From The New York Times:
October 30, 2005
Richard Pombo has had a hard time keeping himself out of the news lately. In late September, a watchdog group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named Mr. Pombo, a seven-term House member from California, one of the 13 most corrupt politicians in Congress.
Three weeks later the Center for Public Integrity accused him of taking junkets paid for by the International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources - the kind of organization, heavy with corporate donors, in which the word "conservation" is a wink to the wise. And last week the League of Conservation Voters accused him of selling out to a long list of corporate interests.
But what has really put Mr. Pombo on everyone's radar is the steady stream of environmentally destructive legislation flowing from the House Resources Committee, which he runs. The legislation would undermine environmental safeguards and raise broad new threats to endangered species and public lands.
Mr. Pombo, of course, makes no apologies. First elected in 1992 - he was a first-term city councilman in Tracy, Calif., at the time - he is philosophically an outspoken product of the extreme property rights movement. He once liked to claim, falsely as it turned out, that his rights had been trampled by environmentalists and by the provisions of the Endangered Species Act.
He came to Congress as a result of redistricting. With luck he will leave the same way. The 11th District, once largely agricultural, has been overwhelmed by development; and while the East Bay and Central Valley are still nominally Republican, it is far from certain that they will continue to support a man of Mr. Pombo's radical turn of mind.
In 2003, thanks to the support of the hard-nosed Republican leader Tom DeLay, he became, at age 42, the Resources Committee chairman and thus the bottleneck through which most legislation involving energy and the environment must pass. Mr. Pombo has more than lived up to Mr. DeLay's expectations, pure in ideology, tough in legislative combat.
In September, he engineered floor approval of a bill that would completely undermine the Endangered Species Act, which is something he has wanted to do since arriving in Washington. And last week, in a tour de force, he engineered committee approval of a budget bill that is ostensibly meant to raise federal revenues but in fact represents a major assault on the public lands.
In its original form Mr. Pombo's bill called for the sale of 15 national parks. He withdrew that idea - a stunt, he says - as well as the notion of selling mineral rights within the parks. He now proposes allowing mining companies to buy lands on which they have staked claims. This practice, known as "patenting," was banned in 1995, and under present rules companies can only lease federal land.
Mr. Pombo says his proposal will help the federal budget because companies will have to pay $1,000 an acre to buy the land. But the provision is so vaguely drawn - companies, for instance, will not have to show that the land contains valuable minerals - that it could potentially expose hundreds of millions of acres, including the national forests, to development. This has nothing to do with mining, and everything to do with stealing land that is owned by the American public.
Mr. Pombo's bill would also authorize drilling in coastal areas that have been off limits for decades and sell leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But asking the oil companies themselves for money is, of course, unthinkable - Mr. Pombo would freeze the fees these companies pay to operate on public land, even as they report huge profits.
This is, in short, a sleazy piece of work, written by a man who appears to be able to conceive of property rights as something that only a private individual or a corporation can have; a man who betrays no awareness that the American public has a shared right in the refuge and the national parks and the millions of acres he wants to sell to developers.
Mr. Pombo's only idea, and it is a terrible one, is to treat this nation the way he treats his Congressional district, as if it were ripe for exploitation.