Mountain States Legal Foundation

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Mountain States Legal Foundation calls itself “is a nonprofit, public interest legal center dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system”

A long-standing player against the environmental movement. It was set up with money from the ultra-conservative Coors family, and Joseph Coors sat on the board for three years. Its first President was Reagan’s ex-Secretary of the Interior James Watt, who was labelled as “public enemy Number One” by the Sierra Club. Watt was so unpopular that Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation asked a then unknown writer to pen a glowing biography of Watt. The writer was Ron Arnold, who went on to become one of the leaders of the Wise Use anti-environmental movement[1].

During Watt’s Tenure in office the MSLF “tackled such enemies of western business interests as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Department of the Interior. In the process the organisation picked up the reputation of being anti-consumer, anti-feminist, anti-government and above all, anti-environmental[2]”

According to CLEAR: “The bulk of MSLF's activities have been focussed on public land litigation and on “takings” issues. In recent years, MSLF has attempted to block wildlife management plans, defended the American Farm Bureau Federation against the Department of Interior over wolf re-introduction, and defended oil and gas companies that violated EPA pollution regulations. The group also opposed President Clinton's national monument designations, represented Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) in a suit against Clinton's American Heritage Rivers Initiative, backed a suit claiming the ESA violates the Commerce Clause, and unsuccessfully challenged a voluntary climbing ban on Devil's Tower designed to protect Native American religious rites.”[3]


Early funding came from Coors, the National Legal Foundation, Amoco, Chevron, Marathon, Philips and Shell[4]

The Institute received $734,000 from 1985 to 2002, in 19 grants from the following five foundations[5]:

Links to the Bush Administration

Rebecca W. Watson - Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management –served on the Board of Litigation at Mountain States Legal Foundation and is listed on the Defenders of Property Rights Attorney Network. A close friend of Norton her appointment caused outrage amongst environmentalists. "I think it’s quite clear that the most polluting industries in this country are in complete control of the Interior Department," said Jim Jensen, executive director of the Montana Environmental Information Center. "It’s just blind adherence to industrial ideology. Becky Watson’s appointment is an affront to the American people who own these lands. What Becky Watson and Gail Norton are trying to do is convert them from the public domain to the private dominion of corporations bent on destroying the lands for profit[6]."

Bennet William Raley - Assistant Secretary, Water and Science –has been a member of the Defenders of Property Rights Attorney Network and a member of the Board of Litigation at Mountain States Legal Foundation.

Ann Gorsuch-Burford - Reagan's EPA Administrator was also ex-MSLF[7].


William Perry Pendley - President and Chief Legal Officer. He served as an attorney to former Senator Clifford P. Hansen (R-Wyoming) and to the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. During the Reagan Administration, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy and Minerals of the Department of Interior (under James Watt), where he authored President Reagan's National Minerals Policy and Exclusive Economic Zone proclamation. Pendley is a long-term ally of the Wise Use movement

Board of Directors

Recent additions to the board include:

  • Mark Sexton - President and Chief Executive Officer of Evergreen Resources. Board member of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), Independent Petroleum Association of the Mountain States (IPAMS), Colorado Energy Assistance Foundation (CEAF), and the Colorado Board of Science and Technology. He is a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE)[8].
  • Duke R. Ligon - Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Devon Energy Corporation, the largest U.S.-based independent oil and gas producer and one of the largest independent processors of natural gas and natural gas liquids in North America[9],
  • Ron Krump - Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Krump Construction[10]
  • Terry T. Uhling - from J.R. Simplot Company, an agribusiness corporation[11]

Other Board members include numerous small oil and gas producers, retailers, and lawyers including Diemer True, the secretary of the Board, who is chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America and served on the transition committee for the Bush administration. His brother is a director of the American Petroleum Institute and the National Petroleum Council[12].

The Board “At large” also includes Patrick P. Davison, who is a Republican senate nominee. His democrat counterpart questioned Davison's "ties to a conservative group that has challenged American Indian rights, public access to Montana rivers, and bans on oil and gas drilling, road building in forests, and mining restrictions… This is an organization, on many issues, that is out of step with mainstream Montana”[13].

Another “At large” board member is Helen Chenoweth-Hage.[14] Chenoweth-Hage is a member of the Council for National Policy a “clandestine clearinghouse for key-right wing activists”. A long-term Wise Use and anti-environmental activist, Cenoweth’s anti-green and anti-government speeches are distributed by the Militia of Montana. She considers Ron Arnold and Alan Gottlieb from the Center for the Defence of Free Enterprise as “heroes”[15].


