Environmental Activists Capture Washington

Environmental zealots have lost the battle at the polls-but are winning the war as governmental bureaucrats.


We are experiencing what may be a truly unique development in all of human history: the capture of the wealth-generating machine of society—what we call the economy, today—by people who want to turn it off. It's not the method that is new, for the "spoils system" has been operating since before written history began, determining who gets control of a society's wealth-generating machine. No, it's the objective that is unique.

Whether it was one stone-age family killing off another or one Pharaoh eliminating another or, today, one political party taking over the presidency after years of domination by the other—it was always a matter simply of gaining control of the wealth-generating machine of society in order to serve the new masters of power. With the rare exception of the capture of a society by religious fanatics dedicated to myth and superstition, throughout history no newly ensconced power structures have advocated the destruction, or even the slowing down, of the wealth-generating machine. No one, after all, wants to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Not until now, anyway.

Today everything is different. There are now many people who want to slow down the economy—for reasons based no less on myth and superstition than those of the religious fanatics of another time. These people have been around in great numbers since the 1960s, but only recently has the spoils system brought them to the seat of power, to Washington.

Like most zealots, they are very different from ordinary people. True believers all, they exude party line and exclude from serious attention any nonconforming person or opinion. With such people in power, Washington is a changed place. Gone is the respect between rivals, and even the idea of "the loyal opposition" has disappeared. Carter's promise of a populist, egalitarian, informal, and open government has turned into a government of intolerant zealots, almost religious in the intensity of their beliefs.

"There is a feeling that bigotry, clothed in righteousness, has taken over and is fouling the processes of government," says Llewellyn King, publisher of the Energy Daily. "It came about because President Carter has introduced into public service a new kind of individual not formerly part of the Washington scene. They are the environmentalists, the consumer-advocates and others from what is loosely called the counterculture. The strength of the new men and women who dot the Carter Administration and who came out of a gaggle of activist organizations is that they feel in possession of moral legitimacy."

That's what they are like. The rest of the story is what they want and how they might get it and, first, where they are in government.

One campaign promise Carter made good on: he "hoped to challenge" Ralph Nader, he said, "for the role of top consumer advocate in the country." And that's just what happened.

A great many subcabinet posts have been given to former public-interest lawyers, consumerists, civil rights workers, and especially environmental advocates. Though they number less than 100 in all, the jobs they hold are very powerful: 14 key White House assistants, including the president's chief speechwriter, come out of the public-interest movement.

And if you imagine that speechwriters are just some sort of glorified secretary, you have been misled. More often than not, they actually originate public policy simply by the hypnotic effect of their words upon their employer. A case in point (which also illustrates how completely susceptible is our president to shallow and half-baked utopian ideas): The intellectual leader of the no-growth advocates is Amory Lovins, who visited President Carter in October 1977. Lovins presented his utopian ideas for converting America to his "soft-energy path," which requires abandoning the large cost-effective electric power plants we have today in favor of small neighborhood-size generators. Long before the meeting, Lovins's calculations had sparked a lively debate, and much had been written on just how unrealistic they turned out to be. Lovins, for example, overstates the cost of nuclear power by a factor of two and understates the true cost of solar energy by a factor of ten; naturally, solar looks good to him! But just 20 hours after meeting with Mr. Lovins, and without the benefit of consulting with any of the many energy experts available to him, President Carter presented Lovins's energy calculations verbatim and uncritically in a speech before a conference on nuclear power.

If the anti-energy activists had captured only White House posts it would have been serious enough, but four of them are now assistant attorneys general in the Department of Justice, and others are assistant secretaries in the departments of Health, Education and Welfare; Commerce; Interior; Agriculture; and Housing and Urban Development.

Even more important, perhaps, are the Naderites who themselves control large bureaucracies and multimillion-dollar budgets in completely or partially independent agencies. Public-interest advocates, or those who share their concerns, have been appointed to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, ACTION, and the Federal Trade Commission.

And the environmentalists have had the biggest victories. Ranking jobs in the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department have gone to men and women who have sued in the courts and lobbied on the Hill for conservation, protection of wildlife, and clean air and water. All three members of the Council on Environmental Quality come from their ranks. And a half-dozen of the most active critics of the Nixon-Ford policy on the exploration of the continental shelf are now Carter bureaucrats in various agencies.

