Groucho Marx once speculated that the reason California attracted so many crackpots was because the North American continent was tilted to the southwest and everything that was loose tended to slide into that corner.
That would be an easy way to explain Richard Pombo, except for the fact that Pombo was born there. Which leaves us with no other explanation than that he is just another right-wing Republican threat to the environment.
Pombo, who grew up on a ranch in California's Central Valley, was elected to Congress in 1992 in typical Republican fashion -- that is by smearing his opponent, who he branded as a "surefire choice of the hard-line feminists."
Feminists weren't Pombo's primary target, however. He had his eye on more dangerous enemies: environmentalists. And it's been there ever since.
For much of his unremarkable House career, Pombo's anti-environment rants were simply annoying. But now things have changed. Republican control of the House and seniority have put him in the chairman's seat of the House Resources Committee, from which perch he is attempting to rewrite the Endangered Species Act.
And about time, too. Why should we let a few scruffy owls and fish and bugs and prairie dogs stand in the way of strip malls, mines and housing developments?
Pombo has more on his plate than fur, fins and feathers, however; he's also taking aim at our national parks.
According to the National Parks Conservation Association, Pombo has drafted a plan that would close 15 of our parks and put the land up for sale to developers and extractive industries: oil, gas and mining.
Again, why not? Why have all that land set aside for tourists and bears to wander around in when it could be producing profits for the people in this country who really count?
One of Pombo's targets, according to the association, is a 91-acre island in the Potomac River that was purchased as a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican and true conservationist.
Pombo, it should be noted, is not working alone. He has a friend at the Department of the Interior, Paul Hoffman, the department's deputy assistant in charge of parks.
Hoffman qualified for his job the way so many others in this administration qualified for theirs -- by being dedicated to the exploitation of the resources their agencies were meant to protect.
Hoffman, a former aide to Dick Cheney, the noted pheasant slayer and conservationist, came to his new job from the Cody, Wyoming., Chamber of Commerce.
Now as then, Hoffman's objective is making the parks more accessible to snowmobiles, dirt bikes and ATVs, as well as commercial interests.
In Hoffman's scheme of things, damage to the parks and their atmosphere would be tolerable provided it wasn't permanent.
In other words, you could build a resort hotel on Gettysburg's Cemetery Ridge provided it could be torn down someday.
It would be bad enough if critters like Pombo and Hoffman were anomalies, but they are not. Far from it. They are typical operatives in an administration that has been dedicated from its onset to undermining every statute that has been put in place over the last half-century to protect our birthright and slow the fouling of the air we breathe and the water we drink.
In an Orwellian orgy, the Cheney/Bush Gang has trotted out the Clear Skies Act, which is nothing more than an attempt to dismantle the Clean Air Act. And it has given us the Healthy Forest Initiative, ostensibly to protect homeowners from forest fires, but in actuality a carte blanche to the timber industry.
These are the people who have given the coal industry leave to scalp the tops off mountains in search of coal and dump the residue into valleys, obstructing streams, killing aquatic life, and occasionally triggering mudslides and floods.
These are people we elected and then re-elected.
In other words, we brought it on ourselves.
David Rossie is associate editor of the Press & Sun-Bulletin.
© 2005 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin