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As I See It

Hal Sundin

With the nation’s attention focused on the war against terrorism, the Bush administration has declared war on the environment. It is moving aggressively to roll back environmental protections and open up fragile wildlands to mining, drilling, and logging – all benefiting industries that contributed nearly $100 million to his election campaign.

The list includes weakening current clean air and clean water standards and pollution cleanup requirements and reducing corporate liability for irresponsible mining practices.

In January, the U.S. Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency recommended scaling back provisions that reduce smog, cut dangerous soot, and protect national parks by requiring power plants and other polluters to install modern emission control devices whenever they upgrade or expand.

Bush has even overruled his EPA chief and ignored his campaign pledge to require power companies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. He has also suspended a program that required mining companies to clean up damage to federal land, and prohibited new mining projects that would cause irreparable environmental harm – for example, groundwater pollution.

He has also set aside the ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, in spite of overwhelming public support for the ban.

Thwarted by the Senate in his campaign to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, he has now turned his attention to opening vast portions of the public lands in the Rocky Mountain States to oil and gas drilling. Included are the western quarter of Montana, more than half of Wyoming and Utah, the western third of Colorado and the northwestern part of New Mexico.

Last fall, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management quietly approved 12 leases for oil and gas development in Utah’s spectacular redrock canyon country to giant energy corporations without bothering to review the environmental consequences as required by law. A lawsuit has been filed in federal court challenging the legality of these leases.

One of the prime targets of Bush’s drilling plan for the Rocky Mountain states is the Roan Plateau northwest of Rifle, managed by the BLM. The agency is required to come up with a management plan, and has to decide whether that plan will recommend oil and gas drilling on the Roan Plateau or will favor measures to protect the wildlife, including cutthroat trout and a number of rare and imperiled species.

If drilling is permitted on the Roan Plateau, this largely unspoiled area will soon resemble the well field that is so visible from Interstate 70 west of Rifle.

To help prevent that fate for the Roan Plateau, please write or call Greg Goodenow at the BLM Resource Center, P.O. Box 1009, Glenwood Springs, CO 81602, 947-2800, before May 15. Request that drilling be done directionally from the base of the plateau and not on the plateau itself, and that habitat for native fish, wildlife and rare species be protected by designating four proposed wilderness study areas on the Plateau, and adopting a “closed unless posted open” policy for motorized travel, with motorized travel limited to the four main ridge roads.

The Interior Department, under the direction of Secretary Gale Norton, a long-time gas and oil industry supporter, has ordered BLM to scour our public lands for gas and oil lease opportunities, and to accelerate the permitting process. This policy has the effect of converting the BLM into an advocacy agency for the drilling interests, instead of serving the public interest. All the more reason to let your voice be heard by the BLM about the Roan Plateau management plan.

Secretary Norton has also opened the door for yet another Canadian gold-mining company, this time to come into California and carve a mile-wide open-pit cyanide-leach gold mine on Native American ancestral land. The mine would leave behind mountains of toxic waste tailings. In the past, such operations have left the American taxpayers with a bill far greater than the value of the gold which was extracted. The Summitville operation, right here in Colorado, is a sad example.

President Bush is also bent on dismantling the Roadless Initiative, which would ban construction of roads in certain presently road-free areas in the national forests. The Roadless Initiative would maintain the unroaded state of 58.5 million acres of our national forests, which seems like a large area, but amounts to only 2 percent of the area of our country.

If our future depends on the exploitation of the last few percent of our country which remains relatively unspoiled, heaven help us! We should be preparing for the inevitable future of diminishing resources by adopting conservation policies such as higher energy efficiency, increased use of renewable energy sources, and substitution of materials. None of these are popular with the Bush administration, which has cut funding for these efforts and instead is promoting big subsidies for the drilling industry.

All told, this administration is working behind the scenes to undermine the Endangered Species, Clean Air, Clean Water, National Environmental Policy, National Forest Management, and Federal Land Policy and Management Acts. This is not a policy that the vast majority of the American people favor.

Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.


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