Rove heads for the Dairy Lagoon

Evidence of growing panic in the White House, Oregon’s largest paper reports below how President Bush’s top political advisor, Karl Rove, has entered into the Klamath Basin water dispute, to support the Republican "rural base."The history: during a recent drought the federal Bureau of Reclamation cut irrigation water off to the basin to protect an endangered species of fish, known locally with extreme contempt as “suckers,” to distinguish them from commercial salmon species. But when Bushovites gained control of the Department of Interior, Sectretary Gail Norton opened up the gates again. Since then, resource agency dialectics have occurred.The economics: Klamath Basin’s top crop is alfalfa, the thirstiest variety of hay, required by the exploding western dairy industry. California, the country’s largest dairy state, grew 58 percent since 1985 and Idaho, another prime Klamath County customer, doubled dairy production since 1992. Dairy prices are low but alfalfa production is down, driving feed costs up. Cows eat and produce milk whether the market pays a break-even price for it or not.Imports of milk protein concentrates at prices cheaper than US dairyman can produce them are cutting down on market demand for dried milk and cheese components. The importers are among the largest food- processing companies in the country; while friends of the Bush administration, they aren't friends of commercial diarymen who, regardless of party affiliation, are only if that base is caught in a market system with only one choice: the lower the prices the more they have to produce.“The day milk prices reach zero, some dairyman will think it’s a good day to buy cows,” a dairyman once remarked.The politics: Bush barely snuck by Gore in Oregon, Nader taking 5 percent that might otherwise have gone to Gore. Gore won comfortably in California, 54 percent-to-41.7 percent. Rove needs an issue and the clamor over the Bureau cut-off in Klamath Basin two years ago looks loud, populist, rural and agricultural -- if you don’t know anything about it.Badlands welcomes Rove to the dairy lagoon. Dairy lagoons, one of the worst sources of groundwater pollution in areas inhabited by his “rural base,” are full of manure and the excess water wasted to wash it into them off cement platforms where milk cows are crowded and confined all their short adult lives. Modern American milk cows live listless, exhausted lives in a pastureless universe in which their milk production is rising as fast as their lifespan is falling. They live shorter and shorter, more and more crowded lives. The last time I checked, over a year ago, the average herd size in California had jumped up to 750; it’s probably higher now. Every time a California dairyman adds 100 cows to his string, another Wisconsin dairyman goes out of business, it's said.This could be the Iraq of domestic "rural base" issues.Bush aide Rove tops farmers' call lists Portland Oregonian - 8/25/03 By Jim Barnett, correspondentWASHINGTON -- Interior Secretary Gale Norton made headlines in March 2002 as she opened the head gates of the Klamath Project. But in February 2003, as farmers pondered whether to idle acreage for a new water bank, their leader wanted Norton's help again. Dan Keppen, head of the Klamath Water Users Association, hoped Norton could assure farmers that the water bank could help prevent a cutoff like the one in 2001. Rather than contact Norton, however, Keppen aimed higher -- the office of presidential adviser Karl Rove."It would be very helpful if the (Bureau of) Reclamation press release included a statement from Secretary Norton," Keppen wrote in an e-mail dated Feb. 24 to David M. Thomas, one of Rove's deputies at the White House Office of Political Affairs.Rove's office did not reply, and the association had to announce plans for the water bank without the formal backing of a cabinet secretary, Keppen said. The experience, he said, shows that access doesn't guarantee results."Frankly, we've put out a lot of correspondence and asked for a lot of things," Keppen said in a telephone interview last week. "For the most part, we don't get what we want -- just like everybody in the basin."Critics nevertheless believe that Klamath farmers get preferential treatment from the Bush administration. And they believe that Rove, the architect of President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, is the driving force behind it.Rove's role in the Klamath crisis generated new controversy following a July 30 article in The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper reported that Rove attended a January 2002 meeting of federal wildlife managers and implored them to "support our base" -- the water-dependent farmers of the Klamath basin -- based on recollections of two managers who attended the meeting. Separately, The Oregonian on July 10 asked the White House for records of communication regarding the Klamath crisis that fall under the Freedom of Information Act. The White House provided 68 documents