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Blackmail, It’s Legal

Last week the news broke that El Paso Corporation has set up the “Sagebrush Habitat Conservation Fund” in partnership with the Western Watersheds Project and the Oregon Natural Desert Association.
This partnership consists of an exchange, and at the heart of it lies the Ruby Pipeline, a new line routed from Opal in western Wyoming to Malin, Ore. The deal consists of $15 million given to Western Watersheds by El Paso Corporation, and $5 million to the Oregon group. In return, the groups will drop any appeals to the proposed pipeline, which might have delayed construction on the $3 billion project.
Western Watersheds says they will use their share to buy up federal grazing permits, purchase private property or obtain conservation easements. It would be interesting to see the agreement between El Paso and Western Watersheds, as I can’t believe El Paso just handed them the money without some sidebars to guarantee where the dollars will be spent. But, if the action gets Western Watersheds off their back, maybe they did. What would stop any other organization from jumping in and appealing the pipeline, now that they know El Paso is an easy mark? There has to be more to it than what we have read.
First off, one cannot just retire a grazing permit. It would take action by Congress to change the law governing federal grazing. In fact, just this past week a change that issue was in a budget bill, and Congressman Mike Simpson of Idaho led the defeat of the action 10-1 in committee. The environmental community is trying to get it changed, without success so far, but the BLM will already allow a file for non-use on some federal permits for a number of years for conservation purposes.
Western Watersheds is in business to shut down public lands grazing, period. It doesn’t matter if they use the sage grouse, water quality or El Paso’s dollars to get it done. I don’t think they really care about the habitat, the economics of communities or the loss of recreation.
El Paso has really stepped in some poop here. The bad public relations this has caused with ag and energy organizations will certainly do some harm. As one noted federal lands spokesman stated, “We should be lobbing grenades instead of water balloons.” Yet, we seem to just sit by and cuss what’s happened. Those who ranch or do business on federal lands feel beat up with all that’s happening.
So, now we have a new way of doing business: to get dollars for your cause, threaten to take action against a proposed development on federal lands and you’ll get bought off. I wonder how this will play out with the new wind energy development and the proposed transmission lines headed west. Everyone is talking mitigation, a word that got its start in the gas fields of western Wyoming. Is that just a nice word used by the Wyoming Game and Fish and others for blackmail, or is there a value exchanged for a value? Is it ok for the Game and Fish to do it, and not Western Watersheds, because of how they propose it? Nationally, even HSUS has learned it’s a useful tool to fund their organization.
Chicago-style politics at their best have found the West.
Dennis