James Watt of the 21st Century

Joel Bleifuss

J. Steven Griles has taken his skills as a corporate shill for the energy industry to the Interior Department. There, as second in command to Secretary Gale Norton, he is “advancing the Bush administration’s assault on our public lands,” says Adam Werbach, who made a political name for himself in 1996 by becoming president of the Sierra Club at the age of 23.Today, Werbach works as executive director of Common Assets Defense Fund, an organization he founded to stop giveaways of public assets. He has set his sights on Griles as the person who best exemplifies all that is wrong with the Bush administration’s environmental policies.Griles is a former employee of the oil and gas lobbying firm National Environmental Strategies, which is currently paying him $284,000 a year as part of a $1.1 million buyout of his client base. Those clients include more than 40 coal, oil, gas, and electric companies and trade associations—the same corporate interests he is currently serving by leading administration efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and to expand mining and drilling on public lands.During his confirmation hearings, Griles recused himself from lobbying for his former clients, yet he has continued to promote their anti-environment agendas. For example, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, Griles has held 14 meetings on mountain-top-removal coal mining with industry officials, despite having previously lobbied on behalf of six coal companies and the National Mining Association. And he has held 32 meetings about offshore oil drilling with industry officials, despite having lobbied on behalf of six offshore drilling companies and the American Gas Association.Griles is not new to controversy. During the Reagan administration, Griles served in the Interior Department where he was involved in a shady deal to sell the mineral rights to 17,000 acres of federal land to a private company for $42,000. The company turned around and sold those rights for a $37 milion profit.Borrowing the strategy of the campaign to remove Reagan’s Interior Secretary James Watt, Werbach has begun a Web-based campaign, www.firegriles.com, to collect petitions and force Griles out of office. “This man has got to go. Griles is serving corporate interests rather than the people’s interests,” says Werbach. “People think Bush is bad on the environment, but they can’t cite an example. Griles is that example.”

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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