generated this year, mostly e-mail.Much of the information contained within the documents is mundane. For example, some documents show that White House aides, including Thomas and other Rove deputies, share newspaper articles and press releases that discuss Klamath issues.But the documents also show a direct and well-worn path that runs from Keppen and other representatives of Klamath farmers, through the office of Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and on to several offices within the White House. The path also connects to the Portland office of The Nature Conservancy, which helped developed Klamath conservation plans.Among the 68 documents was Keppen's Feb. 24 e-mail. He went on to suggest a two-sentence statement from Norton saying the water bank was part of the administration's "overall plan to provide full deliveries to the remaining Project lands in 2003."In the telephone interview, Keppen downplayed the significance of his contact with Thomas, then an associate political director under Rove. The group makes similar requests of elected leaders of both parties, but it can't always succeed, he said." 'If we got everything we wanted, you wouldn't have had a project that nearly got shut down a month ago," Keppen said. "So there is a political reality."Some aides exempt from rules But Bush administration critics noted that The Oregonian's request under Freedom of Information would allow the White House to exclude the content of meetings, phone calls, internal memos and any work from Rove and his aides, who are exempt. Policy decisions might have been made by Rove but not reflected in released documents, they said."If you're looking at documents that are showing a lot of e-mailing correspondence about an issue, I would assume that is just the tip of the iceberg," said Kristen Boyles, a lawyer in the Seattle office of Earthjustice.The mystery surrounding Rove's involvement in the Klamath crisis grows in part from the nature of his job. By law, he is accountable only to the president; his work is exempt from congressional oversight and "sunshine" laws such as Freedom of Information.Other White House aides -- typically those whose offices were created by statute -- must submit to such scrutiny. In fact, The Oregonian's document request focused on one such aide, David Anderson of the Council on Environmental Quality.Anderson, an associate director, is charged with coordinating federal efforts in the basin. One of his top accomplishments was to speed completion of a screen to protect endangered suckers from irrigation pumps, an aide said."The role is to expedite on-the-ground work, from improved fish habitat to water quality," said Dana Perino, a spokeswoman for the council.Anderson has become something of a familiar face in the basin after attending the water users' annual conference in April. But Anderson's documents showed that representatives of Klamath water users also communicated directly with at least three Rove staff members who are less well known. They were:Thomas, associate political director for western states in the Office of Political Affairs. Thomas recently left the White House to work for Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., and was replaced by Glynda Becker, a former aide to Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash.Barry Jackson, director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives. Jackson is charged with monitoring progress of the federal working group formed by Bush in March 2002. He visited the basin in February, according to documents.William Greene, an associate director of the strategic initiatives office. Greene's job includes research and writing on Klamath issues.Getting access to the political staff in any White House is crucial to interest groups such as Klamath farmers because it is the most direct path to the president, said Bradley Patterson, who has written about White House organization."The higher it gets in that level, the more vital is the concern of the president, absolutely," Patterson said.Although none of the three Rove aides could be reached for comment, Ken Lisaius, a White House spokesman, said each works to help carry out Bush's March 2002 order to seek input from all stakeholders to enhance water quality and quantity in the basin."The decisions that this White House makes are grounded in solid policy, not politics, period," he said.But environmental advocates contend that they and their allies, including tribes and commercial fishermen, don't enjoy the same access to Rove, his staff, or anybody at the White House involved in planning Klamath policy."They're pretty insular," said Rich McIntyre, Oregon coordinator for the American Land Conservancy. "In the Bush administration, if you're not directly involved in agriculture, you're generally not invited to any of those meetings."Although Anderson is not on the White House political staff, Perino said his door remains open to all parties in the Klamath crisis."He has never turned down a meeting with anyone," she said.