Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Bush and Reagan - Two sides of the same coin. Let's talk a walk down memory lane and remember Reagan's U.S. Secretary of the Interior: James G. Watt.
Watt's tenure as Secretary of the Interior was marked by controversy, stemming primarily from his alleged hostility to environmentalism and his support of the development and use of federal lands by foresting, ranching, and other commercial interests.
For over two decades, Watt held the record for protecting the fewest species under the Endangered Species Act in United States history. The record was broken by Dirk Kempthorne, a George W. Bush appointee who, as of August 27, 2007, had not listed a single species in the 15 months since his confirmation. 
Greg Wetstone, who was the chief environment council at the House Energy and Commerce Committee during the Reagan administration and later served as director of advocacy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Watt was one of the two most "intensely controversial and blatantly anti-environmental political appointees" in American history. According to the environmental groups, Watt decreased funding for environmental programs, restructured the department to decrease federal regulatory power, wished to eliminate the Land and Water Conservation Fund (which had been designed to increase the size of National Wildlife Refuges and other protected land), eased regulations on oil and mining companies, and favored opening wilderness areas and shorelands for oil and gas leases.
Watt resisted accepting donations of private land to be used for conservation purposes. He suggested that all 80 million acres (320,000 km²) of undeveloped land in the United States be opened for drilling and mining in the year 2000. The area leased to coal mining companies quintupled during his term as Secretary of the Interior. Watt proudly boasted that he leased "a billion acres" (4 million km²) of U.S. coastal waters, even though only a small portion of that area would ever be drilled. Watt once stated, "We will mine more, drill more, cut more timber."
In 1983, Watt banned the Beach Boys from playing a Fourth of July concert on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., saying that rock concerts drew "an undesirable element" (the group had played the Mall each Fourth of July since 1980). This drew howls of outrage from the many of the Beach Boys' fans, who stated that the Beach Boys sound was a very desirable part of the American cultural fabric. First Lady Nancy Reagan later apologized, and in 1984 the group appeared on the Mall again.
Watt periodically mentioned his Christian faith when discussing his approach to environmental management. Speaking before Congress, he once said, "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations." Controversy over his religious beliefs continued long after his years as secretary.
A public controversy erupted after a speech by Watt on September 21, 1983, when he said about his staff: "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent." Within weeks of making this statement, Watt submitted his resignation letter.
In 1995, Watt was indicted on 25 counts of felony perjury and obstruction of justice by a federal grand jury. The indictments were due to false statements made to a grand jury investigating influence peddling at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which he had lobbied in the mid to late 1980s. On January 2, 1996, as part of a plea bargain, Watt pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of withholding documents from a federal grand jury. On March 12, 1996 he was sentenced to 5 years probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and perform 500 hours of community service.
During a March 1991 dinner event organized by the Green River Cattlemen's Association in Wyoming, Watt said, "If the troubles from environmentalists cannot be solved in the jury box or at the ballot box, perhaps the cartridge box should be used."
In a 2001 interview, Watt applauded the Bush administration energy strategy and said their prioritization of production above conservation is just what he recommended in the early 1980s. "Everything Cheney's saying, everything the president's saying - they're saying exactly what we were saying 20 years ago, precisely ... Twenty years later, it sounds like they've just dusted off the old work." Environmental groups concur that Bush's policies are similar to Watt's..