Friday, August 6, 2010

President's Editorial

Environmental Groups Collect $20 Million in Hush Money

Two environmental groups recently bullied a Texas energy company into donating $20 million to their cause to “save” desert sagebrush habitat by agreeing not to pursue legal action against a proposed natural gas pipeline. The pipeline is planned to cross southwest Wyoming, northern Nevada and southern Oregon.

The agreement was praised by some as a breakthrough in environmental protection. We call it extortion. Our biggest fear is the money will be used to put ranch families out of business and cripple rural communities throughout the West.

In our view the El Paso Corporation, based in Houston, Texas, didn’t have a clue who they were dealing with when they agreed to set up a $20 million conservation fund to be spent by the Oregon Natural Desert Association and the Western Watersheds Project (WWP). The WWP, headed by Jon Marvel of Hailey, with their oft-stated goal of ending public lands grazing, is required in the 10-year agreement to spend the money in counties and adjacent counties wherein the pipeline will run for the first five years. After that they can spend the money wherever they want.

However ham-fisted the agreement may seem, for the El Paso Corporation it’s a business decision. Caring more about being tied up in court than the ranch families who earn a living in the region, or the rural communities they support, El Paso’s suits are betting it will cost less to hand over the cash now than to be tied up in a lengthy court battle. What they didn’t foresee is other environmental groups jumping into the fray.

Shortly after the agreement was announced, the enlightened Center for Biological Diversity, another Oregon green group, smelled the gravy and petitioned federal regulators to withdraw permits for the Ruby Natural Gas Pipeline. They claim the project could harm two species of suckers, the Colorado pikeminnow and Lahontan cutthroat trout.

At this point it looks like El Paso will have to pony up another $20 million or so for fish protection if they want to stay out of court. Who’s next is anybody’s guess. If the folks down in Houston aren’t yet wondering what got them into this dim-witted predicament, it’s probably time to start asking some questions in the board room.

Negotiating with environmental groups is rarely, in fact almost never, a good idea. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Almost across the board they lack integrity. They don’t live up to the agreements they make, yet they expect everyone else to. Marvel is a prime example of this with his recent grazing lease fiasco in Custer County and countless other incidents.

El Paso Corp. and its investors are learning this the hard way but they should have known better than to negotiate with entities that bring nothing to the table except the threat of a lawsuit.

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