Partnership for the West, which grew out of a late-September summit in Denver attended by several elected officials, a number of corporate representatives, and members of many long-standing anti-environmental organizations including the American Land Rights Association, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, and the Mountain States Legal Foundation (from which Gale Norton hails), was formally unveiled on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., in late October.
The organization's credo, as spelled out on its web site, is "Restoring a Common Sense Balance to Economic Growth and Conservation in the West": "If you want a clean environment and a healthy, growing economy, and you believe there is no reason why America can't have both, you belong in the Partnership for the West."
The group's plan sounds nice, until you see who's behind it. Claiming to be a grassroots lobbying group, PFTW actually represents a kinder, gentler and more politically savvy brand of anti-environmentalism. And as such, we can look forward to PTFW and its corporate backers to be pushing for a "balance" that may weight short-term bank accounts more heavily than long-term environmental impacts.
The new organization wants to provide "a counterbalance to what it views as a disproportionate influence of environmental groups like the Sierra Club," by lobbying in Congress and "pushing an agenda of increased access to public lands for recreation and oil and gas development," writes Donna Kemp Spangler of the Utah-based Deseret Morning News.
PFTW may be new, but the organization's key players -- Executive Director Jim Sims, Director of Public Policy Holly Propst, Associate Director Paul Poister, and Director of Operations Pam Ortiz -- are veterans of the environmental wars, and they are tied to a number of pro-corporate front groups. PFTW officers run the show at Policy Communications -- a well-established and well-connected public relations firm with offices in Golden, Co. and Washington, D.C., where Jim Sims is President, Holly Propst is Senior Vice President, Paul Poister is a Vice President and Pam Ortiz is Director of Operations.
Policy Communications proudly claims that its "principals have more than five decades of combined experience in legislative/regulatory policy development, building and managing broad-based coalitions and in conducting aggressive lobbying and public relations campaigns."
Jim Sims is the engine driving a number of these ventures. In addition to heading up PFTW, he was the former Director of Communications for President George W. Bush's National Energy Policy Task Force -- also known as Cheney's secret panel -- and helped craft the administration's energy policy. He also serves as Executive Director of the Western Business Roundtable (WBR), an organization that describes itself as "a non-profit business trade association comprised of CEOs and senior executives of organizations doing business in the Western United States." Joining Sims at the WBR are, of course, his three trusted sidekicks -- Propst, who serves as Director of Public Policy, Poister, the Associate Director, and Ortiz, the Director of Operations -- plus the Air Quality Control Manager, Ruth McCormick.
Sims also sits on the Board of Directors for the Center For The New American Century, a non-profit think tank based in Denver, chaired by Colorado Governor Bill Owens, which focuses on four issues: internet taxation (opposes), endangered species reform (supports corporate-government partnerships), civil service reform (opposes "antiquated civil service system"), and civil justice/tort reform (opposes "lawsuit abuse").
Sims' cohorts aren't chopped liver. According to Policy Communications' Web site, Senior Vice-President Holly Propst "has spent the last 19 years doing public policy development on energy, environmental and natural resource issues within the U.S. Congress, state legislatures and in corporate environments." Propst has extensive experience working as a senior staff member in the U.S. House of Representatives and prior to her current position, she was the Manager of Public Policy for Xcel Energy.
Vice President Paul Poister has had 15 years experience in public affairs and corporate communications and worked with American Medical Response (AMR), in Aurora, Colorado and he also "spent more than 10 years in Washington, D.C., working on Capitol Hill and later for Kasten and Company, a government relations consulting firm."
Pam Ortiz, the Director of Operations, "has more than a decade of experience in the energy industry and came to our company from Xcel Energy, where she worked in the government affairs department."
"Generally speaking," Scott Silver, the Executive Director of the environmental organization Wild Wilderness told me in an email exchange, "these people are paid lobbyists and public relations consultants serving the needs of every imaginable sort of polluter, developer, resource extractor or despoiler of the environment. They are not environmentalists by any stretch of the imagination and they have no environmental experience except as active facilitators of environmental destruction employing their skills in the fields of litigation, prestidigitation and conjuring."