So that's where they are in government. I call these people Coercive Utopians—utopians, self-evidently; and coercive in that, instead of convincing us that their vision of tomorrow is so attractive that we ought to move their way by normal democratic means and convinced by their good example, they are doing it covertly and, therefore, coercively.


Now these Coercive Utopians are not very precise about what it is they really want. While that's quite typical of utopian movements throughout history, our present crusaders are extreme in this regard.

But what they all seem to agree upon is that they want a halving of our per capita energy consumption. Lovins-style, they also want the end of central power-generating plants (even including solar stations, if they are very large) in favor of small neighborhood power stations under local control. And, lastly, they want a shift from all fossil and nuclear fuels to solar energy.

Beyond this, their philosophy gets very murky, particularly when it comes to what form of economy their utopia will have. But it isn't capitalism or private ownership, that's for sure.

Take Nader's economic plans, for example. Most people believe that his main interest is consumer protection. Even if that was once the case, he's moved well past that modest goal. His real objective, curiously unknown to most of his supporters, is the establishment of a new form of government—a "consumer-owned economy," he calls it. That means breaking down the economic system into smaller parts responsible to local control. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Nader elaborates: "The workers should run the manufacturing and the consumers should run the retail and (or) consumer cooperatives should own the manufacturing." He includes banks as well. He has a high opinion of China. "Compared to China we can't get anything done. China eradicates VD, we can't even stop it from increasing." As for our country, people shouldn't have to work more than 20 hours per week "if distributive ownership and justice prevail."

Nader is very strong on halving our energy consumption, but even he realizes the immensity of the social upheaval that would result. So he acknowledges that we will have to be forced into it by hard times. He reports to the Village Voice that we will reduce our energy consumption by half, "but first there has to be an intermediate stage of liberalism failing, and of economic bad times without novocaine."

By stopping every energy development in sight—using delaying tactics in the courts—the Naderites will in fact be responsible themselves for producing the very energy shortage they want and need in order to put into effect their vision of the future. And who do you suppose will take over in the ensuing chaos?


Other Coercive Utopians have a simple distribute-the-wealth scheme. Consider the politicization of the anti-energy movement as expressed in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. A recent article had a theoretical physicist advocating "a new international economic order" (a Third World buzzword) to eliminate the "disparity between the rich and poor."

Even Barry Commoner, the eloquent and influential ecologist who started the phosphate-in-detergent scare (which was a fake, by the way)—consider how he has come out of his political closet. In The Poverty of Power, he attributes the energy crisis to our inefficient use of fuels, although he offers no insight about how to have a perfectly energy-efficient society and freedom at the same time. At the end of The Poverty of Power Commoner says: "Economists and other students of capitalism will recognize that the basic ideas I have discussed are among those first put forward by Karl Marx. All this suggests that it may be time to view the faults of the United States capitalist economic system from a vantage point of alternative—to debate the relative merits of capitalism and socialism."

Having thus scared the pants off us and backed us into his Marxist solution, he ignores the fact that, not only have the socialist countries done no better than we have in solving the energy-environment problem; but the Soviets, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria have all turned in a big way to nuclear power, one of Commoner's pet hatreds.

It's not the far-out political views themselves that are bothersome. It's that they are forcing us into their political corner by creating a situation of economic chaos, creating an economic time-bomb that is already ticking away—probably irreversibly.


And how are they going to get their way? By strangulation. By stopping everything we need to grow: coal and nuclear power, land use, and new industry. In the acknowledged economic chaos that must follow such a course, they hope we will all wake up to the glories of their utopia and simply climb aboard their bandwagon; we will have, they figure, no alternative. That's why I call them Coercive Utopians. The plan, their "hidden agenda," has been in operation for some time, and great harm has already been done.

