The Flathead’s Dave Skinner first alerted me to this story, and the “blood money” paid to Western Watersheds- the Idaho-based environmental group that is also suing to bring an end to cattle grazing in the Missouri River Breaks country of Montana.
The story details the near $20 million paid to Western Watersheds by El Paso Energy Corporation. A payoff that can only be described as the American West’s equivalent of an oil company paying off an environmental mullah so they can get their pipeline built litigation free.
But that’s not the message you’re going to hear from El Paso Corporation. Here’s what they told the Elko Daily Free Press:
“It’s something we didn’t have to do. We chose to do it,” El Paso spokesman Richard Wheatley said Friday. “The bottom line is we think it’s a preferable approach than being involved in litigation.”
Fortunately for El Paso, Western Watersheds’ Mullah…uh- I mean Executive Director Jon Marvel took the bribe and is allowing the pipeline project to proceed:
“We agreed not to try to delay or litigate Ruby Pipeline,” confirmed Western Watersheds Project Executive Director Jon Marvel.
So El Paso Corp. paid a $20 million bribe to Western Watersheds, big deal right? Well- wrong, at least if you’re someone who supports cattle ranching. Here’s how Mullah Marvel says he plans to spend the money:
“The money also can be used to purchase private property or conservation easements, but our priority is grazing permits,” he said. “It’s time to end public lands grazing.”
In the meantime, since this story first broke, it appears that El Paso is starting to repent for their payment to the environmental zealots.
To their credit, the stockgrowers didn’t stand by and watch and do nothing as their enemies were given more ammo. On Thursday, the Montana Stockgrowers released news that a $15 million deal has been reached with El Paso supporting ranching interests.
George Trischman, chairman of the Montana Public Lands Council, added:
“Given the fact that this agreement with the environmental groups was already in place, it was important for PLC to find some resolution with El Paso Corp. that would protect the family ranchers and set up a process to continue rangeland improvement projects,” Trischman said.
The $15 million endowment, $7.5 million to be contributed later this year and $750,000 to be added into the endowment annually for the following 10 years, will be governed by one representative from the PLC and one representative from El Paso Corp. While the principal amount will not be used, the endowment’s earnings will go toward meeting PLC’s mission to serve family ranchers who graze on federal lands.
One thing remains clear throughout this entire story. The full spectrum war between ranchers and environmentalists is in full swing. And oddly enough, at least in this battle, both sides find themselves with the same financial backer.