June 21, 2021

Edgar F. Kaiser Jr., Former Denver Broncos Owner, Dies at 69

When Edgar died at 69 on Jan. 11 in Toronto, he was widely recalled as the former owner of the Denver Broncos who had engineered the trade that brought the quarterback John Elway, later to be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to the team in 1983.

But there were other sides to his life that are less well known. He headed Canada’s largest coal producer and the country’s seventh-biggest bank. He was a recorded musician. He held a speed record for flying around the world in a small plane. And he once had a dream of producing a vending machine to make instant French fries from potato powder. That venture sputtered and failed.

Undeniably, Mr. Kaiser’s shining triumph was persuading the Baltimore Colts to trade Elway to the Broncos, a franchise he bought in 1981 for $33 million. Mr. Kaiser quietly and relentlessly stalked the Colts owners — not forgetting to point out to Elway that both of them were Stanford alumni. Elway had been the National Football League’s No. 1 draft choice in 1983, and the Broncos gave up their own first-round pick and two other players to get him.

Mr. Kaiser sold the Broncos in 1984, doubling his original investment.

Still, his most historic role was an unwanted one: selling off many of the assets that his grandfather had combined to create one of the nation’s most powerful economic engines, the conglomerate Kaiser Industries.

He did try to preserve that heritage. He even moved into an apartment at Kaiser’s famed but troubled steel plant in Fontana, Calif., in a vain effort to reverse the company’s fortunes personally.

But the empire was ultimately taken apart, its pieces sold off. The Fontana plant was dismantled and sent to China.

This was not the legacy Mr. Kaiser had wanted to leave. His ambition had always been to start and direct things, not tear them apart, even if his obligation was to maximize shareholders’ return by unloading operations that had become worth more than their stock prices.

He had found that opportunity in Canada in 1970 when he joined Kaiser Resources, an energy-producing unit of Kaiser Industries.

“He is a builder,” Edgar Sr. once said of his son. “I think he’s kind of got it in his heart that he’s going to build Kaiser Resources bigger than all three of those other Kaiser companies,” referring to Kaiser’s giant steel, aluminum and cement companies.

At Kaiser Resources, Mr. Kaiser rose to chairman and chief executive. Under his watch it produced more coal than any other Canadian company, and he expanded it by buying the Canadian assets of Kentucky-based Ashland Oil. In 1980 he sold Kaiser Resources at a big profit.

The hope was that the proceeds might save the family empire, but they were not enough and, anyway, he had made it clear that he did not want to run the family shop even if it were preserved.

“The fun of building the Kaiser companies was the fun that my grandfather and the men that worked with him had,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1985. “And my life’s ambition was not to try to somehow achieve the top of administering what they had had fun building.”

So Edgar Kaiser Jr. stayed in Canada, where he had become a citizen. He bought the Bank of British Columbia, a regional bank that challenged Canada’s big five banks in some markets until plunging resource prices put it under. For years afterward he popped up in deals in real estate, waste management and other sectors. The French-fry vending machine venture ended in bankruptcy in 1994.

Mr. Kaiser devoted much of his time to the Kaiser Foundation, which he started in Vancouver, British Columbia, to promote compassionate treatment of drug abusers. The foundation announced his death, but did not give a cause.

Maclean’s magazine once described Mr. Kaiser as “a loner who has never been clubby and has never worried about society’s niceties or what people think of him.” So when details of his private life leaked out, they were eagerly printed. How, for instance, when his house in Vancouver caught fire, he rushed to rescue his Lamborghini and Porsche. Or how he demolished a four-year-old mansion so he could replace it with a better one.

Edgar Fosburgh Kaiser Jr. was born on July 5, 1942, in Portland, Ore., graduated from Stanford in 1965 and earned an M.B.A. from Harvard in 1967. He worked for the United States Agency for International Development as an economist in Vietnam. He was a White House fellow in the Johnson administration and an aide to Interior Secretary Walter J. Hickel in the Nixon administration.

It was his father who had asked him to come back to Kaiser — a request he accepted with sadness, he told The Los Angeles Times, because he knew it would mean dismantling his grandfather’s great achievement. His father died in 1981.

In 1969, as an advance man for a Nixon trip to Asia, he met a Pan Am flight attendant, Lilja Arkolainen, whom he divorced his first wife, the former Caroline Orr, to marry in 1974. That marriage, too, ended in divorce. His survivors include his wife, Susan; his son, Edgar III; and his daughter, Suki Kaiser.

