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Selling Out to Corporations: Gale Norton and Bush’s Department of Interior

March 29th, 2010 · No Comments · Courts and the Law, Politics

The health care reform debate brought out the wild and wooly in our society. Not simply the rather profane nut cases, but the craziness that we allowed to creep into government under the cover of ideology. The truly discontented members of the middle class in our society must learn what actually happened to their country under the Bush Administration. People need to know the truth about the many ways that the Bush Administration, under the guise of greater efficiency through “privatization” actually looted the American taxpayers of billions of dollars.

Let’s just take two quick examples. Taxpayers, under the new health reform bill, will save $17 billion a year because we will now put a large number of Senior citizens directly on Medicare, cut their costs for prescription drugs and eliminate higher premiums from health insurance companies who were making huge profits on these deals, done at the time of the Bush Administration’s Prescription drug bill.

The prescription drug bill gives the drug companies about $50 billion a year in subsidies for prescription drugs to Seniors. That should be good news for Seniors, and it is to some degree. Medicare part D costs about $30 a month. For that, the Senior citizen (after a deductible of about $295,) pays 25% on drugs and government pays 75%. Up to the point that the Senior has paid in about $896 out of pocket. Then, the government stops chipping in until the Senior has spent a total of about $4,350. At that point the government pays 95% of all drug costs.

So Medicare Part D is basically a not-too-hot basic policy, but a reasonably good catastrophic policy. The problem with all of this was that in 2003 when the drug was signed, the drug companies quietly raised prices about 26% across the board between the time the bill was passed and when it went into effect. This basically reduced the benefits to Seniors and eliminated those costs to the drug companies, while they continued to earn $50 billion a year in subsidies and were excluded from any negotiations with Medicare for better prices for Seniors.

Seniors essentially got a relatively limited prescription drug insurance policy that was not particularly good on the low end but was a good catastrophic policy. So that was the way Bush and his Neocon Republican Congress handled government spending. They turned your dollars over to the “private” drug industry, saving seniors little or nothing, but enriching pharmaceutical companies even more handsomely than before.

The Obama administration also just saved about $7 billion a year by taking the administration of student loans in house. Those loans had been administered by private firms–again supposedly at a savings–because of the efficiencies of private financial institutions under the Bush Administration. Strange how the Bush private initiatives to save money actually turned out better for the profits of the private companies than the costs to taxpayers. Actually, as you will see with Gale Norton and the Interior Department, these things are about more than profits. They’re about corruption.

The Tea Party protesters who are not racists, even though many of them are, must learn that many of the things that they are protesting against, the huge federal deficits are not the results of programs by “both Democrats and Republicans.” They are, in fact, the results of Neoconservative Republican policies, particularly in the second Bush Administration. The idea of saving money by privatizing government work was a lie. It was a myth and an excuse to line the pockets of Republican contractors.

The Bush Administration, whether deliberately or not—and there is overwhelming evidence that it was deliberate—created a virtual candy store for private industry. There are numerous examples. We have already mentioned Medicare, Part D, which costs the government $50 billion a year and earned Neocon Republican Representative Billy Tauzin $2 million a year from pharmaceutical companies for about 7 straight years. Not a bad fee. All you have to do is sell out the rest of your fellow Americans.

Let’s take just one example of hundreds. Let’s take the Interior Department. In 2000, George W. Bush, the “compassionate Conservative” was elected…or appointed…use your own term of art, to the Presidency. One of the early appointments to his cabinet was Gale Norton of Colorado as Secretary of the Interior.

Norton had been the Deputy Secretary of the Interior under James Watt in the Reagan Administration. She was a protégé of his in that capacity and before, when she was an attorney for the Mountain States Legal Foundation. James Watt was a religious nut who wanted to sell off all the National Parks and eventually went to jail. Norton, a very bright and politically calculating person, began working for Watt at the Mountain States Legal Foundation after law school. She began her career as an advocate for Libertarian causes…at least Libertarian wherever they would make money for oil, mining and timber interests over the interests of the People.

