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President-elect Barack Obama is considering David J. Hayes for appointment as Secretary of the Interior and Hayes may even be the leading candidate.  Although it is noted in the media that Hayes has been a lobbyist for Sempra Energy, the extent and history of his corporate advocacy is far greater and largely unreported by the press.  It includes representing the manufacturers of cancer-causing chemicals, exploiting the revolving door from regulator to lobbyist for the regulated, and trying to get a major polluter off the financial hook for contamination of a predominantly Native American community.

Now, criticizing David Hayes is not without peril -- he is the head of the transition for environment and natural resources  after all.  But as a candidate for such an important position, he deserves a full vetting, whether he is in charge of the process or not.

1. Chemical Manufacturers Association

David J. Hayes represented the Chemical Manufacturers Association in 1989.  He opposed a report from the Bush Sr. Administration's EPA that listed cancer-causing chemicals each year.

From the New York Times (Industry Fights Use of Animal Tests to Assess Cancer Risk, July 25, 1989):

David J. Hayes, a lawyer representing the Chemical Manufacturers Association, a leading industry trade group, said, ''Our fundamental concern is that the National Toxicology Program is taking a shortcut in deciding whether a chemical is a human carcinogen by ignoring readily available data.''

Government officials involved in the cancer report said they could not comment while the matter was in litigation.

But one high-ranking Government environmental health official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that if industry prevailed, the Government would ''either list very few compounds in the report, which would make it useless, or spend years litigating over each compound'' before it could be listed as causing cancer.

In other words, David Hayes was working on behalf of the manufacturers of cancer-causing chemicals to stop a the EPA from being able to identify chemicals that would cause cancer.

2. The Metropolitan Water District revolving door

David Hayes, as acting deputy secretary of the Interior was the chief negotiator for an agreement between water districts in California, which resolved water rights and allocations for, among other districts, the Metropolitan Water District (Associated Press, Southern California water districts cross another hurdle, October 18, 1999).  As soon as Hayes left Interior and joined Latham & Watkins in 2001, he immediately became a lobbyist for the Metropolitan Water District (, 2001, 2002, and 2003).  Return to Interior would complete the revolving door from regulator to lobbyist to regulator for David Hayes and the Metropolitan Water District.

3.  Putting corporate interests over human health and communities

In 2005-2007, David Hayes represented the interests of Ford Motor Company at a notorious hazardous waste site in Ringwood, New Jersey where the company had "dumped lead-based paint sludge, near homes and streams" (Greenwire, N.J. asks feds to conduct a criminal investigation of Ford, July 28 2005).

Hayes teamed up with the Bush Administration EPA to try to force a substantial portion of the cost of the cleanup of newly discovered sludge on the borough of Ringwood, even though the sludge was from Ford (Knight-Ridder, Big-name firms will make legal case for cleanup, health checks, October 4, 2005; Associated Press, Ford: City should pay almost $17 million toward toxic cleanup, April 26, 2007).

Some background on this site from the Bergen County Record (August 9, 2005):

Ford dumped paint, solvents, and car parts from 1967 through 1973 on the site off Peter's Mine Road in one of the nation's oldest iron mining areas.  Ford's contractors are now in the midst of a fifth cleanup effort, removing tons of dried paint sludge from the wooded site, which includes state  parkland. Arsenic, benzene, and chromium - powerful carcinogens - have been found.

Streams from the area feed into the Wanaque Reservoir, but officials say  the water is safe.

Residents, most of whom are Ramapough Mountain Indians, report high incidences of serious illnesses and deaths, and blame their diseases on the  sludge. No link has been found between the toxins and the illnesses, but lawyers for the community are conducting health surveys. The letters from Ford and the EPA said that, based on old documents, borough officials approved Ford's dumping and operated a municipal landfill in the area, which may have left behind its own toxins.

"Your assertion that the Mayor and Council of the Borough of Ringwood were somehow duped by Ford, and were unaware of historic disposal activities and their potential impacts, is nothing short of outrageous," said David Hayes, a lawyer representing Ford. EPA lawyer Virginia Curry also said the borough bears substantial responsibility, given its former and current ownership of almost 300 acres within the site.