At first their agenda wasn't so hidden. In 1976 they attempted to ban nuclear power at the ballot box. Promoted as initiatives for "safe" nuclear power, the proposed legislation was nevertheless voted down by two-to-one margins in seven states. So the Coercive Utopians, crushed at the polls, adopted less-visible tactics. First by delays in courts and now by delays from their new positions within government (in the name of review and evaluation), they have stopped the future lifeblood of our economy. Nothing seems different today, but when power plants, land exploitation, and new industry are stopped—stopped; not controlled wisely, but stopped cold—when those things are stopped, we don't notice it today because we don't need it today. But 5 to 15 years down the line, there is in store for us an economic cataclysm that will make the Great Depression look like a tea party.

If it seems unbelievable that all those important things are stopped already, just consider them all, starting with what Carter calls our "nuclear option."

In 1977 nuclear power-plant licensing was suspended in order to streamline the process and shorten the 12-year-long licensing period. After six months the New York Times, not exactly a pro-nuclear newspaper, editorialized: "The Carter planners have operated in such a hasty and even slapdash way that their draft legislation is itself now in need of study and thorough review." A half-year later, an analysis produced by three law professors from Columbia, Washington, and Cornell universities called Carter's new nuclear licensing plan "at best wasteful and at worst one which makes rational planning for energy needs impossible."

California is even worse off. That's where Gov. Jerry Brown tries to out-Carter Carter on energy—and Carter is the man who promised to out-Nader Nader. Back in 1975 the state legislature created the state Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission to speed approval of power-station construction throughout California. As in most states, the number of hearings and permits for all new power-plant construction had swelled to cumbersome proportions. So it was proposed that the entire procedure be done in one giant hearing before the California Energy Commission—"one-stop shopping," said its promoters in getting the enabling legislation passed. But in the many months since the commission went into operation, it has not approved a single power plant for construction, so it is now called the "one-stop stop." So much for our "nuclear option" in California.

Meanwhile, back at the federal level, the Department of Energy—incidentally, the only department in the administration that is not in the control of Carter-appointed Naderites—submitted its Nuclear Licensing Reform Bill to Congress on March 17, 1978. It still has not been acted on, and its future looks dim as antinuclear zealots both in and out of government zero in on legislation they call "unacceptable" (that's the opinion of Nader's Congress Watch) and "badly conceived, badly drafted, badly motivated and a sellout" (the opinion of the Natural Resources Defense Council).


Of course, nuclear is controversial, and California is a little crazy. But we can't look to coal to pull our energy chestnuts out of the fire, either, in spite of all the jawboning on coal done by President Carter. The administration calls it our "coal option"—and it's our last "option" after nuclear. There are only two.

Most people are astonished to learn that no new coal leasing will be permitted until at least 1981 and probably much, much later. Those who do know, and approve of that, point out that it's only new coal leases that are held up by complicated environmental policymaking. There are plenty of old leases, they say.

It's true that there are 519 existing and unworked federal coal leases in the seven western states. But an examination by Charles Margolf of W.R. Grace & Co. shows that only five percent of these can be considered mineable. Why can't the remaining 95 percent be worked? Because those 491 leases were all issued prior to 1970, which means before the passage of:

  • The National Environmental Policy Act
  • The Clean Air Act of 1970
  • The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977
  • The Clean Water Act
  • The Clean Water Act Amendments
  • The Coal Leasing Act Amendments of 1975
  • The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977
  • The Endangered Species Act
  • The Safe Water Drinking Act of 1974
  • The Historic Preservation Act
  • The Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1971
  • The Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972
  • The Mine Safety and Health Act
  • The Mine Safety and Health Act Amendments of 1977.

There are, in addition, state legislation and a host of rules and regulations of numerous agencies of the federal government such as BLM, USGS, EPA, CEQ, MESA, and the Corps of Engineers. Also, many new rules and regulations are coming; and new agencies, such as the Office of Surface Mining ("OSM"), are just getting into business.

Obviously, the laws, rules and regulations applicable to coal mining today are considerably different from those prior to 1970, when 95 percent of the existing leases were issued. So old leases are of very doubtful value, and new leases just don't exist. And the latter is one of many remarkable stories coming out of Carter's Washington these days—the story of a house divided against itself and the surrendering of federal power to "public-interest" anti-energy activists. Here's why we won't have any federal coal leasing until around 1985.


