How John McCain Doomed Mount Graham
"Any Apache could have told the astronomers that," says Vittorio. "It is a stormbringer mountain, summoning up all the moisture from the desert below, pooling it at the peak in a nimbus of clouds."
In fact, the University of Arizona knew that Mount Graham was a poor choice for the deep space telescopes from the beginning. In 1986, a team from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory conducted a two-year investigation comparing Mount Graham and Mauna Kea, Hawai'i as possible telescope sites. The Arizona peak fell far short. "There was no comparison," concluded Mike Merrill, an astronomer at the NOAO. Indeed, the study advised that there were 37 other sites ranking better than Mount Graham for observing stars-even the smog-shrouded Mount Hopkins topped Mount Graham.
This troublesome bit of news didn't deter the University of Arizona. In 1988, it announced plans to turn Mount Graham into a kind of astronomical strip mall, featuring seven telescopes at a cost of more than $250 million. They rounded up a bevy of partners, including the Vatican, several universities in the US and Europe and the odious Max Planck Institute, which in an earlier incarnation as the Max Planck Society gave assistance to the murderous experiments of Dr. Mengele.
The university tapped McCain to push through congress the so-called Idaho and Arizona Conservation Act of 1988. This deceptively-titled law was actually a double-barrel blast at the environment: it gave the green light to illegal logging in the wildlands of Idaho and for the construction of the Mount Graham telescopes, shielding them from any kind of litigation by environmentalists or Apaches. To help sneak this malign measure through congress, the University shelled out more than a half-million dollars for the services of the powerhouse DC lobbying firm Patton, Boggs and Blow.
The bill passed in the dead of night and, in the words of one University of Arizona lawyer, it gave the astronomers the right to move forward "even if it killed every squirrel".
It also exempted the project from the National Historic Preservation Act and other laws that might have made it possible for the Apaches to assert their claims to the mountain, giving the University of Arizona the dubious honor of becoming the first academic institution to seek the right to trample on the religious freedoms of Native Americans.