Washington, DC — The Interior Inspector General has found serious problems
with a grazing agreement executed under the auspices of former Interior Solicitor
William Myers, who was re-nominated this week by President Bush to serve on the
9th Circuit Court of Appeal, according to a letter released today by Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Myers was one of a dozen Bush court nominations
blocked in the last session of Congress.
The Interior Inspector General is set to release a report that is critical
of the agreement that the Office of the Solicitor put together while Myers headed
that office. That deal forgave a string of 16 grazing violations allegedly committed
by a politically connected Wyoming rancher. In addition, it gave the rancher
a new grazing allotment, management control (“additional flexibility”
in the words of the agreement) over certain federal lands, rights of way across
federal lands without reciprocal easements for the Bureau of Land Management,
preferential grazing fees, a Special Recreational Permit to run a “dude
ranch,” and a promise to facilitate a land exchange. In addition, the
deal accorded the rancher a unique status whereby only the Director of BLM,
not the local or state office, could cite him for future violations.
Even more strikingly, this dramatically lop-sided deal allowed the rancher
to continue pursuing a suit seeking to have BLM and several named employees
declared guilty of racketeering, under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization
Act (RICO), for trying to enforce grazing rules. Myers’ office also brushed
aside objections from both the U.S. Attorney and BLM that the deal undermined
the ability to enforce range management regulations, not just in Wyoming but
throughout the West.
“This case goes to the heart of the concerns about the fitness of William
Myers to serve on the 9th Circuit – whether he can be impartial in administering
the law as it affects the industries he used to represent,” stated PEER
Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization, along with others, has asked
the Senate Judiciary Committee to postpone Myers’ confirmation hearings
scheduled this week until the new Inspector General report, which will be published
next week, can be reviewed.
In his earlier confirmation hearing, Myers, a former lobbyist for the public
lands livestock industry, testified that he did not review the terms of the
agreement until after it was executed. PEER contends that his past denial leaves
several questions unanswered—
- Why did Myers order his subordinates to settle the Wyoming case in the
first place? Why only that case, to the exclusion of scores of other, similar
cases? Who directed Myers to give this order that the Wyoming case be settled?
- After Myers became aware of the agreement, what did he do? What steps did
he take to ensure that similar agreements could not be crafted in the future?
- Why did the deal remain in effect for nearly two years before it was voided
due to the rancher’s “failure to comply with the terms of the
agreement,” in the words of Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney?
Myers resigned as Solicitor in October of last year to return to private practice.
An earlier review by the Office of Government Ethics found that he broke no
rules in his frequent contacts with his old law firm and clients while he was
Solicitor but raised questions about his judgment in accepting certain gifts
and attending certain meetings.
“William Myers took his oath of office as Solicitor at a private affair
hosted by his law firm at a swank hotel. The next day he gave his ex-partners
a personal tour of Gale Norton’s office,” Ruch added. “Everything
about William Myers’ record, and this Wyoming case in particular, strongly
suggests that he views public service as an opportunity to advance private interests
at the expense of the national interest.”