“The Colville River flows through much of the Brooks Range. Alaska’s largest Arctic River is home to 20 fish species. Known as an internationally-recognized area for nesting birds of prey, the Colville River’s bluffs provide significant nesting habitat for raptors such as Peregrine Falcon, Gyrfalcon and Golden Eagle.” - from On Arctic Ground
The river delta has been designated an “Aquatic Resource of National Importance.”
Inuit family on Colville River
One would have thought that this is one of the few places on Earth where other species might be safe from encroaching human development….and that would have been true except for the hundreds of millions of barrels of oil under the cold, sparsely-populated tundra.
Shift to Colorado. In 2010 Cory Gardner was elected to Congress in Colorado’s 4th District -- the Eastern Plains. One of the freshman’s first bills was HR 4480 which contains the following, “The designation by the Environmental Protection Agency of the Colville River Delta as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance shall have no force and effect.”
Why would a freshman Colorado Congressman wade into the battle between environmentalists and oil companies three thousand miles from his district?
Could it be because Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Anadarko, and British Petroleum are companies who own leases near the Colville River, and are financial backers of Cory Gardner’s political career.
In his Congressional career he has raised $1.9 million dollars from PACs – 38% of his campaign contributions. Below is a list of the top 20 PAC givers to Gardner.
Even though Anadarko Petroleum Corp. is the only oil company that appears in his top 20 PAC givers, Gardner’s biggest industry contributor is “Oil and Gas” with contributions from individuals and PACs totaling $384,924 over his career.
Half of the bills he sponsored in his first term focused on oil and gas production. Now one might think that this is not necessarily a response to the campaign money. There is significant oil and gas production in Gardner’s district. Perhaps he is looking out for the local interests of his constituents.
It doesn’t seem to be the case. Let’s look at his proposed bills.
HR 2021 would restrict the ability of the Department of the Interior to regulate air quality impacted by drilling and exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The OCS is American jurisdiction in the ocean. You can draw a circle with a radius of 750 miles, the center of which is Representative Gardner’s home town, Yuma, Colorado and not include any of the OCS. (The Outer Continental Shelf is the cross hatched area in the map below.)
HR 4480 contains numerous provisions unrelated to Colorado. One title relates to the “Expeditious Program of Oil and Gas Leasing in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska” and it contains Section 903 relating to leasing off the Virginia shore. Another section of HR 4480 contains the language relating to the Colville River.
Perhaps I am wrong about Gardner's motivation. If any of you run into Representative Gardner you might ask him.
The conversation might go something like this.
You….“Representative Gardner, why did you propose legislation to do away with the “Aquatic Resource of National Importance” designation for the Colville River Delta?
Representative Gardner…. “What?”
You repeat the question.
Representative Gardner…. “Where did you get that?”
You…. “It is in HR 4480, which you sponsored.”
Rep. Gardner (rallying)…… “I was just trying to do away with needless government regulation that interfered with our becoming energy independent.”
You….. “Did you talk to anyone who lived in the Colville River Delta before you offered the legislation?”
Rep. Gardner….. “I will have to look at my notes. I will get back to you.”
You… “While you are at it check to see where the idea of revoking that designation came from. Was it one of your constituents?”
Maybe I am being too snarky. Gardner, being a Republican, may believe that anything that protects nature from the effects of oil drilling is a needless government interference with resource extraction.
But when you are in the business of trying to make real the effects of campaign money on the actions of Congress, you have to make assumptions.
You never know what is in a Congressman’s head. All you can do is report the facts. He received this much money. He offered this legislation that was helpful to the contributor. It had nothing to do with his district. Draw your own conclusions.
As always do not hesitate to write back with comments and questions, and please forward this to anyone you think might be interested, especially people who live in Representative Gardner's district.