Interior Secretary, Congressional VIPs Attend Junket at Lavish Resort -- Who's Paying?
Interior Secretary, Congressional VIPs Attend Junket at Lavish Resort -- Who's Paying?
Interior Secretary Gale Norton and other officials in the Bush administration, along with numerous members of Congress, plan to participate in a conference this week at one of the most exclusive luxury resorts in the country. The purpose: speak to and meet with leaders of the very extractive industries that already have all but unfettered access to our public lands.
The full extent of industry access and control was documented for the first time last year, after the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed 125 million Interior Department land use records and found that over the past 22 years, the federal government has offered or leased 229 million acres for oil and gas drilling an area greater than the combined size of Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Over the same period of time, dependence on foreign energy sources increased. We also found that for as little as $0.84 an acre, more than 28,000 companies and individuals have gained control of precious metals and minerals on 5.6 million acres of America's property across 12 continental western states. Foreign-owned companies control 20 percent of those holdings.
The executives who run many of these companies, and the lobbyists who work so hard to sustain their access to Americans' publicly owned land, will gather at a plush resort that claims to be "Known throughout the world as the 'Jewel of the Desert'..."
"...the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa provides a restful oasis of 39 acres covered with lush gardens, glistening swimming pools, and Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced architecture. Set in the heart of Phoenix, the Arizona Biltmore has been a favorite of celebrities and U.S. presidents throughout its colorful history."
"...at one of the most exclusive luxury resorts in the country... a restful oasis of 39 acres covered with lush gardens, glistening swimming pools..."
The very prosperous few who can afford to stay at the Arizona Biltmore, where room prices range from $425 to $1850 per night, will have a dazzling array of luxury perks available to them. A variety of 'Spa Journey Body Scrubs' to 'wash away old, tired cells' are available, ranging from the 'Aromatic Salt Glow' to the 'German Chamomile Body Polish' (both $85/25min or $130/50min). Mining lobbyists and oil executives who may want to 'remove toxins' from themselves never mind from the environment can do so through 50 minutes of massage therapy, with a selection of no fewer than 14 options, spanning...
...the "Dream Catcher" ("This ancient healing blends the senses of touch and smell, starting with a therapeutic footbath. The ritual continues with aromatherapy, warm moist towels and heating packs to ease discomfort from stress and release muscle tension...");
"[The four-hands massage] utilizes two therapists simultaneously performing a choreographed massage. The rhythm of four hands brings a state of deep relaxation, allowing the mind to float away."
...the "Sonoron Stone" ("Warm basalt river stones collected from our Sonoran Desert, carefully placed on the body bring tremendous tranquility...");
...or what is "quite possibly the ultimate spa experience," the "Four Hands Massage":
"... this treatment utilizes two therapists simultaneously performing a choreographed massage. The rhythm of four hands brings a state of deep relaxation, allowing the mind to float away. "
The Four Hands Massage is priced at $260/50min the typical price the mining industry pays the federal government for control of about 40 acres of public land. (See EWG's summary of mining fees at http://www.ewg.org/mining/report/index.php?stab=US&chapter=90.)
And Now, A Word On The Sponsors
This pricey junket to the 'Jewel of the Desert' is cosponsored by the Western Business Roundtable (WBR), a trade association made up largely of extractive industries, and by BIPAC, a political action committee whose slogan is "Electing Business to Congress." Members of both groups have enormous business interests before the Interior Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, Congress and state governments.
"This pricey junket is cosponsored by the Western Business Roundtable (WBR) and BIPAC, a political action committee whose slogan is 'Electing Business to Congress.'"
Indeed, since many of these companies owe their very existence to their access to and control of resources under land owned by the American people, the conference at the Arizona Biltmore offers the potential of highly cost-effective influence peddling and extensive conflicts of interest for government officials in attendance. And those government officials come from many of the agencies, legislative bodies and governors' offices whose decisions can mean millions of dollars for the interests sponsoring this event. For a full list of attending officials, see http://www.westernroundtable.com/2005_summit/info_general.htm.
