Plum Creek Back In The Headlines…..

Posted: 26/05/2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,
The LURC staff has released a schedule of changes that they wish Plum Creek to make to their proposal for rezoning and development in the Moosehead Region this past week. Seems kind of strange to me that they would do that. Maybe it’s just business as usual, but I would think that the LURC would be required to give either a yes or no on the approval decision, and nothing more. Sounds like another case of let’s make a deal. I’d compare it to somebody going to the county courthouse to file paper on a complaint, and having the clerk give them advice on how to win the case. Something like that just isn’t done. Who knows, maybe they took some coaching from Senator Baucus of Montana.

Now there’s a guy who knows how to play the deal game. As a bit of background to this statement, let just say that we’re going to be giving Plum Creek Timber over two hundred million on a piece of TNC brokered easement land in Montana, thanks to the recently passed poker of the year, the Farm Bill, H.R. 2419. According to a press release by the RSC the Baucus Bonds Earmark allows up to 500 million dollars in tax exempt bonds to be issued on behalf of state and local governments as well as nonprofit groups for the use of purchasing lands for conservation.

Granted, there were a lot of special interest earmarks, and it looks like at least some of them may possibly have been connected to campaign contributions. No direct proof of course, but the trail still exists. After all, if you track a beast in the woods long enough, sooner or later, you’re bound to step in something. But let’s look at this deal of Montana’s Senator Baucus involving Plum Creek Timber and The Nature Conservancy.

The funding portion is simple and straight forward, sort of, and direct to the point of the reason for the earmark. Baucus says he doesn’t call it an earmark by the way. The item is called the “Forestry Bonds Program.” How it works is a state or nonprofit agency is allowed to issue up to 500 million dollars in tax credit bonds. An investor or investment group would then ‘buy’ the bonds. In return, the investor would receive a tax credit of somewhat more than the initial $500 million.The state or nonprofit then would use a portion of the money to purchase key lands.
Whatever money remains after the sale would be invested, so that when the bond matured, the issuer could pay back to the federal treasury the $500 million in deferred taxes.The provision would cost taxpayers an estimated $250 million over 10 years n the additional tax credit claimed by the bond buyer, plus the interest lost on tax money not collected.An alternative allows the state or nonprofit to forego the bonds and simply receive a $250 million payout from the federal government for purchase of the forest lands.

An interesting point brought up about this program is that TNC would be allowed to apply for, and receive a tax refund of 250 million dollars. Interesting point since TNC, being a nonprofit organization, pays no taxes. But what makes this an especially troublesome bond program is the requirements of the land considered for the program.

In order to qualify for the “Forestry Bond” program, the forested parcels must;

1. be adjacent to U.S. Forest Service lands,
2. must be at least 40,000 acres in size,
3. must be covered by a native fish conservation plan approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and,
4. It must be subject to a native fish habitat conservation plan approved by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

After researching the attributes and possible candidates, the Republican Study Committee found there was only one piece of land in all of America that qualified for the bonds. That was a piece of land in Montana that is owned by Plum Creek Timber. TNC wants to purchase that same land, place their easement contracts upon it and turn around and sell it to the taxpayers by way of the USFWS.

According to some reports, This process began in 2000. To date there has been little progress in coming up with the funds in Montana to make the deal work, so TNC/Plum Creek put the word out to Baucus. Baucus tried to place the same earmark on the Energy Bill for “06-“07 and was shot down then. Finally getting it through on the Farm Bill, the supporters of the deal are ecstatic over the result.

Perhaps this might not seem so bad. After all, conservation is a good thing, to a point. A lot of people would be upset if some developer charged in and raped the wilderness like Tom Blixseth did to the Yellowstone Club and other developers at other mega resorts. Ever notice that camping just doesn’t seem like camping sometimes? Like when you’re kind of doing the John Denver thing and sitting by the evening fire and passing the whatever around. All of a sudden some bozo in the next campsite fires up a blender to make Margaritas. Snap, crackle whirr. The world may not in fact be getting smaller, but it sure seems like it sometimes. We need to preserve all we can before it’s too late.

Another Blog called “The Last Best Place” had these comments to make on the issue;

“Plum Creek spent some $220,000 lobbying Congress in the first quarter of this year. Its PAC has spread $400,000 in campaign contributions between the parties in the last decade. PCL Employees have given $16,600 this cycle to Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance committee and the author of the bond provision”.

So in three months Plum Creek has spent nearly one quarter of a million dollars lobbying Congress so far this year, over half of what they have spent in the last decade. And Baucus gets sixteen thousand of it. Maybe it’s just me, but the appearances are that TNC and Plum Creek bought themselves an earmark. And of course, TNC and Plum Creek are trying to get approval to make some deals they cooked up working in Maine’s Northwood’s by way of the Moosehead Lake Concept Plan they’ve submitted.

Naturally, being the prying sort of writer that I am, I started to look into the political contributions Plum Creek has made in the State of Maine, just to see what’s what. Plum Creek has indeed been donating quite freely, to all parties it seems. State financial records dealing with the issue have quite a few entries concerning Plum Creek. Most of them are for $250.00 or less of course, but the PAC’s have been blessed with some large sums, as well as some nonprofit groups.

Go to http://www.mainecampaignfinance.com/Public/search.asp and do some research. Just type Plum Creek into the search box and hit go. There’s quite a lot of data for public consumption. For instance, I learned that on 18 Sept. “07, Plum Creek made a donation of $25,000.00 to a group called Citizens to Save Maine’s Heritage. Who are they? Well, they are a Political Action Committee, or PAC, who claims to be a Project of the Conservation Campaign. Which means? It means that the group accepts donations from larger contributors and parcels them out as a way to get around the campaign finance laws.

And other groups get to participate as well. Groups like the Natural resources Council of Maine, The Georges River Land Trust, The Trust for Public Lands, The Nature Conservancy and so forth. Yes that’s right. All of these groups have benefitted from Plum Creek’s donations through the Citizens to Save Maine’s Heritage PAC. Some of the very same groups that stand to rake in a huge sum of money if this plan gets approved. There are quite a few names who have received donations in differing amounts from Plum Creek in Maine over the last few years. Do we have a Baucus in Maine? Maybe, maybe not. There isn’t enough information yet to tell, but I intend to keep digging. Remember what I said the other day about politics being like laundry?


Luke 16:1-3 (King James Version)

1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
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Comments
  1. Jay Stevens says:

    Ugh. Mike Harris is the last person you want to quote on Montana environmental issues. He’s a strong advocate of property rights — that is, selling off the land and developing it.

    A better perspective of the deal was written by Daniel Nairn.

    Basically Plum Creek has Missoula over a barrel. We’re already flirting with water shortages because of county sprawl, and the sale of Plum Creek land to developers would have meant massive sprawl in Missoula county in an area that probably can’t support it.

    We dodged a bullet here.

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