The city had asserted that the waste was dumped by Ford and done so without the full knowledge of the borough. A full five-part report on Ford's toxic legacy -- including the use of mob-controlled waste haulers -- is found here.   Part I, "Making a wasteland: Ford, the feds, the mob," is a must-read if anyone thinks that David J. Hayes was just defending an innocent corporation against spurious claims.  The attorneys coming forward on behalf of the residents to take on Hayes and Ford included Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the late Johnnie Cochran's firm (Knight-Ridder, Big-name firms will make legal case for cleanup, health checks, October 4, 2005).

Trying to stick the cost of the clean-up of a toxic waste dump on a rural, economically disadvantaged American Indian community is not the kind of behavior one would want to see from a potential Secretary of the Interior.  The Ringwood superfund site is a little-known American tragedy and David J. Hayes, as recently as 2007, was trying to get the polluter off the financial hook.


Of course Hayes is a "good democrat" and served in the Clinton Administration -- but for those of us who work on conservation issues, it is easy to forget how bad the Clinton years were for natural lands and endangered species.  The Bush years have been so much worse that the well-documented failings of the Department of Interior under Clinton (with Hayes in the thick of it) are easy to overlook.  The Clinton years should not be the benchmark for a "green" president (with the exception of the last year where he decided to make a legacy for himself and set aside national monuments).

Worries about David Hayes as a revolving door lobbyist are not new.  For example, see this from Counterpunch in 2004 (h/t kt):,

Tweedle-Griles (R) and Tweedle-Hayes (D)

Griles has been rightfully vilified for his role in the Powder River Basin scandal, which prompted investigations by the Justice Department, Congress and the Inspectors General Office at the Interior Department. But none of this started under Bush. Not Alaska, not the Gulf of Mexico, not the Powder River Basin.

Here’s David Hayes, Undersecretary of Interior for Energy, testifying before Congress in July of 2000 on the Clinton legacy for oil leasing on public lands and offshore sites. “The Clinton Administration is supportive of the U.S. domestic oil and gas industry”, Hayes told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “We have supported efforts to increase oil and natural gas recovery in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico; we have conducted a number of extremely successful, environmentally sound off-shore oil and gas lease sales; and we have opened a portion of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) to environmentally responsible oil and gas development, where an estimated 10 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of recoverable natural gas resources lie in the northeast section of the reserve”.

Hayes boasted that while domestic oil production had declined on private lands since 1989, the Clinton administration responded by boosting oil production on public lands. Under Clinton oil production from public lands increased by more than 13 percent from 1992 figures under Bush Sr, widely decried by liberals as being owned by big oil.


Here’s Hayes speaking reverently about the Powder River Basin coal bed methane leases, which liberals and greens have tried to lay solely at the feet of Bush and Griles: “Estimates of recoverable gas reserves on public lands from this basin alone are as high as 9 trillion cubic feet. If maximum operating capacity of the current pipelines in the Powder River Basin is achieved, production could be as much as 1 billion cubic feet per day. That will produce enough fuel to heat nearly fifty thousand homes in the United States for twenty years. Industry is producing the gas and submitting applications for permits to drill at an unprecedented rate and, presently, there are more than 4,000 coal bed methane wells in the basin. Upon completion of further environmental analysis, we expect to nearly double that amount.”


So, the three biggest oil and gas bonanzas attributed to the rapacity of the Bush regime – the Alaska petroleum reserve, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Powder River – were all initiated by the Clinton administration.

One more note on David Hayes. Before joining the Clinton team, Hayes served as the chairman of the Environmental Law Institute, a DC green group. But this was only a part-time position. His day job was as a lawyer/lobbyist at the DC firm of Latham and Watkins, which represents a plump roster of corporations seeking to plunder the very lands as deputy secretary of Interior he would be charged with protecting. After leaving the Clinton administration, Hayes navigated a soft landing back on his old roost at Latham and Watkins. How is this any different from the lucrative migrations of the hated Steven Griles, who traveled from the Reagan administration to an oil lobby shop to the Bush II administration?

The revolving door spins for all.