Referring to the conference, the WBR website exclaims: "Don't miss the Phoenix summit meeting with some of the nation's most powerful policymakers. You won't want to miss this one!"
Mining. There's gold literally to be had at the Arizona Biltmore this week.
The WBR's members include three of the top ten holders of mining claims on federal land, based on EWG's analysis of federal records: the Denver-based Newmont Mining Corp. (347,458 acres), Vancouver-based Placer Dome (268,758 acres), and Toronto-based Kinross (98,853 acres). Placer Dome is sponsoring Norton's keynote speech at the Thursday evening dinner.
"...many of these companies owe their very existence to their access to and control of resources under land owned by the American people..."
These companies purchased these claims from U.S. taxpayers for as little as $0.84 an acre, pay no royalties on the precious metals they extract, and receive a tax break on up to 22 percent of the income that they make off the precious metals mined on federal public land. They also benefit from a system that has consistently required mining companies to pay less than their fair share in bonds to cover the cost of cleanup, often leaving taxpayers holding the bag for tens of millions of dollars.
Newmont (#1) and Placer Dome (#2) are the top two claimholders on federal land. See http://www.ewg.org/mining/report/index.php?stab=US&chapter=1.
In order to start mining a claim on land managed by the Interior Department, these companies would have to receive approval from Interior Department officials. (See EWG's summary of mining "plans" at http://www.ewg.org/mining/howto.php.)
For mines on Forest Service land, companies would generally need approval from Forest Service officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In addition to Norton, USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, Mark Rey, will be attending.
"The WBR's members include Newmont Mining Corp. (347,458 acres), Placer Dome (268,758 acres), and Kinross (98,853 acres)"
The Kinross mining company has applied to "patent" 175 acres of mining claims in Washington State. If the Interior Department approves the patent, Kinross, a Canadian firm, would be able to buy the land outright from U.S. taxpayers at a price set under the antiquated mining law of 1872: $5.00 per acre. (See http://www.ewg.org/mining/patents/pendingpatents.php.)
Another claimholder who is a member of WBR is South Africa-based AngloGold that also has an office near Denver (43,448 acres).
Apart from their extensive business dealings with the Interior Department or USDA's Forest Service on a day to day basis, these companies have an interest in preventing reform of America's scandalously outdated mining law.
According to recent press accounts, an internal memo showed that Newmont had failed to follow U.S. environmental standards in Peru, Uzbekistan and Indonesia despite a company pledge to uphold the standards. According to the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory database for 2002, the most recent year for which data are available, Newmont owned three of the top ten most polluting industrial facilities in the United States. (See http://www.enviroblog.org
"Members of the WBR who hold oil and gas leases on federal land include Questar (768,804 acres), Shell (61,582 acres), and Western Gas Resources (587,610 acres)"
Oil and Gas. And not just gold awaits conference attendees. There are gushers to be struck, too, on Americans' public lands.
Members of the WBR who hold oil and gas leases on federal land include Salt Lake City-based Questar (768,804 acres), Houston-based Shell (61,582 acres), Denver-based Western Gas Resources (587,610 acres), Denver-based Evergreen Resources (56,303 acres), Denver-based Gunnison Energy Corp. (92,924 acres), and Houston-based Marathon Oil (537,421 acres).
Questar ranks eighth among leaseholders in the most acres leased while Western Gas Resources and Marathon Oil rank 16th and 19th respectively. Please note that in addition to Western Gas Resources, there is a "Western Gas Res Inc" listed at the same address in our database, that holds 17,336 acres.
Members of BIPAC's board of directors include BIPAC's Chairman and member of the Executive Committee, J. Larry Nichols, who is also Chairman, President & CEO of Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corporation which holds 1,054,235 acres of federal oil and gas leases, the fourth-highest total acreage of any company; BIPAC's Southwest Regional Chair and member of the Executive Committee, George E. Yates, who is also Chairman and CEO of Roswell, New Mexico-based Heyco Energy Group which holds 11,172 acres (Yates is part of the Yates family which, through a number of individuals and companies, holds 3,584,742 acres, the highest total of any entity); Charles E. Dominy, Vice President, Government Affairs for the Halliburton Company which holds leases on 31,952 acres; Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America that advocates on behalf of oil and natural gas producers.
