As Washington simmered this weekend, at least one intractable political problem appeared to melt away in the withering summer sun. Or did it?

In the relative quiet of the Fourth of July weekend, the New York Times reported that Pres. Clinton would enter into a (some would say Faustian) bargain with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Under the deal described by the Times, Clinton would nominate Ted Stewart for the federal bench in Utah in return for Hatch, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and gatekeeper of all judicial nominations, swinging the barn door open on some other Clinton nominees.

Trouble is that Stewart, who currently serves as chief of staff to Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R), earned the vitriolic animus of the environmental movement during his tenure as director of the Utah Natural Resources Department. Enviros now fear the havoc a Judge Stewart could wreak on conservation policy in the West.

Nonetheless, according to the Times, the FBI and the American Bar Association are currently vetting Stewart and his nomination is, for all intents and purposes, a fait accompli.

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Not so fast, says Greg Wetstone of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They swear to me that they have not signed off on any deal,” Wetstone says of the Clinton administration.

The ABA is, in fact, checking out Stewart’s bona fides, but according to Wetstone that doesn’t necessarily mean the nomination is a done deal.

Should Stewart’s nomination ultimately go forward, expect the leading lights of major green groups to testify against him in the Senate and perhaps extract a pound of political flesh from Vice President Al Gore, who clearly has the most to lose in this situation.

Clinton could be in a deal-cutting mood because he faces no voters next year and needs a clear path in the Senate in order to put as heavy a mark on the federal bench as possible before leaving office, just in case a Republican should succeed him and inherit the openings Clinton failed to fill.

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But Gore can hardly afford to alienate enviros on the eve of what could become a real primary fight with stealth candidate Bill Bradley looking to pick up any shards of a shattered Gore constituency.

“Bradley might be a piece of it,” Wetstone said of the veep’s dilemma. “But generally [Gore] has worked very hard to secure a reputation for being strong on the environment and this kind of nomination doesn’t send any of the signals that might make sense for him to send.”

Riders Redux

Congressional rider madness continues unabated. The current vehicle is the Senate version of the Interior Department appropriations bill.

According to Roger Featherstone at Defenders of Wildlife, the bill contains a welter of anti-enviro riders that would, among other things:

  • exempt existing mining companies from limitations on toxic waste dumping on public lands;
  • forbid the Interior Department, or anyone else, from using federal funds to reintroduce grizzly bears in Montana or Idaho without express written consent from the governors of those two state
  • allow the renewal of grazing permits with limited federal oversight;
  • allow grazing to continue in Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area in Washington state, despite the National Park Service’s decision that grazing should not be allowed on the land (this one comes courtesy of Sen. Slade Gorton [R-Wash.], who brought us the Crown Jewel Mine imbroglio);
  • overturn a federal appeals court ruling that curtailed logging in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest; a
  • delay implementation of a rule written by the Minerals Management Service that would require oil companies to pay the full amount in royalties that they owe the federal government for drilling on public lands.

The volume and complexity of the riders on the Interior appropriations bill are staggering. Certainly some will get sliced off in conference with the House (if not before) and some might entice a White House veto threat. Either way, we will keep our eyes open and bring you the skinny on which senators get to keep their pet measures in the bill and which don’t. It might be ugly but it’s how Washington really works: passing controversial bills when no one is looking.

What’s Up, Doc?

No further word from Dr. C. Everett Koop‘s office on why an editorial on the website contains passages lifted directly from a letter written to television stations by a lawyer for the American Plastics Council (see Muckraker, 06.30.99).

The e-commerce gurus at America Online clearly aren’t worried about what the good doctor is peddling. (Or, heaven forbid, they haven’t read the Muckraker!) AOL recently accepted an $89 million offer from the people who bring you to feature and sell ads for the health information website.

The unwashed masses of AOL subscribers (yours truly among them) will now be treated to medical info from regardless of the site’s apparently cozy relationship with certain industry groups.

AOL did not return a call for comment.