Salmon at Risk with Bush Adviser, Critics sayby Associated Press
Capital Press, September 26, 2003
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For more than 15 years, Mark Rutzick was a leading attorney for the timber industry in lawsuits seeking to reopen Pacific Northwest forests to logging.
Now, he is a key player in the Bush administration's program for endangered salmon.
Rutzick, whose quiet manner belies the animosity generated by his appointment, said he sees no contradiction between his long-time role as a timber industry advocate and his current post with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
He argued for sharp increases in logging and against some protections for salmon and other species, Rutzick said - but that was because his clients wanted that outcome,
Now, as a senior adviser to Noah’s general counsel, Rutzick's client is the federal government. A key focus of his job is to look out for the 27 species of West Coast salmon protected under the Endangered Species Act by NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"I have an opportunity to help two Cabinet-level departments work together cooperatively to develop policies that do the job of protecting species and hopefully do it better," said Rutzick, a former resident of Portland.
But environmentalists call Rutzick's appointment this past February another sign that federal policies on natural resources are being written by industry.
"New face, same old story. The Bush administration's quiet quest to convert environmental agencies into safe havens for corporate lobbyists continues unabated," said Niel Lawrence, director of forest programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council
Lawrence and other critics add Rutzick's name to a list that includes Mark Rey, a former timber lobbyist who now oversees the Forest Service as undersecretary of agriculture; James Connaughton, a former power industry lobbyist who now chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality; and J. Steven Griles, the deputy interior-secretary, who is a former lobbyist for the coal, oil and gas industries.
Richard Smith, an attorney for Washington Trout, an advocacy group based outside Seattle, said it has become routine for President Bush to tap representatives of resource industries to regulate their former colleagues.
Still, Smith said, "It's an outrage that the legal strategies of the federal agency charged with saving listed salmon will now be directed by a lawyer whose career has been dedicated to frustrating environmental protections for the benefit of corporate profits,
Rutzick, 55, called such rhetoric overheated.
"You sort of have to laugh it off a bit," he said. "My record in the private sector is that I've never questioned the goals of the Endangered Species Act" or tried to obstruct its application.
"There's a broad social consensus in favor of protection of endangered species," Rutzick added. The battle is over how to do it most effectively and at the lowest cost."
In an interview at his Commerce Department office - with a partially obstructed view of the White House - Rutzick said he sees plenty of room for improvement in endangered species policy, even after nearly three years of a GOP administration,
"We want to maximize protection of endangered species, without necessarily interfering with the activities that also need to go ahead - i.e., power from dams, agriculture for farms and forest products from the forest," he said.
Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, a Portland-based timber industry group that frequently hired Rutzick, called him an ideal choice for the fisheries agency.
U.S. District Judge James Redden ordered NOAA Fisheries to rewrite the plan within a year - a task that has kept Rutzick and other officials occupied for months. Rutzick declined to give details about the revised plan, but said, "This will be a scientifically credible product."
One thing the plan will not do is recommend breaching four dams along the lower Snake River, as environmentalists have long sought.
Rutzick called debate over dam breaching "an academic discussion" that ignores the fact salmon runs are at 20-year highs in much of the basin. "Its clear from the behavior of the fish that dam breaching isn't going to happen," he said.
Rutzick, who was in private practice from 1986 until this year, is used to politically charged debates. As attorney for the forest resource council, he was at the center of a landmark lawsuit challenging a plan to protect the northern spotted owl. The litigation set off the timber wars of the early 1990s - a battle Rutzick said is far from over.
Rutzick also filed suits challenging the endangered status of the marbled murrelet and the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, a Clinton-era policy intended as a compromise between logging and environmental interests.
More recently, environmentalists say he was involved in secret negotiations with the Bush-administration to the Northwest Forest Plan. The alleged talks, which took place before Rutzick joined the administration this year, concerned such areas as aquatic conservation standards, which affect salmon habitat, and a provision requiring land managers to conduct detailed surveys for other endangered species.
Many of those changes are now part of administration policy. Rutzick declined comment on the allegations, but noted that his job is to provide legal advice to policy makers charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act. Kristen Boyles, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, said Rutzick has spent his career advocating legal interpretations that benefit the timber industry.
"He's done that job well. So it makes me very concerned that he is advising the federal agency that is supposed to comply with those same laws he has spent a lot of time and effort trying to undermine," she said.
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