El Paso Corporation Bows to Environmentalist “Protection Racket”

Wednesday, August 11, 2010
by Patrick Dorinson

Sometimes you wonder how supposedly smart people can do such dumb things. So it is with the executives at El Paso Corporation.

You see El Paso wants to build its 680-mile Ruby Pipeline to carry natural gas from Wyoming where the gas is to Oregon where it is needed.  

I’m a big fan of natural gas as it is truly the fuel that will help transition us to newer forms of energy in the coming years. The American West has it in abundance and El Paso has worked hard to get this pipeline approved by all the alphabet government agencies that need to approve the project.

So far so good.

Just as they were getting final permission to begin construction, they were approached by the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) and the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), two professional plaintiffs masquerading as responsible environmental organizations who use taxpayer money to fund their vendetta against ranching and resource development in the west.

WWP and ONDA requested a meeting to discuss the pipeline.

I don’t have any idea what was said in those meetings but the result was that El Paso agreed to set up two funds totaling $22 million to mitigate any potential environmental impacts of the pipeline. The alternative was that if El Paso refused they could expect lawsuits that would stop the pipeline dead in its tracks.

In common parlance it is called a “shakedown” but in polite circles it is known as a “protection racket”.

Kind of like James Cagney in the 1930’s movie “The Roaring Twenties” telling the saloonkeeper to get rid of the beer he was serving and buy his beer-- or else!

The company thought the money would result in projects to protect the sage grouse, pygmy rabbit and pronghorn antelope.

Too bad they didn’t do their homework.

Anyone who knows these two “environmentalists” knows that environmental mitigation is not what this is all about.

These groups and others just like them exist solely for the purpose of closing the vast public lands of the west to any and all commercial use including energy development.

But their real target is the ranchers who have used public lands for grazing for over 100 years. So I guess you will shake hands with the devil—energy companies—to get what you really want.

In fact after the agreement was signed Jon Marvel, the Godfather of this bunch of environmental racketeers said, “It’s time to end public lands grazing”.

However in his press release from WWP he said,“The creation of the Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund is an innovative collaborative effort to restore sagebrush landscapes across the American West”.  

You’d think he never heard of public lands grazing!

WWP’s and ONDA’s plan all along was to put this money to use fighting ranchers and buying up their Bureau of Land Management permits to graze on public lands. They would then hold on to them until they can get Congress to change the law so they can permanently retire them something they can’t do under current law.

El Paso with all their smart lawyers, lobbyists and PR folks got snookered pure and simple.

That is until the ranchers, courageous Nevada legislators and local governments whose economies would be devastated by this sinister plan got up on their hind legs and said not only “No” but “Hell No!”

In a recent meeting in Ely, Nevada held by Nevada State Senator Dean Rhoads El Paso was confronted about their deal and they backtracked so fast it gave one whiplash just to watch it.

They said they were friends to the ranchers and wanted to stay that way. They indicated they would ensure that none of this money would be used to run ranchers off the land where half of this country’s commercial beef comes from.

Ironically on Friday July 30th just as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave final approval to the Ruby Pipeline, an ally of WWP and ONDA, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop the project to protect an endangered fish.

Coincidence? Collusion? Coordination? Corruption?

Here is what it says on the WWP website about this little group of outlaws:

“WWP works in partnership with the Oregon Natural Desert Association in Oregon, Wild Earth Guardians in New Mexico, the Center for Biological Diversity in Arizona…”

You have to believe in the tooth fairy if you think that these efforts were not done in concert with one another. If ever there was a case for a U.S. Department of Justice RICO investigation of the whole bunch of so-called environmentalists it would be now but with Eric Holder and the radical environmentalists who populate the Obama Administration I won’t hold my breath.

Perhaps the Darrell Issa, who would be the new sheriff in town on the House Oversight Committee if the Republicans retake Congress, might be interested? How about it Congressman?

One can only hope.

So now armed with $22 million in “protection money”, WWP and ONDA can go after the ranchers while their allies sue to get their cut delaying the project indefinitely.

Any assurances that El Paso gives to the ranching community that they will not be harmed by this $22 million payoff ring hollow to many ranchers I have spoken to.

This is only the beginning as you can bet your bottom dollar that WWP and ONDA will use this agreement as leverage to demand more tribute from other energy companies trying to develop the vast resources of the American West.

I feel sorry for El Paso, I really do. They made an agreement with people who will stop at nothing to get what they want even if that means destroying an economy and a way of life that has existed for over 100 years.

And a little more digging by El Paso would have uncovered the fact that WWP was recently fined and had a grazing permit they had acquired revoked because they had lied on their original application.

The good news in all of this is that Western Watersheds Project, Oregon Natural Deserts Association and the Center for Biological Diversity have been completely exposed for the two-faced jack legged liars that they are. They are about as shy of the truth as a turtle is of feathers.

Someone should have told El Paso that when you shake hands with these folks on a deal, count your fingers afterwards to make sure they are still there.

And here’s a little cowboy advice for them. Keep a safe distance from skunks, lawyers, politicians and self-appointed saviors of the planet.