Mr. Kaiser raced cars, motorcycles and sailboats; navigated his yacht up the Amazon; and in 1998 released a soft-rock CD called “Threads of My Life,” on which he sang his own compositions. In 1988 he set the around-the-world record for a medium-weight airplane, and after landing he drove his 8-year-old son to school. Once inside, he grabbed a globe to give the class a geography lesson.

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Perry Promises Increased Drilling and Decreased Regulation

The plan he laid out in a speech at the United States Steel plant here contained proposals he said would free the nation from reliance on foreign energy and create 1.2 million jobs.

But critics said the plan — much of which tracks a recent proposal by an oil industry trade group — would make little headway toward either goal, and they feared that it would imperil drinking water supplies and hurt the environment.

“My plan will break the grip of dependence we have today on foreign oil from hostile nations like Venezuela and unstable nations in the Middle East to grow jobs and our economy at home,” Mr. Perry said in the speech.

With his popularity slipping in recent polls, Mr. Perry is clearly hoping to shift the recent narrative of his campaign away from a focus on what even he has acknowledged has been a lackluster performance in debates. His attention on the energy issue, a subject he is comfortable with, could be an effort to bolster his credibility among voters and donors.

His energy plan has four parts: use executive decrees to allow new or additional drilling in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico and federal lands in the West; roll back or weaken environmental regulations; dismantle the E.P.A. and replace it with a “scaled-down agency”; and reshape subsidies and tax credits for different parts of the energy industry, in what appears would be a move away from renewable energy.

A major part of his approach, he added, would be to put an end to what he described as the Obama administration’s complicity in allowing bureaucrats to “grind the economy to a halt in pursuit of activist regulations.”

But Mr. Perry did not elaborate on how, specifically, his plan would create 1.2 million new jobs and end dependence on foreign oil. And he made questionable assertions, including one — that the E.P.A. had never found a case of unsafe hydraulic fracturing of natural gas — that was plainly false.

He also called on oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico to be restored to the pace seen before the BP disaster last year, even though drilling activity is already approaching prespill levels and the Interior Department has announced a major new lease sale.

Many of Mr. Perry’s proposals also appeared very similar to — if not drawn from — an industry-financed study that was endorsed last month by the American Petroleum Institute. That study asserted that opening new regions to drilling and taking other steps that were also proposed in Mr. Perry’s speech would create an additional one million jobs in seven years.

A spokesman for Mr. Perry did not respond to an e-mail asking whether the governor’s plan was influenced by the industry proposal. Perry campaign officials have also declined to say who wrote the new energy plan. However, Rayola Dougher, a senior economic advisor at the Petroleum Institute, said institute officials had met with all the Republican presidential candidates.

“We’re very pleased to see them pick up on the potential our industry has to create new oil and gas jobs,” she said.

Ms. Dougher added that if proposals in the institute’s report were enacted, that would increase domestic oil production by 5.8 million barrels a day over projected levels 15 years from now. Currently, the United States imports a little more than nine million barrels a day.

But other experts were sharply critical of Mr. Perry’s proposals. While he promoted the potential of natural gas in the giant rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale to create a quarter-million new jobs, some experts noted that federal researchers recently cut estimates of undiscovered and technically recoverable gas in the shale formation by almost 80 percent — calling into question the reliability of any long-range predictions about the amount of energy available for extraction there.

The Perry proposal “is largely a political gesture to powerful interests,” said Thomas Power, former chairman of the University of Montana economics department and an expert on energy industry employment. “It’s not going to make a dent in the unemployment rate, because the vast majority of people who have those skills are very busy right now pursuing oil and gas.”

“We’ve been through this before — the ‘drill, baby, drill’ routine,” he added.

Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel to the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, expressed bafflement at the assertion that environmental regulators had crippled the energy industry.

“The E.P.A. is not standing in the way of oil and gas drilling, because they legally have very little power to regulate the industry,” Mr. Horwitt said. The balance between the need to guarantee reliable energy and to protect the nation’s drinking water supplies has already been tilted too far toward oil and gas companies, and the Perry proposal would exacerbate that further, he added.

John M. Broder and Ian Urbina contributed reporting from Washington.

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