Big Cypress, Big Scam, Little Justice

According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, an official report from the Department of Interior’s Inspector General let stand a $120 million rip-off of the public over a land deal in Florida. In 2002, the Department of the Interior paid that sum to the Collier family (Collier County is named for the family patriarch, Baron Collier) for its gas and oil holdings in the Big Cypress National Preserve, located on the western edge of the Everglades.

Because the Collier clan are in tight with both Jeb and George, they qualified for a sum that was more than 12 times the amount the supposed energy holdings were actually worth. The BIG buyout was announced at a May 2002 White House ceremony intended to bolster the Bush bros’ environmental creds. It is notable that no significant oil or gas reserves have ever been found in Florida, mainly because it is formed primarily of oolitic limestone and spent most of the last hundred million years under water.

The nearly three-year investigation did find that Interior Secretary Gale Norton placed one of her top aides, Ann Klee (now the General Counsel for the EPA) in charge of closing the deal but made no other mention of Norton except to “commend” her for actions taken after another, similar land exchange scandal in Utah. Instead, Earl Devaney, the Interior Inspector General, repeatedly cited unnamed “political appointees” or vague forces. One key but typical passage of the IG report reads as follows:

“Exploiting a combination of public policy, politics, and environmentalism, which was being fueled by the demoralization of career DOI employees, at one extreme, and synchophantical enabling, at the other, [Collier Resources Company] took complete advantage of a negotiating environment weighted heavily in its favor.”

PEER noted that beside the enormous payout, the deal also ran counter to President Bush’s drive to increase energy production on public lands and the administration’s moratorium on parkland purchases.

Congress has yet to appropriate the dough, though, so the deal’s still in limbo.


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