushed Sierra Clubber Matt Kirby in the Lay of the Land blog.

Farquhar has proved his green mettle: He worked several years for the Natural Resources Defense Council and advocated for clean energy around the West from his base in Albuquerque. Before that, he advised New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on such issues.

Farquhar opposes conventional coal-fired power plants and oil-shale developments that contribute to climate change, so he's "an excellent choice to help oversee the very departments that are often busy leasing to industries that exacerbate the climate crisis," Kirby wrote. "How cool is that?"

As of early April, according to The Washington Post, the Obama administration had nominated about 150 people to fill "senior positions" in various agencies. Ranking just below secretaries, these people do most of the bossing of civil servants and tweaking of regulations. More candidates are being evaluated to fill another 330 senior positions.

The selection of Farquhar points to an emerging pattern. So far, at least 10 people with ties to environmental groups or other conservation efforts have been named to fill senior positions. They include:

David Hayes, a former senior fellow at the World Wildlife Fund and chairman of the board of American Rivers, is the new deputy Interior secretary (the agency's #2 job).

Tom Strickland, who helped create the Great Outdoors Colorado program (using lottery revenues for open space and wildlife habitat), is Interior's new assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.

Will Shafroth, who has 15 years' experience running the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund and the Colorado Conservation Land Trust, is Interior's new deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.

Rhea Suh, from Los Altos, Calif., is Interior's new assistant secretary for policy management and budget; previously, she supervised grants to environmental groups (and sometimes to High Country News) for the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Cathy Zoi, from Palo Alto, Calif., is the Energy Department's new assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy; previously, she was CEO of Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection.

Cynthia Giles, the Environmental Protection Agency's new assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, was a leader in the Conservation Law Foundation, which bills itself as "New England's leading environmental advocacy organization."

And so on. They're not radical environmentalists, and they have other credentials, including previous government service or working relationships with Cabinet members such as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. But they likely share a tendency to lean green.

That tendency will be one thread in an administration that has some appointees with hazier environmental records. It may become a stronger thread, as environmental groups hope to place even more of their allies or executives in key federal jobs. But don't forget, what goes around comes around.

When industries have rapport with U.S. presidents, they get their people appointed to key jobs. Thus, former timber lobbyist Mark Rey served in President George W. Bush's Agriculture Department as undersecretary for natural resources and the environment, pressuring the Forest Service to cooperate with timber companies. Bush's Interior Department had a series of industrial allies as deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks: first, Paul Hoffman, former head of the Cody, Wyo., Chamber of Commerce, who pressured the National Park Service to cooperate with park gateway towns like Cody, and then Julie MacDonald -- "a civil engineer with no formal training in natural sciences," according to AP -- who rewrote wildlife scientists' opinions on endangered species policies.

When industry appointees pressure agencies, environmentalists complain loudly. When environmentalist appointees apply the pressure, industries will bellyache. Tension is built into agencies like Interior and Agriculture: They must preserve natural resources while allowing development and use. Yet environmentalists and industries tend to have a much simpler view. Whoever is out of power claims that the other side is violating lofty principles. And principles aside, each side seeks leverage, anyway -- the pendulum keeps on swinging.

Re: Champions go both ways
Dave Scott
Dave Scott
Apr 21, 2009 06:24 AM
Your article implies that it is equally as defensible for industry to cut our little remaining old growth forest as it is for environmentalists to protect it. Equally valid for industry lobbyists to endanger Western streams as it is for conservationists to fight to keep them clean. That is patent nonsense. Under the Bush Administration, we had Interior Department officials openly abusing the law and their public trust -- committing actual crimes. We had Enron lobbyists writing national energy policy in secret White House meetings. The implication that the largest corporation in the world (Exxon) and environmental groups are just equally deserving "special interests" ignores reality -- especially the reality of abuses in the last eight years.

Apr 21, 2009 12:11 PM
I think the point of Ray's last paragraph is that neither industry interests nor conservation interests are used to working with the regulatory structure that guides land management agencies. Sometimes both sides seem to forget the laws on the books that direct agency actions, including but not limited to the Mineral Leasing Act, Endangered Species Act, the Taylor Grazing Act, FLPMA, NFMA, etc. Just as industry interests conveniently forgot DOI’s and DOA’s responsibilities to protect the environment, conservation interest might have to remind themselves land management agencies are governed by laws that allow the use and development of natural resources.
intentional blindness
Ray Ring
Ray Ring
Apr 21, 2009 03:51 PM
Yes niko, that's what I'm thinking -- each side has blind spots or things it doesn't want to see. And both sides tend to use similar tactics politically.
re: Champs
Dave Scott
Dave Scott
Apr 25, 2009 06:41 PM
Re "conservation interest might have to remind themselves land management agencies are governed by laws that allow the use and development of natural resources."

