J. Steven Griles

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J. Steven Griles is now a principal at the lobbying firm Lundquist, Nethercutt & Griles LLC.


Controversies

Griles, "who oversaw the Bush administration's push to open more public land to energy development," announced December 7, 2004, that "he was stepping down," Associated Press writer Matthew Daly reported January 31, 2005. "Griles, who earned a reputation as a go-to broker in Bush's program to lease out vast oil, gas and coal reserves below federally owned land in the West, said [January 31, 2005,] he was excited to be joining Nethercutt and Lundquist."

"During nearly half his four-year tenure at [the Department of the] Interior, Griles was investigated by the department's inspector general. Inspector General Earl Devaney concluded Griles didn't appear to violate ethics rules by arranging meetings between Interior officials and former clients and partners, or in the award of $1.6 million in contracts to a former client.

"But Devaney described Griles' behavior as an example of 'an institutional failure' among Interior officials who potentially eroded public trust by failing to consider the perceived impropriety of their actions.

"Griles continued to receive $284,000 a year, in addition to his Interior salary, as part of a four-year severance package from his former lobbying and consulting firm," Daly wrote.

"During his tenure at the Interior Department, Griles came under fire for contacts with his former clients. He received nearly $1.1 million from his former lobbying firm while employed with the federal government." [1]

In a December 2004 interview, "Griles called the charges against him 'a political gambit' made by people opposed to the Bush administration," Daly wrote.

Testimony: Abramoff-Reed Indian Gambling Scandal

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) "has called on the former No. 2 official at the Interior Department to testify [on November 2, 2005,] before a Senate panel investigating lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his involvement with Indian gambling tribes," The Hill's Josephine Hearn reported. This "marks the fourth and final [hearing] in the Indian Affairs Committee’s investigation of Abramoff." McCain is now chairman of the panel.

Griles "was involved in efforts to help two of Abramoff’s clients — the Louisiana Coushatta tribe and the Saginaw Chippewa tribe of Michigan — fend off casino proposals from rival tribes and may have done so while engaged in employment negotiations with Abramoff, recent news reports have said. Griles has said through spokespeople that he did not play a major role in endeavors to aid the tribes," Hearn wrote.

"The development marks the first time McCain has taken direct aim at the administration during the Indian Affairs Committee’s year-and-a-half-long investigation of Abramoff, his associate Michael Scanlon and their efforts to extract more than $80 million in lobbying and public-relations fees from Indian tribes," Hearn said.

"Griles is expected to appear alongside Italia Federici at the hearing ... Federici, who was an aide to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton during her 1996 Senate bid, reportedly served as a go-between linking Griles and Abramoff. Federici is president of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, a group founded by Norton and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist."

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Profiles

Previously, Griles, who became Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) on July 12, 2001, announced his resignation December 7, 2004. The Department administers more than 500 million acres of federal land, is responsible for endangered species protections, and oversees the conservation and development of the nation's water and mineral resources. [2]

The official spin

The glowing biography of Griles on the Department of the Interior's website strives to portray him as a strong environmental advocate in his role as Deputy Secretary:

"[As Deputy Assistant Secretary during the Reagan administration he] developed infrastructure to ensure a balance between public accessibility and resource protection with the Virginia state park system. During his tenure, educational facilities, nature centers, additional trails, qualified staff and other resources were enhanced. Steve expanded and strengthened environmental controls of coal mines and worked to strengthen Virginia environmental laws and enact tough new environmental standards to protect Virginia's streams and rivers from mining activities through enactment of the Virginia Surface Mining and Reclamation Act… As Deputy Director [of the Office of Surface Mining] he installed performance-based standards to assure greater environmental protection and higher compliance. " [3]

These complimentary phrases belie his actual record. Described as "an arrogant booster of the very energy cartel he was meant to regulate" and "a congressional investigation waiting to happen" by Jeffrey St. Clair in Counterpunch, Griles is a well-known coal, oil and energy industry lobbyist who has engaged in significant conflicts of interest in maintaining his strong lobbying ties as Deputy Secretary. [4]

Griles' first stint at Interior

Griles has moved between government and industry more than once in his career. In 1970 he was the executive director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Economic Development. During the Reagan administration he joined the Department of the Interior for the first time, where he served under Secretary James Gaius Watt.

While at the Interior Department, Griles was the deputy director for the Office of Surface Mining (1981-1983), deputy assistant secretary for Land and Water (1983-1984) and the assistant secretary of Land and Minerals Management (1984-1989).

