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Bush Interior Department's Legacy: Down the Toilet?

With the end of the Bush Administration, the President's faithful servants are putting a smiley face on their "accomplishments." 

Before we look at the praises the Interior Department sang of itself, let's do our own quick review, starting with the out-and-out sleaze. 

There's the convinction (for lying to Congress) of Jack Abrahamoff protege Steven Griles (Deputy Secretary of the Department), and the sex, drugs, and lavish gifts from the oil industry fueling those tenacious watchdogs at Interior's Minerals Management Service.

The corruption of science by Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie McDonald, who undercut - or cut out - factual conclusions of career biologists at the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to gut protection for imperiled wildlife isn't quite tabloid sleaze like Grile's and the MMS staffer's escapades, but still deserves an honorable mention.

The substantive policy evils are too familiar and too numerous to recount, although Rep. Raul Grijalva made a good start in his recent report.  (To be fair, some of the failings Grijalva points out can't be blamed on Interior . The Forest Service - which is an agency of the Agriculture Department - did its share of damage, too.)

Despite the swath of destruction cut by the Department, the PR staff there managed to scrape together eight pages of talking points about all the good they had done.  No mention of dead wolves, dwindling sage grouse, or attacks on wilderness here.  Not surprisingly, there's a lot of talk about how successfully the Department served as the hand-maiden of Big Oil.  (DOI's unofficial slogan was "drill, baby, drill" long before that phrase became popular.)

The Washington Post recently uncovered what may be the most emblematic of the Department's Bush-era accomplisments, one the agency mysteriously failed to trumpet in its recent report.  Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne apparently spent $236,000 in taxpayer's money to renovate his bathroom at the Department, complete with new shower and monogrammed towels.  (What is it with powerful Idaho men and bathrooms?)  That price-tag is more than the median price of a home in Boise, where Secretary Kempthorne once inhabited the governor's mansion. 

Perhaps we should be gateful there will be at least one place the Secretary will pass on in better shape than he found it.  Too bad it's not someplace outside.

Incoming Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has a heck of a mess to clean up.  I've seen him in action in Colorado; he will be an solid leader of the Department.  He's even-handed, cares about wildlife and wide open spaces, and will support a balanced energy policy.  His legacy at Interior will be much, much more than interior decorating.  I, for one, look forward to celebrating it.

About the Earthjustice Blog

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