Over the last eight years, federal lands have been "used and developed to the point of outright abuse, at a tragic cost to our country. You say we need to balance conservation versus exploitation? After eight years of lands policy carried out by and for the oil industry and other Bush contributors? I beg to differ. America's public lands have been ravaged.
strike while the iron is hot...........
Richard Boyden
Richard Boyden
Apr 25, 2009 05:10 PM
While the pendulum is swinging wildly in both directions, opportunity directs that we use any reasonable means at our disposal to insure that the downward spiral of profiteering and exploitation at the expense of the land, wildlife and human happiness be held at bay. We have to strike while the iron is hot...................
a shortage of what??????
Richard Boyden
Richard Boyden
Apr 25, 2009 05:30 PM
So what if there is a shortage of animal food supply veterinarians? I am a lacto-vegetarian and could care less about your so-called problems.
David Hayes NOT a "champion"
Socratic Gadfly
Socratic Gadfly
Apr 21, 2009 05:59 PM
David Hayes a "champion"? The Environmental Law Institute has mega clear-cutter Weyerhauser among its clients.

David Hayes a "champion"? Only if you're on Gang Green's payroll, Ray. He's a Gang Green enviro version of a neolib.
More on ELI
Socratic Gadfly
Socratic Gadfly
Apr 21, 2009 06:09 PM
Forgot to mention ELI was a previous Hayes employer.

Other big corporate clients of ELI are Chevron, AT&T, Lockheed Martin, GE and IBM. In other words, ELI teaches Fortune 500 folks how to “get by” on environmentalism at the edges of the law.

Beyond that, then, it networks companies like this to Gang Green enviros, for the possibility of exchanging greenwash for corporate contributions.
Cuts Both Ways?
Duane Short
Duane Short
Apr 22, 2009 11:14 AM
A distinction should be made clear concerning the article above.

Never do we see greenies, regardless of the party in power, appointed to head for example, the Depts of Commerce, Transportation, Treasury etc, etc. Why? Because this is as it should be. Only those with incredible credentials in these fields should be appointed to such important positions. But, and this is a big but... the same should hold true for departments, agencies, services and bureaus that require expertise in land, water, air, wildlife, pollution, climate and other science oriented fields.

Because one can run Exxon-Mobil, Monsanto, or GOOGLE does not mean s/he is qualified to make critical decisions about the health of our environment and wildlife. The EPA should never be headed by an industry hack no matter who is in office or how great their unrelated resume. It generally takes half a lifetime to establish oneself as a great ecologists, biologist, climatologist and etc. One that is renowned for delivering high profits for some environment degrading corporation is likely not heavily invested in the complex matter of protecting our environment and wildlife.

The point is... no one should maintain that greenies must not advocate for the very job they are appointed to do is ? Appointees to lead the EPA are there to protect the environment and wildlife. It's simply their job. For example, USFWS is specifically charged with protecting our wildlife. Dept of Interior oversees the protection of our public open spaces. The Forest Service are to protect our national forests. Each of these and other environment centric entities, by law, must consider economics and social factors. However, heads of Departments of Commerce, Transportation, Treasury and etc. are not likewise compelled to consider environmental factors (unless forced to do so).

The Depts of Commerce, Transportation and Treasury will certainly provide balance so why should greenies go soft? We will never see a single dyed-in-the-wool greenie head the Dept. of Commerce.

Only when an E.O. Wilson or a David Brower or an Edward Abbey are appointed to head the Depts. of Commerce, Transportation, and Treasury should we take seriously the suggestion that greenies should go soft in their fields of work. In my view, logic cheers on the greenies that finally occupy positions too long held by industry hacks. Don't go soft now that you have the power to undo the damage done over the past eight years! Simply doing the job your respective depts and agencies are charged to do will get you accused of being radical. Don't worry about that! One always makes more waves when swimming upstream that when simply floating along with the current.

update on nominee battle
Ray Ring
Ray Ring
May 13, 2009 05:48 PM
Republicans are trying to block two of these nominees, so I've updated this at[…]/rightwingers-hold-interior-dept.-hostages ...