The Mountain States Legal Foundation is an organization funded by Joseph Coors, at one time a supposed environmentalist, but in reality an anti-union Conservative. Coors used a beer fortune to fund an organization that would further another conservative cause, which was to allow mining, timber and oil interests to ransack the west with private enterprises. The job of the Mountain States Legal Foundation was to further “Wise Use” which is another name for unrestricted use of land for profit. And a corollary of that was to use the land and have the Mountain States Legal Foundation go to court to prevent governments of states and communities from recovering damages that resulted more often than not, from those enterprises.

Gale Norton’s entire career has been to extend property rights for corporations to allow them to pollute at will. Further, she has tried to reduce the power of the government to protect wilderness areas and to compel those companies who cause serious environmental damage to a community to pay for such damage.

During the Reagan Administration, the Interior Department leased millions of acres of land, quintupled the amount of previous administrations for oil drilling. It reduced the royalties of coal mining companies on public lands from 8% down to 5%. It sold off oil and shale land for $2.50 per acre. To give an example of what this meant, one parcel of land was sold to a friendly Republican company for $42,000 that was later re-sold only months later for $37,000,000.

After the Reagan Administration, Norton returned to the Mountain States Legal Foundation, and became Attorney General of Colorado. During the legal action against the tobacco companies by 23 other Attorneys General, Norton refused to participate because the tobacco companies were supporters of her other efforts. Only at the last minute when money was going to come to states that participated did the politically savvy Norton realize how she would be seen if she did not work for those funds for her state.

She later ran for Senator but lost in the primary. But when Bush was elected, he appointed her. One of her earliest acts was to expand the amount of area in National Parks that could be mined, cut and drilled dramatically. Far from protecting lands from exploitation, she did everything possible to encourage it, going so far as to send messages to the staffs at all Interior locations, including rangers in national parks, advising them to cooperate in every way possible with private companies mining, drilling or cutting timber in their areas. Many forestry officials resigned or took retirement during her tenure in protest and publications of protest by retired park rangers were frequent.

She brought in or acquiesced in the addition of Stephen Briles to the staff of the Interior Department. Briles was not only an executive from the industry of which he was supposed to monitor the regulations, but he was actually a lobbyist for those industries. He worked trying to eliminate royalties, gaining them access to public lands, for such groups or corporations as: The National Mining Association, Occidental Petroleum, and the American Gas Association. In conjunction with EPA, he was involved with a former lobbying client, Edison Electric Institute, which represents over 80 electric utilities (which have an interest in maintaining cheap coal use, and who fought against regulations to restore clean water after various coal or gas-related usages.) Griles was later convicted of various charges in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandals, fined and sentenced to 11 months in jail.

Gale Norton has cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. She not only was involved in the virtual giveaway of public lands or the lease of public lands for virtually no royalties, or the neglect in collecting royalties for oil and gas and timber and mining leases, but she also continues to cause these problems for American citizens to this day. She resigned from office as the Justice Department was investigating her for the same Abramoff scandals that sent Stephen Griles to jail.

Norton was a founder of a Neocon Republican organization CREA, which received funding from Jack Abramoff for a survey that was set up to use complaints about higher gasoline prices as a justification for more drilling in various areas, including national parks and in ANWAR in Alaska. There was apparently no evidence that could connect Norton directly to Abramoff’s dealings with Interior on behalf of his Native American gambling casino clients.

A further investigation of Norton involved her granting of several oil shale leases to Royal Dutch Shell which could be worth hundreds of billions of dollars—billions with a “B”—and then after resigning from Interior, becoming an in-house counsel for Shell. This is not only a direct violation of government rules, but is virtually a description of what we mean by government corruption.

So these are examples, just some of the examples of the things done by Gale Norton and her assistants, like the convicted felon, Stephen J. Griles, her deputy, to sell off national lands and give away mining rights. For example, they passed on the rights to natural resources on Native American lands and after the land was used failed to supervise the collection of royalties for them. In other words, Norton, Griles and their assorted ex-lobbyist associates in the Interior Department gave mining, oil and other natural resource to lobbyists free. We citizens collectively own all these lands. They should not be looted for the private enrichment of people like Exxon or BP or Shell, and certainly not for the enrichment of corrupt politicians like Gale Norton.

As one postscript, it should be noted that Gale Norton, as if she has not looted the government enough, is now running for Senator from Colorado. One of the biggest looters in politics is now running to what is supposed to be one of the most respected bodies in the free world. It is a sad commentary on our society. That she would get one vote is too many.

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