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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)


Air Date: Week of

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Host Steve Curwood talks with Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent Anna Solomon-Greenbaum about the recent spate of resignations from some of the key members of the Bush administration’s environmental team.


CURWOOD: You almost need a scorecard these days to keep up with the number of high profile resignations by key members of the Bush administration's environmental team. Joining me to fill in the blanks is Living on Earth's Washington correspondent Anna Solomon-Greenbaum. So, Anna, tell me, who are these people, and why are they leaving the administration?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well, Steve, the latest example is Martha Han. She was the director of the Bureau of Land Management in Idaho. She faced a lot of criticism out there for her decisions on grazing issues. The Interior Department gave her a choice. They told her that she could transfer to a National Park Service job in New York harbor - where grazing rights, you might imagine, are not such a big issue - or she could leave. And Hahn decided to resign. Two days before that, the Army Corps of Engineer chief Mike Parker, stepped down after the Bush administration threatened to fire him for criticizing its proposed cuts to the Corp's budget. And this whole wave of resignations began about a week before when Eric Schaeffer quit his job as the EPA's top enforcement officer. He'd been there since the first Bush administration, and he left in protest, saying this administration was failing to enforce environmental laws.

CURWOOD: Well, Anna, tell us, do these mark the beginning of some kind of trend, a protest against Bush environmental policies?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well, I think it's hard to know at this point whether there's going to be more of this. I do think that these resignations are part of something bigger that's going on. There's also been a growing number of public lands managers who've been transferred to new posts or new jobs. One example of this is Kate Cannon. She was the director of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. And in December, the Bush administration moved her to the Grand Canyon National Park to be a deputy superintendent there. Another case was Tim Salt. Tim Salt was the head of the BLM's California Desert District. He's been moved to a new post. Yet another example is Jack Williams. He was the director of two national forests in Oregon, and he's being moved to a teaching position at Southern Oregon University. These are just a few examples.

CURWOOD: Okay, Anna, but typically, people get reassigned and transferred when a new administration comes in, or just even over time.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well, to some degree, yeah, there's always a certain amount of shifting around that's expected to happen. And a lot of the managers I've spoken with said that they weren't particularly surprised to hear that their job was about to change. But, at the same time, most of these people also say they think that there's something going on that's beyond the normal adjustments you'd expect to see. In particular, they feel like some of these personnel decisions that are normally made at the state level are now being made from the top, in Washington. And they say that the normal guidelines that govern transfers aren't being followed. Some government watchdog groups feel like there's a real pattern of persecution being carried out, that the Bush administration is targeting people who've been subjects of controversy and basically letting private interests dictate public policy.

CURWOOD: You say these managers have been controversial figures. How so?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well, in all these cases, we're talking about people who were managing land where there was a lot of conflicting pressures on the resources. In Utah, you've got ranchers and miners and natural gas producers. In Idaho and Oregon you've got timber. California there's every kind of pressure, off-road vehicles, development. And then, in all these areas you've got hunters, hikers, you have conservation groups. You know, at one point last fall, I was talking with oil and gas producers in different areas around the west. And I was asking them what they thought of the administration's plans to increase production on the public land in their area. And the thing they kept telling me was it doesn't really matter what happens in Washington, it's whether or not the new policies are actually implemented at the local or regional BLM office.

CURWOOD: And I imagine these local offices are still headed by people who came up through the ranks in the Clinton years.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: That's right. And these energy producers feel like they're biased toward conservation and against using the land for oil or mining or other uses. And they were taking their complaints directly to Washington in many cases. And I saw, at least, a few examples where they were getting the attention of some very senior officials at the Interior Department or the Forest Service. But it isn't just industry that cares about who's running things. Sometimes the pressure comes from local residents who just don't agree with the decisions that are made in Washington about the land in their community. A good example of this - you might remember Gloria Flora. In the Clinton administration she directed the Forest Service in Nevada. There was a road there that local people wanted rebuilt. And Flora wouldn't do it because she said the road would threaten a fish called the Bull Trout that's on the endangered species list. At some point, under pressure and I think some fear about her own personal safety, she resigned.

CURWOOD: These recent resignations, Anna, what's the message these people are sending?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Well, it differs, Steve. Martha Hahn in Idaho has been fairly quiet about her resignation. Eric Schaeffer, on the other hand, has been very public about it. Schaeffer was one of the key players in the EPA when the Clinton administration brought all of its lawsuits against the utility industry, saying they were violating a provision of the Clean Air Act called New Source Review. Now the Bush administration's been working on altering and possibly doing away with New Source Review. And Schaeffer says many of the utilities that were about to sign settlements on their cases are now putting down their pens because they can see the cop is off the beat. In Schaeffer's view the utilities' violations are causing thousands of premature deaths a year, and he wanted to bring attention to it.

SCHAEFFER: Enforcement needs public attention. This is something a lot of people take for granted. They just assume the law's being enforced. And I'm stepping outside the agency to say that ain't necessarily so. And you better get involved and you better talk to people and you better see especially what's going on with these power plant lawsuits because it affects you personally.

CURWOOD: Anna, thanks so much for filling us in.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: You're welcome, Steve.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth's Washington correspondent, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.

[MUSIC Subot and Dawson "Waterbug" TRACTOR PARTS: FURTHER ADVENTURES IN STRANG (Black Hen Music, 2000)



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