Tom Bell

  • Tom Bell

    Mike McClure

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, HCN's founder fights his last fight, yet again.

Tom Bell:

"The issue of the proposed Altamont natural gas pipeline being constructed through historic South Pass in Wyoming should be a case study in how government should not work. Thanks to rogue agencies and rogues within agencies, the laws, rules and regulations governing us all can be bent, twisted, ignored and violated. And thanks to big money and the quest for power, weak individuals can be bought. It leaves one with a sense of rottenness running through the core of our vaunted governmental institutions.

"To fully understand the Altamont issue you have to realize that Altamont money influenced the present outcome from top to bottom. It all began in the Bush administration under Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan and Bureau of Land Management Director Cy Jamison. It carried right on over to President Clinton and Secretary Babbitt. It went right down through the ranks from the Washington office to the Wyoming state BLM office in Cheyenne and to the Worland BLM district office.

"There were exceptions. The Rawlins district office and the Rock Springs district office and the two resource area offices within those districts, Lander and Green River, did not go along with the program. Neither did newly appointed BLM Director Jim Baca when he came aboard. It was Baca who finally gave the order for BLM to do a "second look" analysis. By the time the analysis was finished, Baca was gone and there was no one with the clout and backbone to see that the analysis was released to the public as a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

"Instead, the Wyoming state office buried the true analysis and all of the significant findings, wrote its own document to fit the original EIS findings, and said the second look endorsed the South Pass proposed route. Nothing could be further from the truth. The true second-look analysis documented that the preferred route should be through Jeffrey City.

"Altamont said it would cost $40 million more to go the alternative Jeffrey City route and refused to consider it. This was in spite of the fact that the National Environmental Policy Act requires that decisions not be made on the basis of cost alone, and, in spite of the fact that the Rawlins BLM District pointed out that 60 percent of the archaeological survey work along the Jeffrey City route had already been done, thereby saving millions of dollars.

"It is ironic that when the BLM did the second-look analysis, it was found that just one small section of the proposed pipeline corridor beyond South Pass in the Farson area could cost an estimated $9.5 million-$10.5 million for archaeological work. The famed Blue Forest area west of Farson would require extensive work. Of course, Altamont could treat that area and the laws governing it as they have already treated all the laws, rules and regulations up to now - just ignore them and have government lackeys and politicians cover up.

"In order to understand how this Altamont mess came about, former Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan must be brought into the picture. Sullivan made no bones of the fact that he was a "friend of Bill's' and was the first governor to endorse Bill Clinton for president. He evidently had direct access into the Oval Office. Early on he threw in with the Altamont crowd and whatever Altamont wanted, they were to get. That order was evidently conveyed to Secretary Babbitt and Director Baca. Jim Baca's demise as BLM director may have been as much a result of his stand on the Altamont issue as it was of the so-called "War on the West," a fraudulent and hokey issue in its own right.

"Baca was the only bulwark between the field men who were trying to do the right thing and the political forces arrayed against them. The BLM state office crumbled and made no attempt to defend their own people. In fact, there was some fear for a time that the honest, conscientious employees were in jeopardy.

"Nowhere in all of my experience with various issues have I experienced anything so outrageous, so contemptible, as the Altamont project. The company officials, a former state governor, paid consultants and hirelings, and stooges within the federal government have all perjured themselves, winked at existing law, and prostituted themselves before the shrine of greed and money.

"It is not at all difficult to see and experience the rising tide of disenchantment with federal government policies and actions. The vast majority of public employees are honest, conscientious, and capable, trying to do the right thing in a professional manner. We should defend them. Some fall into bureaucratic ways and work at cross purposes - but most are honest. In this case, the honest employees were made to look like bumbling fools because of behind-the-scenes maneuvering and deliberate obfuscations on the part of those whose personal interests are served.

"Altogether, the Altamont issue is a disgraceful example of government integrity gone awry. We expect the federal government to do the right thing, both for the public it is supposed to serve and for its own dedicated employees. That has not been the case here. It is a good example of why many people have come to feel they can no longer trust their government. It is a sad and troubling commentary on the times."

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