by Jason Williams, Thu Sep 15, 2011 at 04:57:01 AM EDT
Mention Ken Salazar to Republican lawmakers in the west and the response is sure to include the words "land," "grab," "tyranny," and even "Bill Ayers!" if you listen long enough. In the tea party haze, the only thing less popular than caring for poor people and the elderly is protecting wildlands and the environment. It's an affront to the American dream, enshrined in the Constitution, to live next to a coal mine or an oil field, drinking brackish "freedom water" and breathing polluted "liberty air."
When it comes to land management policy, few Republicans in the west have contributed more to this attitude than Rep. Rob Bishop (UT-1). Most recently, Bishop has led the charge -- with the help of a few juvenile state representatives -- in a call for "reclaiming" western lands "for freedom" (of course) and ensuring Utah's right (ney, duty!) to drill/burn/dig/chop-baby-drill. Also: They're doing it for the children!
One coalition spokesman, business owner Mark Rasmussen, has taken to the op-ed pages:
Last week, 27 Utah-based outdoor-industry businesses joined my company, Petzl America, in calling on our congressional delegation to adopt a balanced, rational approach to protecting Utah's unique and scenic landscapes. We want our Senators and Representatives to understand preserving these lands is critical to our bottom lines, and the jobs our companies create.
We wrote a thoughtful letter to Utah's delegation asking them to reconsider several dangerous policies currently being considered by Congress. We have not heard a reply from any of the delegation, other than the statements of my Representative, Rob Bishop, in the Standard Examiner. Based on these comments, we can only conclude he is not interested in opening a dialogue with an important business group that provides jobs to many of his constituents. His continued assertion that protecting public lands hurts the economy just doesn't hold water.
This is not to say there isn't a place for oil and gas development and ATV trails. According to the Utah State Parks OHV program, there are over 50,000 miles of OHV trails across public lands in the state. That's a lifetime of beautiful riding for tourists and Utah residents alike. Likewise, there are already five million acres in Utah being leased by oil and gas companies, yet only one million have been developed for production. Thousands of leases issued to oil companies for drilling sit idle.
If it's a balanced approach to public lands we're looking for, the scale needs to swing toward protecting the valuable, pristine landscapes we have left.
Rep. Bishop has supported everything from defunding the Dept. of Interior to H.R. 1581, which would strip 5 million plus acres of protected status in Utah alone (for the children, remember!) in his crusade. In Idaho, where one study estimated the outdoor industry outpaces the timber industry favorites 6 to 1 in job creation, Gov. Butch Otter fretted alongside Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg that occasionally having to tell the timber industry no would amount to "a war on the west!"
Witness "stewardship" in a red state, folks. It's no joke.
GOP reps in safe districts are hoping the collision of business interests and sane environmental and land management policy will simply go away. But as more business owners lacking the political clout of the oil, gas, timber, and mining industries find themselves ignored, the "pro-business" veneer is getting increasingly difficult for Republicans in the west to keep polished.