Aspen goes to Washington for an earful |

Aspen goes to Washington for an earful

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen cropped up several times last week during testimony on Capitol Hill. Our ongoing search of a media database found the following mentions of Aspen recorded by the Federal News Service, which provides transcripts of Congressional hearings.

On Thursday, July 18, James Burchfield, the director of the School of Forestry at the University of Montana, was testifying on ways to control forest fires before the House Committee on Agriculture.

He primarily addressed the concept of private-public stewardship programs as they relate to the national forests. But in his testimony, he cited one project that saw the “improvement of water quality and sanitation through the replacement of old-style, pit toilets with eight, Aspen-style concrete vault toilets.”

So take heart Aspen, the “Flintstone” toilets at the Maroon Bells, which are housed in a concrete bunker designed to withstand avalanches, are now known by some in Congress as “Aspen-style concrete vault toilets.”

It’s good be famous for something …

Not that Aspen is not famous enough, thanks to the Enron connection, which was presented with a flourish last week on the Hill.

Secretary of the Army Thomas White was testifying about his role at Enron, but he was not asked directly about his flight to Aspen last winter on an Army jet to sell one of his Aspen homes.

The issue was brought up last week by Joan Claybrook, the president of Public Citizen, in her testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee.

Claybrook called White “the poster boy for corporate abuse,” citing his track record as vice chairman of Enron Energy Services, a retail services and wholesale energy trading subsidiary of Enron.

Claybrook said EES “blatantly manipulated the energy market in California to cause an artificial shortage of electricity, lied to state officials and cheated hard-working consumers out of literally millions upon millions of dollars.”

Then she cited the Aspen connection, saying, “Mr. White’s ethical lapses continued, when in March 2002, he flew on an Army jet with his wife at taxpayer expense to Aspen, Colorado, to sign the papers on the sale of a $6.5 million estate.”

Then, she swooped in for the kill.

“The bottom line is that if Mr. White knew what was going on with Enron Energy Services, he has no business running the Army. If he did not know, he is an incompetent manager and therefore should resign his post.”

By the way, White’s new townhome at the Aspen Highlands is still for sale. Why not buy it? Own a piece of history.

@ATD Sub heds:Retired in Aspen

@ATD body copy: Finally, in the same Congressional hearing room last week, Aspen was mentioned as something of a pinnacle of aspiration in the American economy. But it was a bit of a sideways mention.

Former Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, who is now chairman of the Consumer Federation of America, was also testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee on July 18.

He was making the point that the stock markets are now important to the middle class, not just the upper class.

“Increasingly, the financial markets are where average, middle-class Americans put their money to save for retirement, to buy a home, or to send their children to college,” Metzenbaum said. “When the bottom drops out, what these middle-class families have at risk is not whether they can vacation in Tuscany this year, or if they will have to stay a little closer to home.

“It is not whether they have to give up the private jet, or delay their plans to build a vacation home in Aspen. What is at risk is whether they will be able to retire in reasonable comfort, or even retire at all.”

That may well be true, but more than one new home in Aspen may be delayed this year due to the bottom falling out of the market …

Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is

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