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The Keys to the Treasure Trove
Most of America’s remaining oil reserves, salmon, native settlements, grizzly bears, ancient forests and public lands are packed into one state: Alaska. For more than 15 years, the fate of Alaska’s natural environment was shaped by two men: Senator Frank Murkowski and Congressman Don Young.
Murkowski and Young were an odd but savagely effective tandem. Murkowski, the millionaire, was a banker by trade, harmonized to the elite power circles of Washington, DC, a man who moved seamlessly from the Foreign Relations Committee to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which he ruthlessly chaired in the mid-1990s.
An examination of Murkowski’s financial records revealed that during his tenure as chairman of this powerful committee Murkowski owned at least $50,000 of stock in the Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, the largest purchaser of timber from the national forests. At the time, Louisiana-Pacific also controlled the Ketchikan Pulp Company, which held an exclusive 50-year contract to log timber from southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Through the 1990s, Murkowski intervened numerous times to keep timber flowing into LP’s Ketchikan pulp mill despite evidence of extreme environmental problems on the Tongass, the nation’s largest national forest and the last intact temperate rainforest in the US.
Murkowski’s advocacy for Louisiana-Pacific was undiminished even after the company was convicted of repeated violations of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act at the Ketchikan mill.
Don Young, who was elected to the House in 1973, was a different character altogether. He was a former trapper and riverboat captain, whose congressional office resembled a cheap Ketchikan taxidermy: its walls covered with the skins of Alaskan grizzlies, the lacquered corpses of King salmon and the severed heads of caribou, Roosevelt elk and Sitka black-tailed deer.
Like Murkowski, Young’s stock portfolio was flush with rape-and-pillage companies, such as Homestake Mining, whose profits originated in the subsidies and regulatory exemptions doled out by the committees commandeered by the grizzled Alaskan.
In 1992 Young stood like Jeremiah on the floor of the House and excoriated the congress for refusing to open the fragile plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil production, warning of dire shortages, gas lines, soaring prices and looming threats to national security.
Then, four years later, Young calmly pleaded his case for the lifting the ban on the exportation of Alaskan crude oil by proclaiming: “There’s an oil glut in America. Prices are too low. There’s nowhere to market our product, except Japan.”
The real power in environmental politics is held by those who control the money of the federal government. Here the key player for more than two decades was Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon, who dominated the Appropriations Committee of the Senate. Hatfield had long cultivated an image as a “senator of conscience,” leading to his nickname “St. Mark.”
Hatfield won warm praise in the press for his act of “intellectual conscience” in breaking ranks with his party and casting the vote which killed the Balanced Budget Amendment in early 1995. This was no such thing, but merely one more instance in which Hatfield served as an agent for the timber, mining, grazing and aluminum industries, which depend on billions of dollars a year in federal subsidies and other forms of corporate welfare. Hatfield’s wished to preserve his power as Appropriations chairman and not be hobbled by balanced budget restrictions.
Much of Hatfield’s liberal reputation derived from his early opposition to the war against Vietnam. In fact, fearing his anti-war stance might cost him the 1966 senate election, Hatfield loudly advocated the saturation bombing of Haiphong and Hanoi to bring the war to a “rapid conclusion.”
In the 1980s, Hatfield accepted tens of thousands of dollars in cash, gifts and artwork from the president of the University of South Carolina. The university also offered a full scholarship to Hatfield’s son, although he failed to meet the institution’s meager admissions standards. In exchange, Hatfield steered millions in grants to the university.
The Senate Ethics Committee delayed its investigation of the matter until after the 1990 senate election, where Hatfield narrowly defeated a maverick Democrat named Harry Lonsdale. During this campaign, Hatfield had received backing from many of Oregon’s leading environmentalists and national environmental groups. In 1992, the ethics committee finally determined that Hatfield had violated the Ethics in Government Act and issued a mild rebuke of the senator.
This was not the first time Hatfield’s ethical conduct had been called into question. In 1984 the FBI investigated Hatfield for possible criminal violations involving his dealings with the Greek financier Basil Tsakos. Tsakos had paid Hatfield’s wife Antoinette $55,000 to find him an apartment in the Watergate complex, which he never rented. In return, Hatfield agreed to use his influence to help Tsakos build an oil pipeline from Somalia to Nigeria. Hatfield eventually fought off the lodging of bribery charges, but ended up donating the $55,000 “finder’s fee” to charity.
Hatfield, a born again Christian, also benefited from more than a half million dollars in forgiven loans from wealthy members of his “prayer circle.” Several of these loans originated from Del Dellenbach, a timber industry magnate from Medford, Oregon, who served in Congress in the early 1970s. Of course, those personal loans pale next to the millions of dollars that the timber, mining, agriculture and energy companies shoveled into Hatfield’s political war chest.
During the 1980s Hatfield teamed up with former Idaho Senator James McClure to perfected the art of the appropriations riders, laws quietly attached to spending bills which mandated that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management increase the amount of clearcutting on public lands, despite the impact on water quality or endangered species. The most notorious of these riders was affixed to the 1990 Interior Appropriations Bill. Known in environmental circles as the Rider From Hell, this provision overturned two federal court injunctions halting logging in ancient forests in Oregon and Washington, mandated that the Forest Service sell twice its normal amount of timber to Northwest logging companies at highly subsidized rates and shielded all of those timber sales from any legal challenge. The half-million acres of clearcutting authorized by Hatfield’s Rider From Hell was a primary factor in the listing of the Marbled Murrelet and coastal salmon stocks as threatened species.
Hatfield and McClure’s partner in many of these outrageous escapades was Rep. Les AuCoin, a liberal Democrat who represented northwestern Oregon from 1974 until he vacated his seat for an unsuccessful bid to unseat Senator Bob Packwood in 1992. After his defeat, AuCoin vowed to reside forever in Oregon and swore he would never move back to DC or work as a lobbyist. Three months later, AuCoin joined the DC law firm of Bogle and Gates as chairman of its Government Relations Group. His clients included Weyerhaeuser, International Paper, the Global Forest Management group, Northwest Forest Resource Council (a timber industry trade group) and Westinghouse.
Unlike Hatfield and AuCoin, McClure was unabashedly pro-industry. As the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, he single-handedly halted the designation of millions of acres of federal land in the West as wilderness. His enmity towards the Endangered Species Act was legendary. In 1989, he boasted, “We don’t have spotted owls in Idaho, because we shoot them at the border.”
McClure fought off numerous attempts to reform the 1872 Mining Act. After retiring from the Senate in 1990, McClure wasted little time cashing in on his enormous influence. With two former staffer members from the Natural Resources Committee, McClure established a DC law firm called McClure, Gerard and Neuenschwander to further lighten the burdens on mining corporations that do business on public lands. McClure’s clients included some of the world’s largest mining companies: Barrick Resources, Battle Mountain Gold, Coeur d’Alene Mines, Cyprus Amax Minerals, Homestake Mining, Newmont Gold, Phelps Dodge and Stillwater Mining, which operated a toxic gold mine north of Yellowstone National Park.
McClure and his cronies turned political power into gold.
To be continued
JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is published by AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This essay is excerpted from the forthcoming book GreenScare: the New War on Environmentalism by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR and Joshua Frank.