The Ungreening of America: Behind the Curtain

George W. Bush’s stealth assault on environmental rules is being carried out by a cadre of appointed bureaucrats with strong ties to the very industries they are now supposed to regulate.

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

It’s no secret that in Washington, the most important decisions are made by bureaucrats, and George W. Bush has learned that lesson well. More than any president in recent history, he has filled key behind-the-scenes jobs with lawyers and lobbyists plucked from the industries they now regulate — people who have spent their careers seeking to dismantle or circumvent environmental rules and who, in their new jobs, are continuing to do just that. A sample:

Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, Department of Agriculture

Then: One of the nation’s foremost timber lobbyists, Rey spent twenty years working for timber industry organizations such as the National Forest Products Association, the American Paper Institute, and the American Forest Resources Alliance. He also served as a Vice President of the American Forest and Paper Association, a leading advocate of logging in national forests.’

In 1995, as a staff member to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, Rey authored the “salvage” timber rider, which suspended environmental laws guarding old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. Rey also authored Senator Larry Craig’s (R-ID) version of the National Forest Management Act, lifting the language of the bill directly from the American Forest and Paper Association’s recommendations to the House resource committee. The bill eliminated citizen oversight committees and other environmental safeguards.

Rey has long been associated with anti-regulatory, ‘wise use’ advocates, including the Alliance for America. He was a featured speaker, as a representative of the Senate Energy Committee, at the Alliance’s 1996 and 1998 “Fly In for Freedom” events.

Now: As the administration’s top forestry official, Rey has been a key force behind two administration measures benefiting timber companies — the “Healthy Forests” initiative to accelerate logging in wildfire-prone areas, and the decision to grant exemptions to the ban on logging in roadless areas of national forests. Both would allow loggers to cut bigger trees in areas such as the Tongass National Forest and the Giant Sequoia National Monument. “Put simply,” Rey has said, “We should start with the premise that a policy cannot be good for the environment if it is bad for people.”

Chairman, Council on Environmental Quality

Then: Connaughton lobbied on behalf of power companies and major electricity users; he also represented companies fighting Superfund cleanup rules. He co-authored a 1993 law journal article, “Defending Charges of Environmental Crime — The Growth Industry of the ’90s.”

Now: As the president’s senior environmental adviser, Connaughton has helped develop the White House’s positions on climate change (ignore), Superfund (shrink), and air-quality rules (relax).

Wildlands Fuels Coordinator, Department of the Interior

Then: Fitzsimmons has built a career around questioning the scientific basis of ecosystems. While an aide to the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks in 1986, Fitzsimmons wrote a memo suggesting that “public recreational benefit is the principal reason for conserving natural features.”

After leaving the public sector in 1992, Fitzsimmons formed a consulting firm, Balanced Resource Solutions, and began writing extensively for conservative think-tanks and free-market groups. In one 1999 paper, published by the Political Economy Research Center, Fitzsimmons declared that “The main problem is that ecosystems are not real… Ecosystems are only mental constructs, not real, discrete, or living things on the landscape. The second problem is that even if they were real, we have no idea of what their ‘health’ or ‘integrity’ might mean.”

Now: Fitzsimmons is the administration’s wildfire czar, in charge of implementing the president’s ‘Healthy Forests Initiative.’ That program is predicated on the belief that “deteriorated forest and rangeland conditions significantly affect…ecosystem health.”

Chief, US Forest Service

Then: Bosworth is a career forester, having served with the Forest Service for more than three decades. At the time of his appointment in May, 2001, Bosworth was praised by outgoing Forest Service boss Mike Dombeck, who noted that Bosworth “led development of the roads rule,” the foundation of the sweeping Clinton-era protections to prohibit road building in portions of national forests that are still wild.

Now: When he was appointed, Bosworth affirmed his support for the Clinton-era roadless rule. Since then, however, he has emerged as one of the point men in the administration’s campaign to gut the regulation and to allow more logging in national forests — with less public input. In 2001, shortly after being appointed, Bosworth told a House subcommittee that he would like to see forest management guidelines streamlined to expedite timber sales while restricting public involvement.

In October of 2001, Bosworth again lifted restrictions on industry use of public lands, asking Interior Secretary Gale Norton to lift a 2-year moratorium on new mining activities affecting 1.15 million acres of federal land in Southern Oregon.

Bosworth’s claim to support roadless protections will soon be put to the test. Following the Bush administration’s decision to settle a lawsuit brought by the state of Alaska, the Forest Service is prepared to exempt the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest from restrictions on road-building. The move would open nearly 10 million acres of the forest to logging — in large part because, under Bosworth’s watch, the Forest Service has refused to designate any more of the Tongass as wilderness.

Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, Department of the Interior

Then: As a lawyer in Montana, Watson represented mining interests including Fidelity Exploration and Production Co, a coalbed methane drilling company active in the Powder River Basin.

Now:While Watson has recused herself from making decisions related to coalbed methane extraction, she has testified before Congress advocating increased drilling across the west. According to published reports, Watson has also lobbied Montana Gov. Judy Martz against establishing strict standards for waste water generated by coalbed methane production.

In one of her first actions in office, Watson signed off on an internal rule change reversing a Clinton administration’s decision to kill Glamis Corp.’s proposed gold mine on a Native American sacred site in California. Watson once worked for the law firm Crowell & Moring, whose clients include Glamis.

Director, Bureau of Land Management

Then: Clarke is yet another western land manager with close ties to Republican lawmakers. For three years before being tapped to run the BLM, Clarke served as director of Utah’s Department of Natural Resources, where she quickly became a favorite of the state’s mining and drilling industry. Clarke was appointed to that office by Gov. Mike Leavitt, in whose office she had served as an aide. Clarke had also served for six years on the staff of Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah).

Now: When she was named to head the BLM, Clarke promised to recuse herself from “any official matters [that] involve BLM and the state of Utah.” But, according to the Interior Department’s own Office of the Inspector General, Clarke may have violated this promise by weighing in on a controversial proposal in which the BLM undervalued 135,000 acres of public land it was trying to swap with the state of Utah by $116 million. Critics contend that the swap — promoted by both Leavitt and Hansen — was designed to benefit business interests.

In a speech to the Society for Range Management in February 2003, Clarke mused, “Some of you may remember fondly the days when BLM was called the, or referred to, as the Bureau of Livestock and Mining, and based on what’s happened in the last decade, some people thinks it’s much closer to the Bureau of Landscapes and Monuments. But I’m here today to tell you we’re still interested in multiple use and my motivation for coming to this Agency was to secure that mission.”

Director of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, Department of the Interior

Then: As an attorney with Brownstein, Hyatt, and Farber, Bernhardt lobbied Congress and federal administrative agencies on behalf of Delta Petroleum Corp., Timet-Titanium Metals Corp., NL Industries (an international chemical company), and the Shaw Group (a maker of piping for oil companies and power plants). Bernhardt also worked for 6 years on the staff of Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo), serving as point person for a federal water rights settlement with Colorado’s Ute Indian tribe. Critics of the settlement claim that its true purpose was not to appease native groups, but to benefit developers.

Now: Bernhardt has been one of the administration’s point people in the push to promote oil drilling from the Arctic to Wyoming; in 2001, he helped prepare congressional testimony on Arctic drilling for Interior Secretary Gale Norton that dismissed warnings from the government’s own scientists. The Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that runs the wildlife refuge, had reported that drilling could have a negative impact on the region’s caribou herds. According to published reports, Bernhardt rewrote the FWS findings, and Norton, in answering questions before a Senate panel, misrepresented the research, relying instead on information from a report funded by BP Exploration.

Assistant Administrator, Air and Radiation, Environmental Protection Agency

Then: From 1993 until his appointment to the EPA, Holmstead worked at the Washington law firm Latham & Watkins, representing the American Farm Bureau Federation in a case against the EPA, as well as Montrose Chemical and the Alliance for Constructive Air Policy. According to his official White House bio, Holmstead’s work at the law firm “included a number of environmental issues–including many arising under the Clean Air Act.”

From 1989 to 1993, he served as associate counsel to the first President Bush, advising him on environmental policy. Holmstead also served as an adjunct scholar for Citizens for the Environment, a libertarian group founded and funded by oil giants Charles and David Koch.

Now: Holmstead is overseeing the administration’s overhaul of Clean Air Act rules, which will allow many industrial plants to expand without installing better pollution controls. When EPA scientists came up with data indicating that the administration’s “Clear Skies” proposal would increase pollution, he reportedly replied, “How can we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?”

Acting Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency

Then: Before joining the EPA, Horinko was president of the environmental consulting firm Clay Associates, where she represented industry clients regulated by the EPA.

Now: Prior to taking over as acting administrator, Horinko was Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. In that capacity, she oversaw the Superfund program, which shrunk dramatically under her leadership. This year, the administration has added only 10 new sites to the list of Superfund cleanup projects, delaying work on 10 others. In explaining the decision, Horinko noted that the agency had to consider economic development benefits, as well as health risks.

Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, Department of the Interior

Then: As a lawyer, lobbyist, and property-rights activist in Colorado, Raley represented irrigators, water districts, and property-rights groups. In January 2000, Raley testified before the House on behalf of the National Water Resources Association in support of legislation that would weaken the Endangered Species Act. Raley was also a member of the Board of Litigation at Mountain States Legal Foundation, a law firm that has been described as the “litigating arm of the Wise Use movement,” and the Defenders of Property Rights Attorney Network, a Washington-based legal foundation dedicated to defending private property interests against government regulation.

Now: Raley has overseen a major shift in water policy, away from environmental protection and toward property owners’ rights. In 2002, he allotted water from Oregon’s Klamath River to irrigators rather than to endangered fish, leading to a massive salmon die-off.

Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget, Department of the Interior

Then: In 1979, Scarlett began working for the libertarian Reason Foundation, becoming its president and CEO in 2001. The Reason Foundation is funded by industry groups such as the American Forest and Paper Association, the American Petroleum Institute, American Plastics Council, Chevron Corporation, Dow Chemical, etc. The author of “A Consumer’s Guide to Environmental Myths and Realities,” Scarlett cites the following as common myths about the environment: Disposables Are Bad; We Are Running Out of Resources; Americans Are Especially Wasteful; etc. Scarlett was a board member of The Thoreau Institute which “seeks ways to protect the environment without regulation, bureaucracy, or central control.”

In a 1997 editorial in Reason Magazine, Scarlett wrote, “Environmentalism is a coherent ideology that rivals Marxism in its challenge to the classic liberal view of government as protector of individual rights.”

Now: Scarlett has increasingly become the public face of the department, particularly on Capitol Hill. She’s behind the proposed privitazation of National Park Service jobs, which environmentalists oppose, and has led the administration’s opposition to making the Gaviota Coast of California into a National Seashore. Scarlett’s explanation: she feels the Vandenberg Air Force Base officials and local agricultural interests will do a fine job of caring for the land on their own.

Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources

Then: As a member of the law firm Holland and Hart, Sansonetti lobbied on behalf of corporate mining interests, including Arch Coal and Peabody Coal. Since 1998, he has been a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative libertarian property rights group, which has opposed federal regulations under many environmental laws.

Now: Sansonetti is behind the Department of Justice’s decisions to settle a string of lawsuits, giving up the government’s legal right to protect millions of acres of wetlands and wilderness. Of Gale Norton, Sansonetti has said, “She understands the system. She is very good on national park issues and on Endangered Species Act law. There won’t be any biologists or botanists…to come in and pull the wool over her eyes.”

Solicitor General, Department of the Interior

Then: Before joining the Bush administration, Myers held a number of jobs representing companies that use the public lands overseen by the Department of the Interior. He headed the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and, as a lawyer and lobbyist for the firm Holland & Hart, represented companies including Kennecott Energy and Peabody Coal. During his nomination process, he continued to represent banks in a lawsuit against the US Forest Service concerning ranchers’ use of public lands.

Now: Along with Sansonetti, Myers has led the administration’s established pattern of settling environmental lawsuits filed by industry — a pattern that is rapidly eroding the legal underpinnings of many environmental rules. Myers’ opposition to regulation was well-known long before he took his post as Gale Norton’s top lawyer. “The biggest disaster now facing ranchers is not nature,” Myers said in a speech before the cattlemen’s association, “but a flood of regulations designed to turn the West into little more than a theme park.”

The department’s Inspector General has launched an ethics inquiry of Myers, the third involving a top official at the department. The investigation was initiated after Friends of the Earth and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility obtained Myers’ office calendars, which showed him meeting with representatives of the cattle industry and members of his former law firm. In May, Bush nominated Myers to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy, Department of Energy

Then: For years, Smith operated an independent oil and gas company in Oklahoma, serving on the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association’s board of directors from 1981 to 1995. In 1995, he became Oklahoma’s Secretary of Energy, acting as the governor’s representative to and Vice Chair of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact

Now: Smith is an outspoken advocate of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve, which he has described as “like a desert covered in snow.” In a speech before the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, Smith said, “The biggest challenge is going to be how to best utilize taxpayer dollars to the benefit of industry.”

Among the initiatives Smith is assisting is a study to determine when it’s environmentally safe for oil companies to transport heavy equipment over arctic tundra. Part of the funding for the study will be provided by Total, Anadarko Petroleum, and ConocoPhillips.


We have about a $200,000 funding gap and less than a week to go in our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, this week so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

payment methods


We have about a $200,000 funding gap and less than a week to go in our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, this week so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

payment methods

We Recommend


Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.