By Warren Duffy

In the early days of 2008, as then-Sen. Barack Obama was running for president, he made many promises to the American people. Among them was his repeated pledge that lobbyists would not have unlimited access to his administration. Fast forward to October 2011 and the appointment of current Commerce Secretary John Bryson.

President Obama’s nomination of John Bryson for commerce secretary in May 2011 was blocked by Republicans until the free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama were approved by Congress. Five months later, the House and Senate approved those free-trade pacts as well as a passing vote of 74-26 (26 Republicans voted no) for the appointment of Bryson. Apparently, the Republicans in opposition of Mr. Bryson had some idea of this man’s radical environmental history, while other Republicans were either unaware or turned a blind eye.

Following the vote, Republican Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., stated the selection of Bryson shows that Obama “has no intention of backing down on his job-killing war on affordable energy.” The senator went on to call the Natural Resources Defense Council “one of the most radical, left-wing, extreme environmental groups.” However, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who approved Bryson’s appointment, stated, “Elections do have consequences,” but went on to explain senators should not block presidents from appointing top Cabinet officials except for rare occasions “when that individual is not fit to serve.”

At such a time as our nation’s economy is struggling with higher unemployment, higher prices, the threat of higher taxes and the national average gas prices reaching unprecedented highs, was Sen. Inhofe’s statement eerily true? What is the Natural Resources Defense Council, and just who is John Bryson? Let’s begin with Bryson.

Going back to the 1960s, John Bryson was one of America’s long-haired, bearded, ecology-minded young people, who really – no, really – cared about the Earth and all its little critters. Following his involvement with the 1970s’ first “Earth Day,” Mr. Bryson cofounded the firm referenced by Sen. Inhofe, the Natural Resources Defense Council, with initial funding from the Ford Foundation.

John and his team of young environmental lawyer buddies filed countless lawsuits against developers that threatened America’s wildlands and those little buggers on the federal governments ever-increasing endangered species list. As the organization has grown, its website now proudly displays that NRDC “lobbies Congress and other public officials for a public policy that promotes conservation of the natural and built environment.” Get that? It lobbies Congress and “other” public officials. Hmm.

Prior to Bryson’s appointment as commerce secretary, his resume was already very extensive. He served as the former head of Edison International, the holding company that owns Southern California Edison, as well as a board member with Boeing and the Walt Disney Company. However, just before his appointment to Obama’s administration, he served as chairman of the board of solar company giant Brightsource Energy. Does that name ring a bell? It should. This is the solar company that received $1.37 BILLION of our money from the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program. It is twice as big as the loan given to the other solar start up in California, Solyndra.

Now that Bryson is slaving away in D.C. at the Commerce Department, what is Brightsource Energy accomplishing? They are building a massive solar project near the California-Nevada border. Known as The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, it is an immense development on 3,600 acres of wide-open desert land.

Picture, if you can, 173,500 solar panels –each as large as a single garage door – standing shoulder to shoulder in the arid desert, tilting themselves toward the sun and collecting heat that will – if all goes as planned – boil water contained in three large towers. Yep, each 459-foot-tall (seven stories) tower is filled with water that when heated will create steam to crank generators producing lots of solar electricity.

By the way, this is pioneering technology that has never been tried before. All fingers and toes are crossed that when they flip the switch, it will work. Don’t worry, be happy; there are no guarantees in this life – even with $1.37 billion in your hands.

Oh wait, yet another side note. It appears those solar panels being used at Ivanpah were not manufactured in the United States – you know, America’s “green jobs.” They were manufactured in China and Germany. Guess President Obama’s stimulus plan is working … overseas.

Ironically, the man who spent so much of his early years building NRDC and suing to stop pollution and habitat destruction finds his Ivanpah project now facing a chorus of protests from a new generation of desert environmentalists. This group claims the Ivanpah project is ignoring massive impacts on the fragile desert. Allow me to expand on the environmentalists’ concerns.

Back in 1990, the slow-moving, hard shelled desert tortoise was added to the endangered species list, that directory of species Bryson and his firm, NRDC, worked for so many years to protect. To his credit, Bryson and his solar project pals did conduct an environmental study report on the tortoise but apparently experienced a highly inaccurate nose count. It would appear there are far more of the tortoises living in this part of the desert than imagined, with one already falling victim to the Ivanpah project.

While a press team (of all things) was being shown the Ivanpah project, a tortoise was crushed to death under the massive tires of a construction vehicle. An incredible and untimely setback for the desert project. Quickly, a plan to collect 150 tortoises and place them in holding pens was accomplished. This was only temporary – that is, until things along the Interstate 10 corridor settled down. Alas, the medical records of the incarcerated desert tortoises are contained in boxes collecting desert dust at a nearby BLM (Bureau of Land Management) office while one tortoise has died of heart distress and several others were attacked by nasty desert ants and rats. It would appear that in the attempt to save this specie, the cost to the Ivanpah project has surpassed $40 million dollars.

Desert plants also have been affected by the project. In preparing for construction, the desert land was scraped clean. Many of those delicate native plants appear lost for good. Desert experts say it takes 100 years for even a small barrel cactus to develop and grow. And yet, those “environmental treasures” Bryson and NRDC used to file suit to save are mysteriously silent. In addition, the Sierra Club, that bastion of environmentalism for over 40 years, has issued a special manual to all their Californian chapters not to get involved with protesting Ivanpah.

Turns out NRDC is busy on another project in California.

As the California Air Resources Board (CARB) – or what is more and more seen as the California Arbitrary Rules for Bankruptcy – continues pushing statewide economy-crushing environmental rules and regulations on business in the once Golden State, such as cap-and-trade, federal and state lawsuits are increasing against this out-of-control bureaucracy.

Therefore, CARB has enlisted none other than NRDC to assist with their defense. Yep, that is correct, John Bryson’s own legal organization. I wonder who might be picking up the tab for CARB’s legal fees.

Makes you yearn for the good old days. The days one could count on when those environmental guys would defend every gnat, rat and rodent threatened by a construction project. Ah, for the good old days when a guy who had a development project funded by a branch of the federal government could not hold a government job. That use to be called a “conflict of interest.” And ah, for the good old days in the small White House press room when the mainstream media held a politician’s feet to the fire when he promised, “no lobbyists in my administration,” and Dan Rather would quickly jump to his feet and say, “Mr. President, about your appointment of John Bryson …”

Times have changed in America and with much greater speed than the desert tortoise.



    CFACT, founded in 1985 by Craig Rucker and the late (truly great) David Rothbard, examines the relationship between human freedom, and issues of energy, environment, climate, economics, civil rights and more.