February 17, 2006


The Stink of Corruption

By Javier Sierra

Perhaps you have detected the stink of corruption wafting from Washington, DC. The crimes of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to several charges, seems to be just the tip of the iceberg in one of the worst corruption scandals in our federal government’s history. It seems as if a giant billboard has been hung from the dome of the Capitol that reads, “For Sale to the Highest Bidder.”

Part of this stench is drifting from the office of one of the House’s most powerful representatives, Richard Pombo (R-CA), who is also one of the worst enemies of the environment and of the Latino community’s interests.

From his privileged position as chairman of the powerful House Resources Committee, Pombo has declared war on our air, water, wild lands and wildlife —everyone’s birthright and our children’s richest inheritance.

Pombo —the great-grandson of Portuguese immigrants, and therefore a member of the Latino community— believes politics is the art of convincing the common man to help the privileged few. And his long list of environmental atrocities proves it.

This San Joaquin Valley, California, rancher is attempting to lift the ban on one of the most toxic pesticides known to man, methyl bromide. If Pombo gets away with this one, tens of thousands of Latino farm workers will be exposed to this poison’s deadly effects, which include cancer and birth defects. Moreover, methyl bromide eats away the ozone layer, which protects us from the sun’s damaging rays.

In 2005, proposed selling off 15 national parks —public lands that belong to all of us— in order “to reduce the federal deficit.”

By using legislative tricks more worthy of a gamester than of a public servant, he is pushing to open our coasts and the Artic National Wildlife Refuge —one of the last unspoiled American treasures— to destructive oil and gas drilling.

In another legislative maneuver, Pombo late last year attached an obscure provision to the budget bill that would have allowed the sale of millions of acres of public lands at ridiculously low prices to real estate developers, mining companies and other industrial interests.

Ever since he arrived in Congress in 1994, Pombo has been determined to dismantle the Endangered Species Act —the same one that has protected animals like the bald eagle and the grizzly bear— by eliminating measures that protect habitat essential to the survival of threatened wildlife.

Pombo’s actions contrast sharply with the Latino community’s values. According to a poll by Time Magazine, 87 percent of Latinos believe protecting the environment is very or extremely important. Another survey conducted by Bendixen & Associates in the Southwest found that protecting the wilderness is not only a family value but a religious one.

Unbelievably, Pombo claims that his legislative proposals have but one purpose, to protect “the little guy.” But if we examine who his campaign contributors are —oil and gas companies, big agriculture companies, gambling interests and real estate developers— it is no wonder Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named him one of the capital’s most corrupt politicians.

According to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Pombo knew how to return the favors of his protector, Tom Delay, the disgraced former House Majority Leader, who now is the subject of several corruption investigations. Using his powerful chairmanship, Pombo contributed to the suspension of an investigation that could have cost $300 million in fines to one of his campaign contributors and a good friend of Delay’s, Texan millionaire Charles Hurwitz.

Pombo also turns out to be a pal of Abramoff’s. After accepting contributions from this corrupt lobbyist, Pombo denies that his committee joined in the influence-peddling activities of this confessed criminal.

But what goes around comes around. Californians and all Americans are sick of seeing our national heritage stomped on by Congressman Pombo, and we’re telling him to stop using his position to benefit special interests. It looks like the stench of corruption has finally reached his district.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org/ecocentro

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