John Laird: Foxy Don wears ALEC badge in environment henhouse

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

Published:

 

Putting Don Benton in charge of Clark County's environment is kind of like asking Boss Hogg to chair the Hazzard County Ethics Commission.

Just a tad counterintuitive.

Word from the Public Service Center is that Boss Benton wants to change the Department of Environmental Services to the Department of Paving, Pollution and Pesticides. Yes, sir, every time ol' Foxy Don enters the henhouse, the chaotic clucking crescendoes to Code Red decibels.

Of course, County Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke are smart enough -- well, we know Madore is -- to have known on May 1 that christening their state senator crony as local environment czar would unleash waves of protest. This self-inflicted infamy will not subside soon. It will only grow like a fungus on these three characters, especially as the public learns more about Boss Benton's ALEC badge.

The American Legislative Exchange Council sounds innocent enough. But the truth is, ALEC is every county environment's worst nightmare. In 2002, two national organizations (the Defenders of Wildlife, and the Natural Resources Defense Council) exhaustively researched ALEC and produced a 52-page page report, "Corporate America's Trojan Horse in the States" (read it at http://www.alecwatch.org). The report states: "Protecting corporate polluters from environmental regulation is a major ALEC goal. The corporations and trade associations that finance virtually all of ALEC activities have used it to mount a wide-ranging and effective assault against laws safeguarding public health and the environment."

Boss Benton, aghast Clark County residents are learning, is a Washington state co-director of ALEC. It'll be interesting to see how he serves his two masters, both national and county.

The report says "ALEC is little more than a tax-exempt screen for major U.S. corporations and trade associations that use it to influence legislative activities at the state level. ALEC allows these corporations to do what they couldn't attempt openly without risking public criticism."

Legislators pay small ALEC dues in exchange for receiving boilerplate bills, which prove to be handy for part-time legislators, as we have in Washington. Corporations pay many thousands of dollars annually and, in 2002, provided more than 95 percent of ALEC's funding. These deep-pocket sugar daddies include oil, chemical, waste disposal, pharmaceutical and tobacco companies.

Seattle-based crosscut.com reports Benton's chief environmental bill this year "called for prohibiting Washington and its local governments from restricting property rights due to … the United Nations' Agenda 21 … which addresses sustainable-development efforts. The U.S. signed Agenda 21, which is nonbinding. Benton said … Agenda 21's policies have seeped into state and local government regulations, such as requiring stream setbacks for construction."

Hitting homers for ALEC

That bill died in committee, a figurative strikeout by the ALEC-guided Boss Benton. But we can expect many home runs in his new county job, to the cheers of Madore and Mielke. Joining that ovation will be numerous Benton campaign donors that, according to crosscut.com, include land developers, the owner of the coal-fired power plant in Chehalis, fuel transport firms and many steadfast opponents of pro-environment bills in the Legislature.

Not to worry, Boss Benton assured us after his county appointment: "I look forward to protecting and enhancing our precious natural resources here in Clark County while at the same time streamlining our permitting process to expedite job creation for our neighbors." No doubt, his ALEC handlers believe he will pursue the latter at the expense of the former. And, my fellow taxpayers, just wait until all those costly environmental lawsuits against the county start rolling in.

All of which makes Boss Benton the last person in Clark County who should've been appointed chief steward of our local environment.