WASHINGTON, DC, February 24, 2005 (ENS): A deal forged by
the Interior Department's Office of the Solicitor to
settle alleged grazing violations of a Wyoming rancher
was improper but the chief of that office was not at
fault, according to a report by the department's Inspector
The report clears former Interior Solicitor General
William Myers - a controversial federal appellate court
nominee - of wrongdoing, but critics say it raises more
questions than it answers.
The Idaho lawyer is one of a dozen Bush administration
judicial nominees blocked by Senate Democrats. Earlier
this month the White House renominated the former mining
and cattle industry lobbyist to the 9th Circuit Court
Myers served as the Interior Department's top lawyer
from 2001 through May 2003, when he returned to the
law firm where he worked prior to his tenure at the
In a statement released Tuesday, Interior Inspector
General Earl Devaney "expressed his hope that [the
report] will dispel the criticisms directed at [Myers]."
"A fair reading of the report would suggest that
Myers was, in fact, victimized when he was given a distorted
explanation by one of his senior Associate Solicitors,"
according to the statement.
The January 2003 deal approved by Myers centers on 16
grazing violations allegedly committed by Wyoming rancher
U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials in Wyoming
issued Robbins a slew of trespass and grazing notices
violations for damage to public lands, and in the mid-1990s
the complaints prompted the office to deny the rancher
a permit renewal.
In response Robbins filed a civil complaint in federal
court in 1998, seeking $12 million in damages, for alleged
harassment and attempted blackmail by BLM employees.
The settlement, which has been terminated due to breach
by Robbins, would have forgiven the violations, limited
future penalties for similar violations and granted
Robbins other favorable terms, including a new grazing
allotment and increased control over some federal lands.
It would also have allowed Robbins to move forward
with his suit against the BLM, even though an independent
review team determined Wyoming BLM field officials had
followed the law.
The "conduct chronicled in this report cries out
for administrative action," according to Devaney,
and put "the Department at unnecessary litigation
risk, as well as in a position of potential public embarrassment."
But the report fails to fully explain how the settlement
The investigation by the Interior Department's Inspector
General ultimately "could not determine what motivated
senior BLM officials to propose and advance the idea
of a settlement between Robbins and BLM," Devaney
There are many accounts that indicate BLM chief Kathleen
Clarke recommended pursuing a deal with Robbins, "although
she, alone, does not recall doing so," Devaney
wrote in a memo accompanying the report.
Clarke removed herself from the process, according
to the report, and instructed BLM Deputy Director Frances
Cherry to pursue the deal.
Devaney says Cherry "appears to have conducted
himself without concern for the implications a settlement
agreement would have on the BLM rangeland program and
without regard for the objections raised by his career
The report, dated October 13, 2004 but made public
this week, also blames attorneys with the Office of
the Solicitor - in particular Associate Solicitor Bob
There is ample evidence to "sustain the contention
that Mr. Comer failed to act impartially and gave preferential
treatment to Mr. Robbins in negotiating and crafting
the settlement agreement," Devaney wrote.
Despite Devaney's public plea that critics of Myers
put this issue to rest, the report has failed to satisfy
some concerned with the conduct of the former Interior
Attorney Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility, which represents natural
resources employees with all levels of government, says
the report targets "obscure middle managers while
shielding higher-ups who gave the order."
Ruch notes that in testimony before the Senate Judiciary
Committee last year, Myers said he told "a subordinate
attorney that he had authority to settle the case"
but did not review the agreement before it was signed.
Myers also testified "after the settlement was
signed, press reports came out with statements that
it was perhaps illegal ... I asked for a copy of the
But after an internal review determined there were
problems with the agreement, Ruch said, Myers did not
move to revoke the agreement or reprimand his subordinate
- and the report fails to explain his decisions.
"The best that can be said about William Myers'
role in this matter is that he was inattentive and indifferent,"
added Ruch. "Given Myers' role as a former lobbyist
for the public lands livestock industry, he had a duty
to make sure this deal passed the smell test - a duty
that he admittedly shirked."
More than 180 conservation groups, Native American
tribes, and other public interest organizations actively
oppose Myers nomination to the 9th Circuit Court of
Myers' environmental record is considered central to
the debate over his qualifications and independence
because of the key role the 9th Circuit Court plays
in environmental issues.
The court hears cases from nine Western states - where
environmental law concerning more than 485 million acres
of public lands is decided.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to reconsider
Myers' nomination to the court next month.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005. All