Clean Energy Nation: Freeing America from the Tyranny of Fossil Fuels

By Jerry McNerney; Martin Cheek | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Energy and Good Government

In 1921, President Warren G. Harding appointed Albert Fall, a Republican senator from New Mexico, to manage the nation’s public lands as the head of the U.S. Department of the Interior. In his new political position, Fall soon persuaded U.S. Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby to give the Department of the Interior control of the Navy’s emergency petroleum reserves in the Elk Hills of California and at a Wyoming site known as Teapot Dome. Soon after gaining jurisdiction of the land, Fall began making leasing deals for the reserves with corporate executives Harry Sinclair of Mammoth Oil (later Sinclair Oil) and Edward Doheny of Pan American Petroleum. Although no competitive bidding was done, these agreements were considered perfectly legal based on the federal statutes of the time.

In exchange for his participation, Secretary of Interior Fall secretly received various gifts from the oil executives, as well as no-interest personal loans that amounted to over $400,000 (the equivalent of about $4 million today). When the U.S. Senate started to investigate the questionable contracts in 1922, Fall took action to conceal all the incriminating evidence of his bribery from the oil companies. He almost got away with his crime, too. But late in the investigation a document surfaced proving that in November 1921, Fall had received a $100,000 loan from Doheny. After a sensational court trial, Fall was found guilty of accepting bribes. He was fined

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