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Bush Picks Industry Insiders to Fill Environmental Posts

New York Times, May 12, 2001


WASHINGTON, May 9 -- President Bush has filled several senior environment-related jobs in his administration with pro-business advocates who have worked on behalf of various industries in battles with the federal government, largely during the Clinton years.

Mr. Bush has announced his intent to nominate a mining industry lobbyist as the No. 2 person at the Interior Department. He has chosen a lobbyist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association to be the department's chief lawyer.

His choice for No. 2 at the Environmental Protection Agency was a lobbyist for Monsanto, the chemical company now devoted to agribusiness. He wants as chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality a lawyer who represented General Electric in its fight with the E.P.A. over toxic waste sites.

Many of these candidates share a pro-property rights philosophy as well as a libertarian leaning, and conservatives find this just the right approach. Supporters also say that the individuals selected are deeply familiar with the issues that will come before them, and that they will know how to balance environmental protection and economic interests.

"We're real happy with the team that Bush is putting in," said Mike Hardiman, legislative director of the American Conservative Union.

"After eight years of the extremist, anti-people, anti-access policies of the Clinton administration and its overzealous application of the Endangered Species Act and the shutdown of recreational access to public lands as well as the commercial access, we're now going to have more of a balance," he said.

The list of intended nominees--most have not been officially nominated--is notable for the absence of picks from the environmental movement. Mr. Bush was considering John Turner, president of the Conservation Fund, for the No. 2 job at Interior, but Mr. Turner was dropped after strong opposition from Mr. Hardiman's group and others.

In Mr. Turner's place, Mr. Bush has nominated J. Steven Griles, a mining industry lobbyist who once worked in the Interior Department under James Watt, President Reagan's first Interior secretary.

"They are lawyers and lobbyists who built their careers by helping industry get out of environmental regulations," said Maria Weidner, policy advocate for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. "Now, assuming they're confirmed, they will be doing the same thing, only the taxpayers will be paying for it."

Business advocates assert that the industry credentials of the nominees does not necessarily foreshadow their approach in their new jobs.

William L. Kovacs, vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the United States Chamber of Commerce, said that critics had portrayed the Bush team as anti-environment even as the president let stricter standards concerning diesel emissions and reporting on lead emissions go into effect.

"I don't think that just because these people worked for business, you can call them pro-business," Mr. Kovacs said. "They're not as clear- cut as the enviros would like to paint them."

Guided by the tone set at the top--from Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to Gale A. Norton, the Interior secretary, and Christie Whitman, the E.P.A. administrator--these nominees will help determine what policies to advocate, what regulations to enforce and what litigation to pursue.

They replace Clinton loyalists who came largely from strong environmental backgrounds. When President Bill Clinton took office, for example, his Interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt, was a former governor of Arizona but also head of the League of Conservation Voters. Mr. Babbitt put George Frampton, a former head of the Wilderness Society, in charge of fish, wildlife and parks; Mr. Frampton ended up in charge of the White House environmental council.

Now, some former Clinton officials--many of whom work for environmental lobbying groups--complain that the Bush team generally views the environment as resources to be mined, logged and drilled.

"Their collective orientation is clearly pro-development and pro-exploitation of public resources for the personal profit of various industries," said Dave Alberswerth, who worked at the Interior Department under Mr. Babbitt and is now at the Wilderness Society.

Some holdovers--like Dale Bosworth, the new Forest Service chief, who was a regional forester in Montana--have not drawn environmentalists' fire. And Mr. Bush has yet to name picks for a handful of key posts.

But many of those he has named at Interior, E.P.A. and other agencies with environmental oversight have corporate backgrounds and appear skeptical of the regulatory process. Most candidates declined to discuss their prospective roles before their Senate confirmation hearings.

One of Mr. Bush's most influential choices would be John D. Graham as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget. If confirmed, Mr. Graham, a Harvard professor who has argued that the costs of most environmental regulations exceed their benefits, would be in charge of reviewing all regulations proposed by federal agencies.

As he said in a 1996 speech at the Heritage Foundation, "environmental regulation should be depicted as an incredible intervention in the operation of society."

Mr. Bush has also said he would nominate Linda J. Fisher to be deputy administrator of the E.P.A. Most recently she headed the government affairs office at Monsanto. Ms. Fisher served at the E.P.A. in the Reagan and first Bush administrations as director of the office of pesticides and toxic substances; assistant administrator for policy, planning and evaluation; and as chief of staff.

Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, called her a "moderate, corporate-style Republican, not a hidebound conservative" and said Ms. Fisher was seen as "pretty reasonable by environmentalists" during her tenure as head of the agency's pesticide office.

"But afterward," he said, "she headed Monsanto's lobbying operation while the company was trying to head off any government oversight of genetically engineered crops."

Other Interior nominees include Bennet William Raley, a lawyer who has represented farm interests, as assistant secretary for water and science, and Lynn Scarlett, president of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian group, as assistant secretary for policy, management and budget.

"I don't like to tell people how to live their lives," Ms. Scarlett said. "If that means I'm gun-shy of mandates, where they'll undermine environmental performance, stifle innovation and heighten conflict, then I'll say so. But I think too often we judge environmentalism as being the equivalent of adherence to a particular statute rather than achieving specific results, and they're not the same thing."

Bush Appointees

Mr. Griles, the mining lobbyist picked as deputy Interior secretary, worked in the Reagan Interior department at a series of jobs, ending up as assistant secretary of lands and minerals management.

He then became an executive at the United Company, a coal, oil and gas development company. Until recently he was a lobbyist for National Environmental Strategies, with clients including the National Mining Association, Occidental Petroleum, Edison Electric and the Coalbed Methane Ad Hoc Committee.

John Grasser, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, said that Mr. Griles's industry experience was an important asset for his new post. "You've got to get the people who understand the issues," he said.

And he disputed the complaint of environmentalists that the candidates were captives of industry. "When they get into these jobs, they have to walk somewhat of a middle line," Mr. Grasser said.

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Bush Appointees

William Geary Myers 3d is Mr. Bush's choice to be solicitor for the Interior Department. As lobbyist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Public Lands Council, Mr. Myers advocated pro-rancher positions. While most issues involved land access and water allocation, he also opposed reintroducing wolves in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho and supported the state of Montana in the killing of bison that wandered out of Yellowstone.

Mr. Myers said this week that as the potential lawyer for the department, "my primary clients will be the president and the secretary." He said he would not characterize himself as pro-industry or anti-industry.

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Bush Appointees

Mr. Bush's choice for assistant attorney general at the Justice Department for the environment and natural resources is Thomas Sansonetti, a lawyer from Wyoming who specializes in minerals and energy and is a member of the libertarian Federalist Society. As the solicitor at Interior in the first Bush administration, Mr. Sansonetti helped negotiate the Exxon Valdez oil-spill settlement.

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Bush Appointees

For chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Mr. Bush has picked James Connaughton, a partner at Sidley & Austin, a law firm that advises corporate clients and trade groups on environmental law. He has represented General Electric and Atlantic Richfield in fights against the E.P.A. about cleanup of Superfund sites.

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