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No Pal of the Environment

March 23, 2004

In nominating William G. Myers III for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal, President Bush is seeking to elevate a lawyer who has worked vigorously for private firms in opposing environmental protection. That alone should give pause.

But there's more.

Federal judges should have all the facts before passing judgment. During two years as the chief lawyer in Bush's Interior Department, Myers prodded two congressmen to draft a special-interest bill that would have given away to a private firm federal land near Sacramento worth hundreds of millions of dollars. This was at a time when Myers' job was to safeguard federal resources for the public. Instead, guided by knee-jerk property-rights views, he eagerly championed the company's claim that it owned the eight acres. The deal collapsed only when Interior agents in the Folsom office produced readily available documents conclusively proving that the government owned the land, embarrassing the department into pulling its support for the company's legislation.

Myers' actions should be carefully considered by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, due to vote on his nomination Thursday. He has been known, particularly in the environmental arena, for caustic and extremist views and as one who, during many years of lawyering for mining and grazing companies, has often shot from the hip.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 26, 2004 Home Edition California Part B Page 14 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
Court nominee -- An editorial Monday on the nomination of William G. Myers III to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals incorrectly stated that eight acres of federal land that Myers sought to turn over to a private firm was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. That figure refers to potential long-term revenue from the sale of sand and rock on the property. The value of the land alone is $1 million.

Typical is his comparison of federal land management rules to "the tyrannical actions of King George in levying taxes" on American colonists. Which law or rule was he referring to? Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked in pressing him at his Judiciary Committee hearing last month. Myers couldn't cite one.

In the same vein, Myers slammed the 1995 California Desert Protection Act, which carved two national parks from 7.7 million acres of federal wilderness, as an "example of legislative hubris." Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked: Did Myers know those parks drew 2.5 million tourists yearly and provided wildlife habitat while creating jobs and tax revenue? How is that legislative hubris? "I used words that were probably a poor choice," Myers said. Had he visited the parks? Feinstein asked. "No," he replied. "You should go sometime," she said. "It is quite beautiful."

Myers' record as a flame-thrower, his narrow background as a lobbyist for extractive industries and the fact that he's never been a judge explain why he barely got the votes necessary to be deemed "qualified" -- as opposed to "well qualified" -- by the ratings panel of the American Bar Assn.

The 9th Circuit Court, which reviews federal decisions from nine western states including California, decides more significant environmental cases than any other appeals court. It's not a good landing spot for a lawyer who has shown little regard for the public's natural heritage.

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