On September 27, 1977, US District Court Judge John Pratt ruled in favor of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a private environmentalist-activist lawyers group, and against the US Department of Interior (NRDC v. Hughes). As a consequence, Interior must rewrite and greatly expand its already prepared Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on coal leasing, thus freezing any new coal leases on federal lands until lengthy new EIS requirements are fulfilled.

But what is really significant about NRDC v. Hughes is that it was definitely not an adversary proceeding. It was, rather, a formalizing of plans for long-range national coal development made between individuals of identical and rather extremist philosophy, with the total exclusion of the views of industry.

For example, John Leshy is an Interior lawyer who is preparing defendant Interior's EIS as demanded by plaintiff NRDC. But he was actually employed until 1977 as the NRDC lawyer who prepared plaintiff NRDC's case against defendant Interior. Leshy is now "defending" against the very case he created. Also representing Interior in its so-called defense against NRDC's suit was Justice Department Assistant Attorney General James Moorman, who took that post after leaving his job as executive director of the Sierra Club's legal defense fund. To add to the nonadversary nature of NRDC v. Hughes, a Sierra Club attorney, Bruce Terris, took over as NRDC's attorney when Leshy left NRDC to work for defendant Interior. Thus, plaintiffs attorney Terris ended up arguing "against" defendant's attorney Moorman when just a year before both men were Sierra Club lawyers.

With such a cozy relationship, it's no wonder the following remarkable development took place: the Department of Interior actually gave up its decisionmaking powers on federal coal leasing to NRDC (remember, it's a private organization) on February 25, 1978. Since Pratt's decision effectively stopped cold all coal development in the United States, Interior appealed NRDC v. Hughes. But NRDC, fearing a reversal, was willing to compromise. Using the excuse of the sure delay that would have been caused by a lengthy appeal, Interior agreed not to appeal the case in return for NRDC agreeing to a certain limited amount of coal leasing—subject to advance approval by NRDC. With this veto over any leases proposed by Interior, NRDC, not Interior, now controls federal coal-leasing policy in the United States.

Furthermore, the agreement was reached in secret sessions between Interior and NRDC but excluding Utah Power and Light, a party to the case prior to Pratt's original ruling. In vain, Utah Power and Light petitioned the appeals court to bar Pratt from accepting the NRDC-Interior agreement, but its request was denied.


Can you imagine the reaction if this had all happened the other way around, if a president—say Nixon—had left nuclear licensing up to private out-of-court settlements reached by a hand-picked Nuclear Regulatory Commission, composed entirely of lawyers appointed from the nuclear industry, who would then "negotiate" in secret with the various electric utility company lawyers for the licensing of their own nuclear reactors? Can you imagine what the reaction of the press would be? But the press has been utterly silent on NRDC v. Hughes.

Not so silent have been a lot of people when they read my account of NRDC v. Hughes, which has appeared in various publications. Some folks wrote to their congressmen demanding clarification, and eventually Interior's solicitor, Leo Krulitz, responded to Florida's Senator R. Stone. While admitting all of the environmentalist connections, and the exclusion of Utah Power and Light, Krulitz stoutly maintained that the Interior "Department has relinquished no coal leasing rights to the Natural Resources Defense Council." But place this denial alongside the following quote from the Modification of the Order of the Court itself (US District Court, Civil Action No. 75-174, Washington, D.C.):

The Federal Defendants [Interior] are authorized to process 20 preference right lease applications. The preference right lease applications are to be those which the Federal Defendants and the Plaintiffs [NRDC] mutually concur would cause the least environmental impact of all preference right lease applications pending before the Secretary [of Interior] on the date of this agreement. If the Federal Defendants and Plaintiffs are unable to agree, the Federal Defendants shall submit a list of applications two times the number of disputed applications, but not less than 20 for final consideration.

Interior "has relinquished no coal leasing rights to the NRDC"? What the above in fact says is that no new federal coal leases can be released until NRDC and Interior "mutually concur." That means that either or both have an absolute veto, and that means NRDC can veto any new coal leases.

