Doolittle dossier

With Bush in the White House, will Doolittle have his day?

U.S. Rep. John Doolittle.

U.S. Rep. John Doolittle.

Don’t be fooled by the name. U.S. Rep. John Doolittle is tireless when it comes to fighting the environmentalists.

The Rocklin Republican once compared the environmental movement with communism and demanded a federal investigation of movement leaders: “their political connections, where they get their funding, what tax laws they take advantage of.” And then he said he wanted to use that information to attack and splinter the movement.

His almost evangelical anti-environmentalism has been largely frustrated by the Clinton administration, but with the possibility of a George W. Bush presidency, he may have better luck spreading his gospel.

Sure, even with Bush in the White House, the almost evenly divided House and Senate makes any radical rollback of environmental protections in Congress unlikely. But many environmental groups say the real threat is in what the president can do on his own, without the help of Congress—specifically through executive orders, administrative appointments and rule-making.

“I think the problems we’re going to have are going to be administrative. And they are going to be big,” said Carl Zichella, regional director of the Sierra Club.

That’s why folks such as Zichella are keeping a wary eye on Doolittle, who has been hard at work putting together a ready-made plan for the new president to wreak environmental havoc.

Last spring, Doolittle sent an appeal to fellow conservatives and lobbyists in an effort to come up with a top-10 list of executive orders and rule changes that could be used to undermine existing environmental protections.

The proposal, dubbed Project Evergreen, was intended to provide a “master plan” that the new president could carry out without the help of Congress. Sent out on congressional letterhead, Doolittle’s appeal for support made no bones about his intention to cripple major environmental groups.

“What I’m looking to do is not merely to reverse the damage done, but to enable the executive branch to work its will to counter the entire movement and undercut their sources of power. We must force them to spend money and resources, weakening their influence,” the letter reads.

This letter is short in specifics, but it leaves nothing out, suggesting that supporters come up with proposals in the areas of grazing, water, air, energy, endangered species and “livability” (presumably meaning sprawl), in short, anything and everything to “promote our own vision of the proper stewardship of God’s green earth.”

“For instance, one thing I’d like to do is to repeal the post-card system whereby a single Luddite living in her tree can appeal an entire forest plan,” Doolittle wrote.

Although the appeal was sent on congressional letterhead and paid for by taxpayers, Doolittle has refused to reveal who it was sent to or the costs of printing and mailing.

Doolittle’s Project Evergreen point person in Washington, D.C., said the proposal was a research project that was “pretty much done,” but he refused to answer questions about what came out of the project, who participated or what executive action would be sought if Bush were elected.

Repeated calls to Doolittle’s district office in Roseville and to press secretary Richard Robinson went unanswered. The congressman and his staff have historically followed a policy of not responding to calls from the Sacramento News & Review or many other newspapers that cover his district, including the Sacramento Bee.

Doolittle is most often associated with his tenacious pursuit of an Auburn dam, a project despised by conservation groups and unpopular even with many of his own Republican colleagues. He has also been an outspoken critic of the Endangered Species Act.

While Doolittle isn’t advertising his agenda much these days, opponents expect him to roll out the master plan as soon as Bush is inaugurated.

“For all we know, Project Evergreen is full steam ahead,” said Mike Casey with the D.C.-based Environmental Working Group.

So what’s on the top-10 list? Environmentalists say there’s all sorts of mischief to be had.

For example, on national forest matters, nearly all rules are made by the executive branch of government. Bush might reverse executive orders that Clinton issued to create national monuments. The most recent, and controversial, was the Sequoia National Monument, which set aside some 300,000 acres of forest in the southern Sierras.

Or the new administration might go after a Clinton-backed U.S Forest Service policy banning new roads on almost 50 million acres of national forest. The proposal is expected to be approved in mid-December.

Another Clinton executive order that could be reversed is one that requires a study of the impact to low-income and minority people living in neighborhoods proposed for the siting of hazardous waste facilities.

Key appointments for head of the Interior Department, Transportation Department and director of the Environmental Protection Agency could have a chilling effect on any new regulation and undermine enforcement of the existing protections.

“A lot of folks are really going to have to struggle to keep stupid things from happening,” said Ron Stork with Friends of the River.

And that sounds like just what Doolittle has in mind.