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What price the hapless toad?

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
September 16, 2005


It's weird how things come together.

Responding to a reader's request to "Do something on kelp!" and seeing a possible connection with the loss of wetlands contributing to the catastrophe in the Mississippi delta, I was well on my way to a proper rant about the need for kelp restoration, when I tuned into John Roberts' Chief Justice Senate confirmation hearings. Like Kelp, I knew little about the man nominated to lead the federal court for the next 3 decades.

Ecologically speaking, I figured it would be nice to know where Mr. Roberts is coming from when considering environmental law such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act. Abandoning research on kelp harvesting and the wide use of carrageenan, I commenced goggling the elusive John Roberts.

It's clear Judge Roberts is a skilled lawyer with an impressive resume. It's clear he is a man of faith. It's also clear he will vote to overturn Roe v.s. Wade at the first opportunity. A career federal employee, Roberts never far from the Washington DC since arriving in 1980, his nomination is perfectly in keeping with the agenda Bush Administration.

With the senate confirmation hearing playing in the background, I bounced around the net looking for a better understanding of the man who would be chief. Unnerved by his striking resemblance to Frodo, I wondered what allegiances John Roberts held precious. The fact that John Roberts worked in the administrations of Reagan and Bush Sr., and with Kenneth Starr on the Clinton impeachment, does not bode well.

Nor does the fact Roberts, as an attorney, met with Florida Governor Jeb Bush during the Florida recount of of 2000, to give advice on the legal aspects of election disputes and methods to name Bush the winner.

On all accounts, John Roberts nomination to the Supreme Court perfectly represents the aspirations of the Bush administration. In his first opinion as a DC federal appeals court judge, Roberts urged the court, unsuccessfully in Rancho Viejo vs. Norton, to reconsider a decision rejecting a constitutional challenge by the developer that would undermine provisions of the Endangered Species Act safeguarding habitat of the rare and endangered southwestern arroyo toad.

Citing the toad's habitat as confined to one state, California, Judge Roberts suggested the commerce clause of the constitution governing interstate commerce did not enable the federal government to protect "a hapless toad that, for reasons of its own, lives its entire life in California." If one were to follow that opinion to its natural conclusion, its clear John Roberts could be expected to rule against regulatory environmental protections in favor of commercial interests.

Turns out Judge Roberts has an impressive anti-environmental record.

In 1982, as a young attorney in the Reagan administration, Roberts helped run damage when Environmental Protection Agency head Anne Gorsuch refused to provide Congress documents on irregularities in the Superfund toxic waste program.

In 1990, Roberts successfully argued before the Supreme Court members of the National Wildlife Federation did not have standing to sue the federal government over a mining project on public land.

In 2001, on behalf of the mining industry, Roberts filed a legal brief arguing that West Virginia citizens whose health and property were damaged by mountaintop-removal mining had no right to sue the state for damages in federal court under the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Roberts was again successful.

Siding with the Bush Administration in 2003, Roberts was a dissenter in the D.C. Circuit Court's denial of a request to rehear its decision calling for the public release of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task-force records.

In 2004's Sierra Club v. EPA Judge Roberts rejected a lawsuit by the Sierra Club that sought to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to better regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants from copper smelters.

It's clear, at least to this writer, the corporate jihadists of the Bush Administration are using hot button social issues such as abortion, affirmative action, and presidential war powers, as cover in their effort to ensconce an anti-environment legal eagle, at the pinnacle of the US judicial system.

Returning full circle, I am left wondering if a Chief Justice John Roberts would be inclined to overrule established California precedent, such as a moratorium on new oil drilling platforms off the coast or the ongoing environmental efforts to protect California habitats and ecosystems.

Common sense suggests any man who would allow the southwestern arroyo toad to be driven extinct, would have no problem allowing commercial interests to decide the fate of the biological rich kelp forests of Southern California.

It's weird how things come together just as they are falling apart.

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