Here are all of Hayes' clients at Latham & Watkins (via

Sempra Energy (San Diego Gas and Electric which is currently trying to build a new powerline through back-country wilderness in San Diego County.  Watch explanatory video here)

Sempra Energy (San Diego Gas and Electric)

Hearst Corp
Metro Water District/Southern California

General Cigar Holdings
Hearst Corp (which was involved in a protracted attempt to develop the pristine central coast of California)
Metro Water District/Southern California
Playa Capital (Golman Sachs-backed developers of wetlands in coastal Los Angeles)
Proquest Information & Learning
Sempra Energy (San Diego Gas and Electric)
Wireless Communications Assn

Hearst Corp
Metro Water District/Southern California
Sempra Energy (San Diego Gas and Electric)

Latham & Watkins never saw a developer, polluting industry, or resource extracting client they didn't want to work for.  They do some pro bono work so they can feel good about themselves, but this is one slimy firm.  I can tell you from experience that you want to take a shower after being in negotiations with them.  Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt went there after leaving office (with Hayes in tow), which was looked at with complete disgust by the conservation community.

in the big picture, this all comes back to the President-elect. Nature and open space don't seem to be his thing.  The campaign and now the transition websites never said much of anything about public lands, national parks, endangered species, wildlife, or conservation in general.  Conservationists may have noticed this, but were eager and proud to help carry him to victory anyway.  The choice of Interior Secretary will tell us if we are in for a return to the tepid-at-best environmental protections of the Clinton years or whether Obama can truly be transformational.

The early frontrunner for Secretary of the Interior was Congressman Raul Grijalva, who has been supported publicly by environmental groups, conservation scientists, congressional colleagues, progressives, hispanics, and American Indian groups.  The other early frontrunner Mike Thompson faced a firestorm of opposition from environmentalists (including me) who weren't ready for someone who voted for "Healthly Forests" and against roadless areas in the Tongass and was supported by people who like to hunt polar bears.  The "leaks" from the transition said that Grijalva had faced some "hiccups" and other names were floated -- John Berry, Director of the National Zoo, (a competent and cheery administrator, but not much of a national figure and cozy with corporate donors like Wal-Mart and ExxonMobil), and now David Hayes.  

Is the Obama team looking to avoid alienating the base but not yet willing to put a strong conservationist (Grijalva) in the slot?  George Bush's war on the environment has been devastating and unrelenting.  It will be no simple matter to even start to undo the regulatory havoc that continues to be wrought.  If we have any hope of protecting our open spaces, of restoring our forests, streams, wetlands, prairies, coasts, and deserts, of ensuring that our wildlife does not slip into the oblivion of extinction, of regaining the trust of the American Indian nations, of rebuilding the morale of the scientists who staff the USGS, FWS, BLM, and NPS, it is going to take a a galvanizing leader, not a compromise candidate warmed over from the Clinton years.  

Barack Obama was on the right track when he vowed to overturn the most recent and egregious assaults on our environmental laws.   But there is lots more to do after that, and only one candidate for Secretary of the Interior has documented what needs to be done and been fighting to do it all along and that's still Raul Grijalva.

UPDATE: Thank you for all of the comments and recs, I'm still trying to read them all.  There seems to be some consternation as to who I am and that I didn't post a tip jar.  I didn't post the tip jar because I figured I'd just read all the comments.. all twenty of them.   I've got a comment below now, so please rec and flame away.  And I'll try to respond where I can.

No one should interpret this as an unbiased report on David Hayes' career.  It wouldn't pass the Wikipedia test for objectivity.  I am supporting Raul Grijalva for the position and it is pretty obvious down at the bottom here.  Feel free to post all of the good stuff he's done in the comments, please.

As to who I am, the great thing about this Internet is that no one knows that you are a dog.  Or something like that.  I'd rather my research and writing speak for itself.  But as for my community credentials, I've spent a long time lurking, a much shorter time as a registered member, and an even shorter time trying to write for this format.  I am flattered by the recommendations, but mainly interested in there being an open and full discussion of this issue right now.  For some of us, Secretary of the Interior is the most important appointment.

UPDATE: I changed the title based on the comments.  See my comments below.

Originally posted to EcoProfessor on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 11:28 PM PST.

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