Clinton-Gore roadless plan developed illegally

Published May 1, 2000

From early 1999, right through the President’s State of the Union Address this year, the Clinton-Gore White House and the U.S. Forest Service worked illegally and in secret with environmental groups that urged and aided the administration to adopt their roadless policy–a scheme to prevent road building–which, by last count, has grown to include over 60 million acres.

The groups, principally the Heritage Forests Campaign (HFC), were financed by tax-free grants from the Pew Foundation and laundered through the National Audubon Society, according to Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R- Idaho), speaking in a March 14 hearing before her Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health.

“Based on a preliminary analysis of thousands of document obtained from the administration and the agency by this committee,” Chenoweth-Hage added, “we have learned that a handful of ‘environmentalists’ in the Heritage Forests Campaign have had unprecedented influence with the administration on this issue.”

Documents obtained by Environment & Climate News from senior congressional staffers seem to clearly indicate that a select few in the “environmental” community provided virtually all the input and assistance for developing the Clinton-Gore roadless policy. Among the key players have been Ken Rait of HFC; Mike Francis, Bill Meadows, and Charles Wilson of The Wilderness Society; Niel Lawrence of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Marty Hayden of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund; Dan Beard of the National Audubon Society; and Carl Pope of the Sierra Club.

It became apparent during the subcommittee’s investigation that Rait and the others developed the original concept for the roadless plan and drafted policy and legal memoranda, conducted surveys, and even worked on language for President Clinton’s speeches. The activists worked closely with top Clinton-Gore officials, among them White House chief of staff John Podesta, George Frampton and Dinah Bear in the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Jim Lyons and Anne Kennedy in the Department of Agriculture, and the Forest Service’s Chris Wood and Chief Mike Dombeck.

As activists and Clinton-Gore administration officials together hammered out the Roadless Initiative, Dombeck wrote memos that indicate he realized the activities in which they were engaged were illegal.

Chenoweth-Hage and other witnesses at the subcommittee hearing assert the roadless plan’s behind-closed-doors birth violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Both were designed to prevent non-governmental, special-interest groups from having undue or one-sided influence in policy and rule making. Under both FACA and APA, the roadless plan’s development was required to have taken place in public meetings.

The Clinton-Gore White House is no stranger to FACA violations. First Lady Hillary Clinton and a team of advisors held secret health care task force meetings in the early 1990s; in December 1997, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth concluded litigation filed by the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons by finding Mrs. Clinton, the U.S. Justice Department, and the White House guilty of lying under oath and obstructing justice.

Who’s setting policy?

Although President Clinton claims to be the “driving force” behind prohibiting road construction on public lands, internal memos tell another story.

In a note dated October 12, 1999, Judy Jablow tells fellow White House staffer Janelle Erickson, “This is what the Forest Service gave me to say: The president is directing the Forest Service to develop a proposal to protect roadless areas on national forests.” In other words, the Forest Service is telling the President what to say in directing it to develop a proposal whose development had been underway for more than half a year. [See accompanying article, “The making of a Roadless Initiative.”]

Four months earlier, an e-mail from Deputy Chief Jim Furnish to Dombeck’s top assistant, Chris Wood, made it clear that their intention was to move as rapidly as possible to block road building, without regard for overall forest policy. In it Furnish said, “If we wait until the planning rules are in place and plan revisions occur, it will be too late and the quality of the product will be quite varied. If we’re going to look at roadless separate and apart from the roads policy issue, then we should put together a team and address it head on, not indirectly through forest planning. That’s my advice!”