The Interior Department and the USDA's Forest Service have the discretion to lease federal land for oil and gas development and to set the terms for oil and gas development such as where and when a company can drill. These stipulations can inconvenience oil and gas development but may be critical to protecting water quality, wildlife, hunting, fishing and other recreational opportunities.
In addition to Norton, also attending the conference will be U.S. Deputy Interior Secretary Stephen Griles who worked as a lobbyist for Yates Petroleum, Devon Energy, and Western Gas Resources, each of which is associated with one of the two groups sponsoring the conference. Griles' former employer, National Environmental Strategies (NES), had Yates Petroleum as a client from 2001 to 2003. Since leaving NES in 2001 to join Interior, Griles has received $284,000 a year in severance pay from NES. According to a trade publication, Griles has announced that he is leaving Interior at the end of January.
The Associated Press recently reported that the Interior Department shelved a plan to increase the security bonds that oil and gas companies provide for cleaning up their development in case the companies cannot or do not perform the cleanup themselves. These bonds provide protections to taxpayers in case the companies go bankrupt or behave irresponsibly. BLM has known for many years that the bonds are inadequate.
"The Interior Department shelved a plan to increase the security bonds that oil and gas companies provide for cleaning up their development..."
All of these oil and gas companies have an interest in keeping the bonds low and drilling protections lax.
More information on the mining companies involved
Placer Dome, sponsor of Secretary Norton's keynote speech:
From the company's Web site: www.placerdome.com
HQ in Vancouver, Canada; US office in Denver
Interests in 17 mines in 7 countries around the world
Operate 4 mines in US (in NV & MT)
From EWG Web site: http://www.ewg.org/mining/owners/overview.php?cust_id=-580545
- RANKS 2ND IN THE U.S. OUT OF 28,405 CLAIMHOLDERS FOR ACREAGE
- Current claimed land holdings exceed total claimed acreage for over 99.5% of all other claimants.
STATES: (4) MT, NV, CA, NM
Like all U.S. claimholders, Placer Dome Inc and its subsidiaries acquired control of precious metals and minerals on U.S. public land for as little as $0.84 per acre, and maintains possession of claims with a small per-acre fee, between $0.62 and $5 each year. Placer Dome Inc pays no royalties to the federal government for metals and minerals mined from this land.
- RANKS 153rd IN THE U.S. OUT OF 63,768 for total land won
- Land gained exceeds total patented acreage for over 99.5% of all other patent winners.
STATES: (6) MT, NV, OR, UT, CO, SD
Placer Dome Inc and its subsidiaries are some of the 63,768 beneficiaries of a long-standing federal subsidy called "patenting" that allows mining interests to purchase public land for no more than $5 an acre
- RANKS 2ND IN THE U.S. OUT OF 3,323 FOR TOTAL LAND in PLANS on BLM land
- Land under plans exceeds total plan areas for: over 99.5% of all other operators (BLM-managed lands only)
MINING PLANS & NOTICES: 48
STATES: (4) MT, NV, OR, NM
See our link on global polluter Newmont at www.enviroblog.org/2004/12/global-polluter-newmont-has-locked-up.html
The link to the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory Website that shows several of Newmont's mines among the top 10 polluting industrial facilities in the U.S. is http://www.epa.gov/triexplorer/ (click on "facility" and then click "generate report")
Also see the page on our mining report all about Newmont's holdings: www.ewg.org/mining/owners/overview.php?cust_id=-576016
More information on the oil and gas companies involved
Western Gas Resources
Gunnison Energy Corp.
Heyco Energy Group
Our data on oil and gas leaseholders is current through May 15, 2004. Our data on hardrock mining is current through May 2004.