By Glenn Stehle, an engineer who began working in the oil industry in 1974. He has extensive experience in drilling operations. He retired in 2000 and now lives in Mexico.
“Equal protection” under the law is the best safeguard that the average person enjoys. Remove the law and you remove the protection, and it is every man for himself, and the individual is irrelevant.—Jesse,
The federal government has two very distinct faces it shows the world. There’s the face it shows the BPs, Goldman Sachs and Halliburtons of the world, and then there’s the face it shows those lacking political power—-small and medium businesses and everyday Americans. I recently got a peak at the face the federal government shows ordinary Americans, and it certainly isn’t pretty.
My adventure started last March when I purchased 16 small antique ivory carvings and some other antiques at a public auction house in Portugal. Before buying the ivory objects, and because ivory is covered under the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), I dutifully read and complied with all the laws, regulations and treaties that govern the export and import of antique ivory. I obtained the appropriate CITES permits from the Portuguese government to legally export the pieces (no import permit is required by the U.S.), and they left Portugal without a hitch.
When the carvings reached the port in Houston, Texas, however, my problems began. The CITES permit is required to be attached to the outside of the shipping container, and this seems to be like waving a red flag in front of a bull to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (The Fish and Wildlife Service, along with MMS, are divisions of the Department of the Interior). Before the customs broker could even prepare and submit the required customs declaration, Fish and Wildlife inspector De’Marion McKinney had already inspected the containers and was on the phone telling my customs broker that the shipment must be returned to Portugal. I called McKinney and her objections were that 1) she didn’t like the way the Portuguese government had done the CITES permit and 2) she had found a small antique wooden cross in the shipment that had mother of pearl encrustations. I felt her objections to the Portuguese CITES permit were either unjustified or trivial, and mother of pearl is not an endangered species.
I asked McKinney if I could just ship the ivory and the cross back, allowing the other articles in the shipment to pass, since they were wooden or glass objects and clearly not endangered species. She refused, and so I refused to ship the containers back. To ship the containers back to Portugal and then reship them again to the U.S. would set me back something like $1000 or $1200, and to what end? There is no guarantee that when they made their return trip to the U.S. that the CITES permits would be any more to McKinney’s liking.
Fish and Wildlife immediately seized the shipment, and not just the disputed ivory carvings, but the entire shipment.
I have prepared a list, which can be seen at www.fixgov.blogspot.com , which enumerates and discusses in some detail the laws, regulations, treaties and constitutional rights which I believe Fish and Wildlife violated in order to seize my property. Perhaps the most egregious violation is that antique ivory, which statutorily is defined as being 100 years old or older, falls outside the jurisdiction of the Fish and Wildlife service. And then there’s the issue of due process. U.S. laws and regulations set out in great detail the procedures Fish & Wildlife and the Solicitor must follow in one of these seizure cases. They didn’t do any of that.
A recent article in the New York Times reports how Fish and Wildlife all but gave carte Blanche to deepwater drillers like BP to operate in the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s how the New York Times reporter put it:
The federal agency [Fish and Wildlife Service] charged with protecting endangered species like the brown pelican and the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle signed off on the Minerals Management Service’s conclusion that deepwater drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico posed no significant risk to wildlife, despite evidence that a spill of even moderate size could be disastrous, according to federal documents.
Now contrast that to how Fish and Wildlife treated me. And then consider what the bottom line is. For while the Interior Department is off on these bunny trails chasing 300 year-old ivory pieces, BP operates with impunity.
I have two options to fight the seizure, either through an administrative process with the Solicitor (of the Interior Department) or in federal court. I am moving to have the case heard in federal Court, because after what’s happened, why would I trust anyone who works for the U.S. Department of the Interior?