During this period Griles was responsible for a number of damaging policies that benefited industry to the detriment of the environment. In particular he:

  • was heavily involved in efforts to downplay the risk of oil spills associated with proposed drilling off the California coast (this included attempting to cover up a damaging Fish and Wildlife memo that stated the risks of drilling off the coast of California) [5]
  • reduced the amount corporations have to pay in royalty rates charged for extracting underground coal from 8 percent to 5 percent
  • sold titles to federal oil and shale tracts for $2.50 an acre (far below their market value). A private company bought a 17,000-acre claim for $42,000, which it sold months later for $37 million. [6]
  • exhibited an extemely combative attitude toward congressional oversight. He even tried to use the Freedom of Information Act to find out how much money and time the GAO used to investigate his actions related to some coal leases in western Colorado.[7]

Griles moved into lobbying

After leaving the Interior Department, Griles held a number of industry lobbying positions:

Griles returns to Interior

Returning to the Interior Department as second in command in July 2001, Griles continued to work closely with former industry clients in clear violation of two separate recusal agreements. Numerous phone calls and dinner dates with former industry clients were revealed in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.[9]

Griles met with a number of his former clients and top White House officials on "the 'definition of fill' rulemaking, the new source review component of the Clean Air Act and the development of thousands of coal bed methane wells in the West." According to Environmental Media Services, Griles calls these meetings "social and informational."[10] He also attempted to pressure the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) into changing its analysis criticizing a coal bed methane project in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.[11] [12] [13]

Friends of the Earth, which exposed the story, noted that before his appointment to the Interior Department, Griles had worked as a lobbyist on behalf of several coal bed methane companies involved in drilling gas wells on public lands in the basin.[14]

Additional ties to industry include the receipt of $284,000.00 a year as part of a $1.1 million payment for his client base from National Environmental Strategies (NES), the oil and gas lobbying firm Griles worked for. As deputy secretary of the Interior, Griles is charged with overseeing and revamping environmental regulations that affect the profits of his former clients and NES's current clients. [15] Since assuming office Griles has:

  • pushed rollbacks in environmental standards for air and water;
  • advocated increased oil and gas drilling on public lands
  • tried to exempt the oil industry from royalty payments
  • sought to create new loopholes in regulations governing stripmining.[16]

Griles also sat on the President's senior policy group for the "Clear Skies" initiative (a misleading euphemistic name for a policy that is notorious for easing restrictions on corporate polluters), participating in at least 11 of its meetings. Edison Electric Institute, a former Griles client, was reported to have been present at one of those meetings.[17]

In Griles' headlong rush to implement industry's agenda, the true purpose of his position, that of a protector of the environment, has been lost. Kristen Sykes, the Griles watchdog at Friends of the Earth noted that "[there are] over ten pages of energy meetings that he has had since he's been at the Interior Department…You don't see meetings on what are we gonna do about our visitor centers that are crumbling in our national parks. You see meetings with Alaska officials about drilling in the arctic. You see meetings about oil and gas development in Wyoming. This is not an agency that is created just to implement the President's energy plan. It's to protect our lands for future generations." [18]

Far from protecting our lands, Griles has used his position to exploit them to benefit his former industry clients. Griles' repeated meetings with past clients in spite of his recusal agreements finally prompted an investigation by the Inspector General of the Department of Interior in 2003.[19] [20]

But this is nothing unusual for the current Interior Department, where former lobbyists are the rule and environmentalists are an endangered species. As Bill Moyers noted in a special investigative report on Griles: "[W]hen it comes to representing the interests of industry inside the department, J. Steven Griles has lots of company. To be sure, you can grow dizzy just thinking about Interior's revolving door."[21]

Griles leaves interior again

On December 7, 2004, Griles announced his resignation from DOI. Noting his controversial tenure, the Washington Post noted, "An 18-month investigation by the department's inspector general found that [Griles] had dealings with energy and mining industry clients of National Environmental Strategies Inc. even as he continued to receive payments from his former firm. The report did not accuse Griles of violating any laws or federal ethics rules." [22]

Griles took aim at his critics as he prepared to leave, saying that those who "came after me with a political agenda opposed this president at the very beginning. ... In 22 years of service, I have assured that the environment is healthier, the air is clearer, the water is safer and the land is being reclaimed. At the same time, there is a tremendous need for energy in this county." [23]

Griles' superior, Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, wrote in response to his resignation, "Yours is the letter I hoped would never come." David Hirsch of the environmental group Friends of the Earth said of Griles' plans to take a private sector job, "That's the whole problem: He never left private life. He spent four years working for his former clients at the Department of Interior. ... He's the Energizer Bunny of conflict of interest." [24]

According to 'Mother Jones':

So how did a process mandated by a federal judge "to minimize, to the maximum extent practicable, the adverse environmental effects" from mountaintop removal become a vehicle for industry?

Two words: Steven Griles. Never heard of him? You're not supposed to. Steven Griles is one of industry's moles within the Bush administration. Before coming to work as deputy secretary of the Interior, Griles was one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington, with a long list of energy-industry clients, including the National Mining Association and several of the country's largest coal companies.

On August 1, 2001, Griles signed a "statement of disqualification," promising to stay clear of issues involving his former clients. Despite that promise, according to his own appointment calendar (obtained by environmental groups through the Freedom of Information Act), Griles met repeatedly with coal companies while the administration worked on the mountaintop-removal issue.

Griles has denied discussing the "fill rule" in any of those meetings. But on August 4, 2001 -- three days after signing his recusal letter -- he gave a speech beforethe West Virginia Coal Association, reassuring members that "we will fix the federal rules very soon on water and spoil placement."

Two months later, Griles sent a letter to the EPA and other agencies drafting the EIS, complaining that they were not doing enough to safeguard the future of mountaintop removal and instructing them to "focus on centralizing and streamlining coal mine permitting."

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