Policy Communication's client list reads like a who's who of the extraction industry, including such exemplary corporate citizens as Tom Brown, Inc., Bill Barrett Corp., Western Gas Resources, Forest Oil, Prima Energy, EnCana, Xcel Energy, Inc., Pfizer, Inc., The Dow Chemical Company, Unocal, Danaher Corporation, Calpine Corporation, ESI Energy, Inc., Constellation Energy, Inc., Oxbow Power Company, Magma Power Company, and Premark International, Inc.
"Several of their so called 'clients' are actually themselves working under various aliases," writes Silver, "For example, the Western Business Roundtable is the same four people who are now also calling themselves 'Partnership for the West,' while also operating as 'Policy Communications.' Their clients are most frequently massive power companies which in addition to providing energy are major polluters of the environment and despoilers of nature," Silver pointed out.
"Policy Communications recently handled the American Recreation Coalition's 'Take Pride in America' (TPIA) PR campaign," Silver pointed out. "This was a classic example of a 'privatization through volunteerism' campaign being pushed hard by Interior Secretary Gale Norton and by President Bush himself." A loose affiliation of groups representing predominantly the interests of motorized recreation, the purpose of 'Take Pride in America,'" according to Silver, is to replace paid employees with 'volunteers' who will be permitted to construct projects on public lands that serve their own purposes. It represents a win-win-win situation for the administration: Federal employees are eliminated; control of public lands is shifted to special interests; and third, by inflicting a plague of motorized recreationists upon the landscape whose impacts will ensure that wild-lands which someday may be protected as Wilderness will be so heavily impacted that protection will not be provided and these wild-lands will become another source of revenue for logging, mining, grazing and energy extraction."
The firm's clients also include AFL-CIO Union Label & Services Trades Department and the United States Olympic Committee.
Although there are no membership dues, "financial or in-kind contributions are encouraged." Current members include more than 100 companies, associations, coalitions and individuals "who collectively employ or represent hundreds of thousands of people across America in the following sectors: farm/ranching, coal, timber/wood products, small businesses, utilities, hard rock mining, oil & gas, construction, manufacturing, property rights advocates, education proponents, recreational access advocates, county government advocates, local, state and federal elected officials, grassroots advocates and others." PFTW hopes to attract 100,000 members and raise $5 million for lobbying Congress.
The organization's four guiding principles are:
1. "Public lands in the West belong to all Americans. We believe these lands should be accessible for sustainable uses and environmentally sound development for the benefit of all Americans.
2. "The West needs and deserves good-paying jobs created by sustainable and environmentally sound development. We support public policies that encourage job-creating development, opportunity and prosperity for all.
3. "Consumers in the West and throughout America deserve access to affordable and reliable supplies of the goods, materials and services that help sustain our quality of life. We support environmentally sound development of the West's abundant natural resources in order to sustain and improve America's quality of life.
4. "We agree to work with citizens across the West in a partnership to support public policies that boost economic growth, create jobs and encourage environmentally sound development in the West."
In September, in an article with the rather optimistic headline, "Partnership for the West Builds Grassroots Army," Jim Sims told James M. Taylor, the managing editor of the Heartland Institute's Environment & Climate News: "While they are small in number, these [radical environmentalist] fringe groups are well-funded, operate in sophisticated networks, and are solely dedicated to producing conflict and delay. As Western news media investigations have uncovered, many receive the bulk of their funding from outside the West."
And, in a recent commentary in the Denver Post, Sims, wearing his Western Business Roundtable executive director hat, argued that "environmental extremists" are dead set against "common-sense... effort[s] at better government." The result is that "the radical enviro crowd" prefers to "gum up the works as much as possible."
Will Partnership for the West outlast similar corporate-sponsored organizations such as People for the USA, which went belly-up in 2000 despite its claims of having 30,000 members nationwide, including a bevy of state and national elected officials? Or will it be another in a long line of industry-funded groups with little grass-roots support and a limited shelf life? In these rough economic times, PFTW is advocating what it views as "common-sense" solutions to environmental problems: eliminating outdated and cumbersome restrictions to enhance domestic energy development and reduce our reliance on foreign sources, increasing access to federal lands in the Rockies for oil and natural gas producers, and developing creative public-private partnerships.
These initiatives, PFTW leaders maintain, will result in more jobs and lower consumer prices. This multi-tiered message, which comes directly from the decades old playbooks of right-wing free-market foundations like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, is being re-packaged by the well-connected professional spinmeisters at Policy Communications. It could prove to be a winning formula for the twenty-first century anti-environmentalist movement.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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