Krulitz, caught with his hand in the cookie jar, responded like the child in the same position who tried to defy reality by saying, "What hand? What cookie jar?" He closed his recklessly written letter to Senator Stone with the admonition that the story, as told above, "should not be read into the Congressional Record, because it is grossly inaccurate and inflammatory." It certainly is inflammatory—it ought to inflame anyone who recognizes what's going on—but it is hardly inaccurate.

So there go our only two near-term energy options, coal and nuclear. We don't notice it yet—but we will.


And the use of federal land? Here we encounter the notorious RARE II. In the name of review, the Department of Interior has withdrawn 68 million acres of federal land from development of any kind until it can be decided whether or not to give it "wilderness" status—this despite the fact that this exact review has already been going on for 16 years. RARE II stands for Roadless Area Review and Evaluation, second time around.

So Interior has denied Sierra Pacific Power Co. a right-of-way for a transmission line across northern Nevada because it would go across federal land that is "under study" for wilderness classification. The alternative route selected for Sierra Pacific by Interior adds 74 miles of wires and towers to the original plan denied by the wilderness lobby in Interior. That means an initial cost of $7.4 million for the hardware alone and more costs that go on for as long as the line is in existence-such as transmission-line losses, energy that would supply 1,600 homes each year, every year, if it weren't lost on those 74 extra miles; and another $1.5 million, each year, to cover the extra capital costs. And then there's the delay, at $673,500 per month.

To add insult to injury, the land "under study" almost certainly will never be declared a "wilderness" area, since that particular "roadless area" is crisscrossed with agricultural roads, which don't count as roads under RARE but which in many instances can be traveled at 50 miles per hour.

The Department of Energy considers 40 percent of the land locked up by RARE II to be of "major interest" for energy development. Drilling for oil and gas is now—and very suddenly—prohibited on millions of acres of, to take just one example, the Overthrust Belt, estimated to contain 4 billion barrels of oil and 14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. All that drilling is stopped until Interior decides what will and what won't be wilderness. And "deciding" can take all the time in the world.

Lumbermen are also waking up to the fact that RARE II is going to put some of them out of business. But lumber, oil and gas, and all other affected operators were simply not informed by Interior of the series of "workshops" the government held in 1977 to get "public" input about what lands should be included in RARE II. Evidently, business isn't "public."

All this could occur because the "wilderness lobby" in Washington is no longer a lobby but has moved right into the halls of power. The government's director for the RARE II inventory is Carter-appointee George Davis of the US Forest Service. Just before Davis entered the government he was executive director of the Wilderness Society. And it's expected that Davis's job in getting wilderness-extremists' views cast into the concrete of the final RARE II report will be easy, considering that responsibility for it belongs to M. Rupert Culter, now assistant secretary of Agriculture. Before Carter appointed him to that job, he was, like Davis, also a high official in the Wilderness Society.

There is but one small hint of a return to reason. There has finally been a response to the many millions of dollars spent yearly by the so-called public-interest law firms (like NRDC, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and the Center for Law and Social Policy) in their efforts to stop growth. Seven regional litigating centers, all under an umbrella organization called the National Legal Center for the Public Interest, have been created, thus breaking the Coercive Utopians' monopoly on the "public-interest" concept.

For example, one regional center, the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), is dedicated to "counterbalance those who use our judicial system to restrict economic growth" and to "defend individuals and the private sector from illegal and excessive bureaucratic regulation." And in September 1978 the MSLF challenged the right of the federal bureaucracy in using the RARE II lever to deny public use of and access to federal lands and resources, without the approval of Congress, in a lawsuit filed in a Wyoming Federal District Court.


But the anti-growth story has yet another chapter—new industry.

Consider this: John R. Quarles, Jr., was the deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Ford administration. In criticizing the Carter EPA, Quarles has written: "Recent amendments to the Clean Air Act provide that in any area where the air quality standards have not been fully attained [most cities], no new industrial plant can be built after July 1, 1979, unless the state has adopted and the Environmental Protection Agency has approved an air pollution control plan that will assure full compliance by the end of 1982."

Says Quarles: "This provision, like a loose cannon on a pitching deck, threatens a path of destruction.

