McInnis feels slighted by poor wilderness grade |

McInnis feels slighted by poor wilderness grade

It’s a lucky thing that U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis earned extra credit.

That may have been the only thing keeping the Grand Junction Republican from altogether flunking an environmental group’s Wilderness Report Card.

The “D” grade McInnis received from the American Wilderness Coalition incensed his spokesman, Blain Rethmeier, considering that in the 106th Congress, McInnis sponsored three successful wilderness bills, more than any other congressman.

“Certainly we don’t feel it’s a fair representation,” Rethmeier said Thursday.

Steve Smith, a Glenwood Springs resident and regional staff member for the Sierra Club, expressed some ambivalence toward the new ratings.

“My basic reaction is that I don’t like grade card approaches like this, because it so easily overlooks the subtleties of both the good and bad of how a member performs on public lands issues,” he said.

The Sierra Club is not a member of the American Wilderness Coalition, which has a Durango post office box. Its report rates members of Congress on a range of public lands issues that arose during the 106th Congress and the current 107th Congress.

It gave McInnis poor marks on issues involving the San Rafael Swell in Utah, Utah wilderness protection, dealing with off-road vehicles, subsidizing timber sales, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, and for failing to sponsor bills protecting ANWR, the Northern Rockies and the Alaska rainforest.

He got a positive mark for funding national monuments and extra credit for his work in wilderness protection.

Besides the three Colorado wilderness bills McInnis previously sponsored, he brokered the deal that got the Colorado James Peak wilderness bill through the House this year, and also is sponsoring legislation to create wilderness in the Deep Creek area of the Flat Tops northeast of Glenwood Springs, noted Rethmeier.

Diana DeGette and Mark Udall, two U.S. House members from Colorado, both got A-plus ratings from the group. Colorado’s other

Republicans in the House – Bob Schaffer, Joel Hefley and Tom Tancredo – all received F’s.

Colorado’s two U.S. senators, Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, both Republicans, both got D’s. They earned extra credit for wilderness protection after helping McInnis get his measures passed.

Partisan sham

or accurate indicator?

Rethmeier called the ratings “a partisan sham.”

“It’s kind of like a teacher that gives half the class A’s and half the class F’s,” he said. “You’ve got to ask yourself if that teacher’s teaching very well, especially when the best student from last year gets a D this year.

“It’s pretty clear what they’re trying to do here, and buyer beware.”

Melyssa Watson, board chairperson for the American Wilderness Coalition, believes the scorecard is an accurate indicator of where congressmen such as McInnis have succeeded and failed when it comes to wilderness.

“We tried to highlight the work that Congressman McInnis has done in Colorado through the extra credit,” she said.

She said she applauds McInnis for his work in Colorado.

“Unfortunately we disagree with Congressman McInnis on some of those other issues,” she said.

“Here in Colorado he’s certainly doing the right thing. … But when you look at the issues compiled, the votes do speak for themselves.”

Rethmeier questioned the criteria on which members of congressmen were judged. He said they were heavily weighted toward ANWR and energy exploration in national monuments, “and those have nothing to do with wilderness.

“I don’t think that their message is clear. I think the state of Colorado understands and knows the positive record that Congressman McInnis has.”

Smith said the coalition deals with wilderness and broader public lands issues.

Watson said it came up with ratings criteria after consulting with grassroots groups across the country.

Smith fears that such ratings don’t always give a full picture of how someone deals with wilderness.

While it’s not as simple an approach, it’s better to look at votes and initiatives taken on legislation, as well as how a congressman deals with federal agencies and his day-to-day working record, Smith said.

However, he added that it wasn’t unfair for the coalition to grade on the issues that it did, and added, “From our perspective (McInnis) didn’t do very well on that collection of votes.”

But for Colorado issues, he probably would have received a different grade, Smith said.

Colorado environmental groups haven’t always agreed with McInnis on the details of wilderness bills. In fact, some of them have chosen not to support his Deep Creek bill as it currently stands, due to concerns over the amount of acreage it would protect and the level of watershed protection it would provide.

Still, said Smith, “It has been helpful that he has had an interest in doing wilderness at all, and we have had some packages where we reached agreement.

“That’s good for Colorado wilderness. We’ve had new wilderness in Colorado because Scott McInnis made the effort,” he added.

Some other Colorado congressmen have done little either in Colorado or nationally when it comes to wilderness legislation, he said, specifically naming Tancredo and Schaffer.

“Overall, the Colorado delegation, we think, needs to step up and put more effort into preserving the marvelous places that we have in this state,” Smith said.

Watson said it could be that McInnis has done more for wilderness in Colorado because his constituents here ask for it.

Said Smith, “My sense is he’s probably proportionally more attentive to the details in Colorado. He knows more about the lands in Colorado and perhaps cares more about the lands in Colorado than in other places.”

He said he hopes Colorado’s delegation pays special attention to Colorado wilderness issues, but added, “It’s important to look out for all the special places in America. We want them to perform better on votes like those listed here.”

He added that while regional scorecards such as the coalition’s may have shortcomings, anything that gets people paying attention to wilderness issues is a good thing.

“If it’s a little bit controversial, maybe people will pay attention to it a little bit longer,” Smith said.

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