This is about the few remaining old-growth redwoods, absolute corporate corruption and the Republicans who encourage it.
Pacific Lumber was a family company that went through a hostile takeover in the mid-80’s by Maxxam Corp., a Texas firm controlled by S&L looter Charles Hurwitz. The money to buy Pacific Lumber came from illegally looting (with “Junk Bond King” Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky) United Savings Association of Texas, “the largest S&L failure in Texas and the fifth largest in the country.” Maxxam immediately looted Pacific Lumber’s pension fund, and to this day continues to loot the company. (For even more about the kind of people I’m talking about, see MAXXAM’s Kaiser Aluminum cancels pensions & benefits.)
The Bush administration let Maxxam off the hook for that, in a deal allowing Hurwitz to then sue the government for millions.
In October 2002, after seven years of litigation brought by two arms of the U.S. Treasury Dept, Hurwitz settled separate lawsuits alleging misconduct and fraudulent activities. The Office of Thrift Supervision and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation initially filed $820 million in claims against Hurwitz, Maxxam, and other corporate executives, over the 1988 collapse and subsequent $1.6 billion taxpayer bail out of United Savings Assoc. of Texas. Maxxam acquired the Texas S&L through junk bond financing. The agencies charged Hurwitz and Maxxam with reckless disregard for the law, self-enrichment, making false and misleading statements, and making unsafe investments. In a major travesty of justice (aka, rip off of the American taxpayers) Hurwitz was fined a mere $206,000 in restitution.
From 1974 to 1987, the company logged an average of seventy-two acres per year of the 14,000-acre North Fork Elk River watershed, located a few miles southeast of the town of Eureka, the seat of Humboldt County. Over the next ten years, from 1987 to 1997, the rate of logging jumped sevenfold—to 504 acres per year.
Some more background on Pacific Lumber’s activities since the takeover is available here.
In an effort to save some of the few remaining old-growth redwoods the government negotiated a $400 million purchase of the Headwaters grove. (Slide show here.) But, having collected the money, the company immediately began to violate the terms of the deal, logging the redwoods anyway and doing it in a way that caused landslides.
When a local prosecutor charged the company with fraud Maxxam financed a campaign to recall him. The most recent news in that case came yesterday, Suit Against Pacific Lumber Is Dismissed:
The ruling is the latest chapter in a dispute that has lasted for more than a decade over how much logging Pacific Lumber is entitled to do on its own land, thousands of acres of north coast forest that hold many of the last ancient redwood trees still in private hands.
[. . .] The lawsuit accused the company of lying to state regulators during the historic 1999 deal that created the Headwaters Forest Preserve. As part of the more than $400-million transaction, Pacific Lumber transferred 7,000 acres of virgin timber to the federal and state governments and agreed to logging restrictions on its remaining 200,000 acres to protect wildlife habitat.
The suit contended that Pacific gave state agencies false information and data understating the landslide risks of its future logging plans — then delayed the submission of correct information. The alleged fraud, the lawsuit said, resulted in extensive logging of many thousands of trees on unstable slopes, with damage to streams and watersheds.
[. . .] Freeborn [the judge] sided with its contention that, even if it had made misrepresentations to get logging plan approvals, the firm was protected from civil liability.
The judge … declared that the company’s lobbying of state regulators [the lies] to be free speech protected by the 1st Amendment. [emphasis added]
Adding insult to injury,
Freeborn invited the company to submit a judgment for him to sign and said the county would be compelled to pay the company’s legal costs. [. . .] The company has threatened to lay off employees and file for bankruptcy if it does not get permission to log the watersheds, which residents say have filled with silt from logging operations.
I usually issue a call-to-action, offering something to do about things like this. But today I am in despair, and all I can say is watch your backs.