The MSLF has been involved in repealing environmental and Indian rights regulations such as the Endangered Species Act, American Indian rights, public access to Montana rivers, and bans on oil and gas drilling, road building in forests, and mining restrictions[16]. For example MSLF, like the PLF (see below) is at the forefront of repealing environmental regulations Some examples are:

In 1996 the then President Clinton proclaimed 1.7 million acres of southern Utah as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The MSLF challenged the designation, and after six years, the case was finally due to be settled by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson In January 2004[17]. Working with the Wise Use off road group the Blue Ribbon Coalition, the MSLF also unsuccessfully challenged President Clinton's designation of six sites as national monuments in 2000 and 2001[18]

It has also sought to overturn judgements under the Endangered Species Act such as the listing of the Preble's mouse[19]

In May2003 MSLF lost a case when the U.S. Supreme Court refused a suit against Montana's law that gave the public access to state rivers and streams. It also lost a case challenging state wildlife regulations that bans non-Indians from hunting on reservations[20].

In 2001 MSLF sued the Bureau of Land Management over shooting restrictions on federal lands that protected the endangered black-footed ferret. It has also opposed wolf reintroduction in the Yellowstone National Park, and fought President Clinton's ban on road construction in 50 million acres of roadless national forest areas. It also challenged Montana's 1998 ‘voter-passed initiative’ that had banned use of cyanide in new open-pit gold mines. It has also represented the oil industry in challenging the Forest Service's ban on oil and gas drilling along the Rocky Mountain Front[21].

Links to Wise Use movement

The MSLF is an intricate cog in the Wise Use movement. Ron Arnold has called the MSLF the “litigating arm of the Wise Use Movement." It was a sponsor of the first "wise use" leadership conference in Reno, Nevada in 1988, and has participated in many conferences hosted by "wise use" organizations. Over the past two decades, MSLF has served as a training ground for a number of attorneys most active in the anti-environmental movement[22].

Roger and Nancie Marzulla. Roger was the second president of MSLF and served in the Reagan Justice Department under Edwin Meese (see CRC). Nancie is a former staffer at MSLF and worked with her husband at the Justice Department. The Marzullas are co founders of the Defenders of Property Rights, another Wise Use organisation. Founded their own law firm in the late nineties, Marzulla and Marzulla. Gale Norton was on the Board of Advisors of Defenders of Property Rights [23]

Another Director of the MSLF was “Dixy Lee Ray” famed for her book Trashing the Planet, which attacked the environmental movement and issues such as acid rain and global warming. She was a fierce advocate of nuclear power[24].

In 1994, the Free Enterprise Press, the publishing arm of Alan Gottlieb and Ron Arnold’s Centre for the Defence of Free Enterprise published a book called “It takes a hero – the Grassroots battle against Environmental Oppression”. Although published by the Free Enterprise Press, the book was called “ a project of the MSLF” and was written by MSLF’s President Perry Pendley. Among the Heroes were Wise Use stalwarts such as Dixy Lee Ray, Elizabeth Whelan from ACSH, Clark Collins from the Blue Ribbon Coalition, Chuck Cushman from ALRA, Bruce Vincent a timberman from the Alliance for America and of course Ron Arnold and Alan Gottlieb[25].

Two years later in 1996, CLEAR reported how “The March issue of Field and Stream (the nation's largest selling hunting and fishing magazine) took aim at War on the West, William Perry Pendley's book subtitled "Government Tyranny on America's Great Frontier." The review said "War on the West is laced with paranoid babble about a conspiracy of elite Eastern environmentalists whose mission is to communize America. It shamelessly distorts statistics, uses data out of context....William Perry Pendley is president and chief counsel for the Mountain States Legal Foundation and it shows. He's not interested in truth, but advocacy[26]."

In October 2003 Tom Paine magazine reported how 5the MSLF was part of a group calling itself Partnership for the West (PFTW) that was formally unveiled aiming to influence environmental legislation in Washington. Partnership for the West grew out of summit in Denver, Colorado, attended by elected officials, corporate representatives and long-standing anti-environmental organizations such as American Land Rights Association (see above), the Blue Ribbon Coalition (see above), and People for the West. Its president, Jim Sims, is the former communications director for the National Energy Policy Task Force - also known as Cheney's secret panel - and helped craft the administration's energy policy. According to Scott Silver, who heads a real environmental group called Wild Wilderness, “These people are paid lobbyists and public relations consultants serving the needs of every imaginable sort of polluter, developer, resource extractor or despoiler of the environment”.[27]

Labelling Greens as terrorists / exploiting terrorist attacks

Pendley was one of the first people to label environmentalists as “terrorists[28].” The MSLF also used September 11th attacks on the US to argue for drilling in America’s national parks. According to PR Watch: “The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) used the terror attacks as a pretext to demand that the U.S. Supreme Court override a Clinton Administration decision blocking drilling for oil and natural gas in Montana. "The terrible tragedy of exactly one month ago and the uncertainty as to the reliability of foreign supplies make clear the importance of the United States developing its domestic natural resources," said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation, which represents the IPAA”[29]