"The new law allows no leeway. If the plan is not finished and approved—no matter why—the sanctions apply automatically. If a state agency lacks adequate manpower; if a governor opposes one part of the program; if EPA rejects a plan for technical or procedural defects; if anyone ties up the new plan in litigation, or if for any other reason the deadline is missed, then federal law will prohibit construction of new plans with unforgiving finality. There is no discretion not to enforce the law. And any citizen can delay the plan by filing a lawsuit."

The first big casualty of the 1977 Amendments to the Clean Air Act found EPA's Coercive Utopian Alan Merson in the act. He stopped construction of two coal-fired power plants in Colstrip, Montana. His reason? The Northern Cheyenne Indians live nearby, and an extremely suspicious EPA-computer-generated air model predicted that on some days each year EPA air standards would be violated. According to the Denver Post, Merson explained that Congress wanted to guarantee the Indians "some self-determination over their lives and give them the right to clean air. Economics in a sense becomes irrelevant."

Now Merson would probably say that EPA hasn't closed down industry at all, that there is a perfectly easy way for new industry to build new plants. It's called "offset." New plants can be built if EPA can be convinced that some existing facility, which pollutes though is in compliance with EPA standards, will reduce its pollution by an amount such that the combined pollution of the old plant and the new plant will be less than the presently legal pollution produced by the existing old plant as it is. But let's look at the so-called successes of the offset plan so far.

EPA will allow an automobile company in Pennsylvania to build a $350 million plant only if the plant doesn't go to a three-shift operation, as it wants to do, until it changes its paint formulation to reduce hydrocarbons and also until the state of Pennsylvania begins paving its roads with a new material designed to reduce hydrocarbons in the air. In this case, the trade-offs were worked out. But consider how little potential for additional offset agreements remain after the easy ones are "used up" in any given area.

Take a case in Long Beach, California, which illustrates the future off-set problem. It started with a dilemma when Alaskan crude oil could not get to the energy-hungry East and couldn't be consumed in oil-rich California. In 1974 Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio) came up with a solution: to buy 800 miles of an old pipeline that had been used to carry natural gas from Texas to California and convert it to pump oil in the opposite direction to Texas and nearby refineries. Sohio would feed the converted pipeline from a new marine terminal unloading Alaskan oil from tankers at Long Beach. The oil terminal operation would cost Sohio a half-billion dollars.

Sound simple? Not so. Sohio could go ahead only if it could create, by negotiation with other industries that were polluting at legal levels, a situation whereby building their new terminal would more than offset the pollution that it would create. Here's the deal: Sohio pays $78 million for the construction and 15-year maintenance of a new scrubber for a Southern California Edison smokestack, emissions from which are currently in full compliance with the law. Sohio pays another $5 million to 13 local drycleaners—also in compliance with California's strict air-pollution laws—to help them reduce their hydrocarbon emissions.

But even that wasn't enough. Sohio had to depend on the favorable outcome of a public referendum in Long Beach to permit the city to lease space to Sohio for its terminal. And it needed more than 700 federal, state, and local permits to go ahead. On March 13, 1979, Sohio announced it was abandoning the venture because of "project-killing delays by the government."

More important, consider that Sohio's offset deal would have just about used up any real potential for future industrial growth in that area. What could another company do? Buy up and close down every dry cleaner in Long Beach in order to obtain their existing "pollution rights"?

Offset potential is limited and will only delay the inevitable—a shutting down of all new industry across the United States.


Just as a $20 million complexity like an airliner can be taken over by a single terrorist with a Saturday Night Special, so can a small determined group of spoilers, delaying energy production across America, bring the whole country to its knees in only a few years. The anti-nuclear, anti-energy environmental issue is tailor-made for those who seek massive and rapid political change in an otherwise stable society.

Attempts to meet energy demands are discredited with scare tactics and denounced as morally unacceptable degradations of the environment. Then, when the shortages thus produced do finally occur—and massive unemployment and social disorder inevitably follow—corporations, capitalism, and representative democracy itself will be blamed by those vocal Coercive Utopians for problems that, supposedly, only Nader's "consumer owned economy" can solve.

H. Peter Metzger works in public affairs for the Public Service Company of Colorado. He has degrees in chemistry and biochemistry. This article is adapted from his article/speech presented in various forums.