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You may have heard that President Obama is trying to get himself re-elected.  What you may not have heard is what US EPA Chief, Lisa Jackson, is doing to help him. Last month, the President sent out an invitation to attend his money-raising events in San Francisco.  The invitation said that, by giving $5,000, contributors would receive a “Season Pass” to so-called “VIP events,” and that:

  • “The Season Pass is a monthly speaker series of top-level people from the administration and campaign who will come to the Bay Area, at least once a month, to have more intimate, in-depth gatherings with Pass holders”
  • “…The idea is to give a smaller group of people a personal introduction to a lot of amazing people as well as VIP status at the big events (i.e., smaller receptions, preferred seating) and have the chance for more substantive discussions and interaction.”

And then the invitation added this:

  • One of these “VIP events” for “Season Pass” holders would be held on November 3  “for those who care about environmental and cleantech policy,” and would feature “EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.”  For another $5,000 – yes, now a total of $10,000 – “Season Pass” holders would get access to a “small private reception and discussion” with Jackson. [see this Palo Alto Online article dated 10/24/11].

Likewise, last year, the head of a lobbying firm – which got paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to persuade EPA to relax its rules against the use of fire-retardant chemicals – offered to hold a fundraiser, promising contributors the chance to talk to Jackson “about issues of concern to you.” (Jackson later was embarrassed into canceling the event as it was to be held in the middle of the BP Amoco /Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis.) [see this Time Swampland article dated 7/20/11] Who’s paying $10,000 for an “intimate, in-depth gathering” with EPA Chief Jackson?… a “more substantive discussion and interaction” with Jackson?… “a small private reception and discussion” with Jackson? Here’s a hint: It’s not the families I represent.  It’s not the hundreds of thousands of people in this country whose water is too polluted to drink, or the air too polluted to breathe.  They can’t afford $10,000 “intimate discussions” with a government official.  They’re too busy trying to find work, taking care of their kids, paying bills, and learning to cope with the pollution some company dumped on them. No, these “intimate discussions” are really for polluters and the people who work for polluters.  How do I know?  For starters, the polluters are the ones who have $10,000 to spend.  And they’re also the ones who think the $10,000 investment is worth it.  Because they understand that, with the stroke of a pen or the turn of her head away from an environmental problem, Lisa Jackson can save them millions of dollars through relaxed or demolished environmental protections. My worry is this:  if Jackson spends her time having “in-depth and intimate” discussions with companies who want to weaken environmental protections, pretty soon she may wind up thinking that the only ones who matter are those who want to weaken environmental protections. And that’s how environmental protections get weakened. This basic exchange of money for private access to government decision-makers is as wrong as it is raw.  It’s Chicago-style, “pay-to-play” politics at its sleaziest. Now, let’s say that I’m mistaken about who’s paying for these pricey, private meetings with Jackson.  Let’s say that the $10,000 “discussions” are not being held with polluters at all, but instead with the Sierra Club, or plaintiffs’ lawyers like me, who want tougher environmental regulation.  Would that be okay? Of course not.  Because, more than anything else, what makes this practice so disgraceful is that it says that the things that government provides are for those who can pay a lot of money for them.  That decisions about environmental regulation are made not based on what should happen, and not out in the open, but instead based upon who can afford $10,000 for an off-the-record private meeting with the head of the EPA. Bottom line:  if the meeting is worth having at all, it should be out in the open, or in a government office, and no one should have to pay to get into it. Environmental protection should not be for sale, regardless of who is buying.  Lisa Jackson is supposed to be working for clean air and water, not auctioning off private access to her authority for those who can afford to pay thousands for it. “But,” you say, “everyone does this.  George Bush did it.”  Maybe he did.  I don’t care.  It’s wrong.  Likewise, some have said that what Jackson is doing is not “against the law.”  I still don’t care.  It’s still wrong. And if the law allows it, that may be the sorriest news in all of this.  Because then we’d be talking about who this country really belongs to, after all.

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