Full Circle for our public lands – Part 2
Under the Bush Administration, industry’s desires clearly trump the public’s support for conservation. This was evident from the very beginning, when one of the first things President Bush did after taking office was to rescind the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which would have protected 5812 million acres of roadless National Forest land from invasive development – a protection supported by an overwhelming majority of the 2.3 million comments submitted by the public.The record of the Bush Administration is one of continuing disregard for the public and the environment in granting favors to industry. Rules have been created restricting public participation relating to timber and mining activities in our National Forests, and excluding public comment in the permit process for oil and gas drilling on public lands. The administration is supporting the drilling industry’s requests for categorical exclusions waiving environmental reviews and relieving industry of compliance with environmental regulations, including waiving compliance with clean drinking water laws. One of the categorical exclusions would exempt drillers from having to control pollution in storm water run-off from sites smaller than five acres. Since most drilling sites are smaller than five acres, this would practically relieve the industry of any obligation to control pollution in storm water run-off.This administration has also redefined wetland regulations, eliminating the requirement to evaluate the “cumulative effect” of development activities, thereby endangering still more of the already drastically reduced area of wetlands, which are so crucial to migratory birds and other wildlife.The Bush Administration is also behind the plan to permit the construction of 1,000 miles of new logging roads in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, one of the world’s last temperate rain forests; the cutting of 10 million board feet of timber per year within Giant Sequoia National Monument; and of course, drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which was set aside for preservation during the Eisenhower Administration. The Bush Administration’s latest move is to promote the sale of National Forest lands to the highest bidder, the result of which is bound to be commercial development and exclusion of the public. In the House, legislation is being proposed to sell off 350 million acres of public lands (including National Parks) for as little as $1,000 per acre.There have been many Congressional hearings on environmental issues, such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act (both of which are in the crosshairs of the Bush Administration), all of which have one fact in common: The witnesses invited to testify are almost exclusively energy, timber, mining, and electric power industry executives, property rights attorneys, and current and former state, county and city officials, with virtually no environmental group representation.Other activities include constantly cutting the budgets of the Forest Service, the BLM, the National Park service, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which constricts their ability to protect the public’s interests. It has also been the policy of the administration to conceal its actions by making secret rule changes, such as those putting commercial development and recreation in our National Parks (such as snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park) ahead of preservation, and releasing regulation changes late at night on Fridays and the day before a holiday, so they get minimal press exposure.The inescapable, and unfortunate, conclusion we are left with is that in this first decade of the 21st century, our public lands are in serious danger of returning full circle to the status of the late 19th century, when extractive industries were free to plunder our public lands for their profit, regardless of the damage they left behind. The only difference is that instead of being ignored by the government, they now have its active support in spite of the preponderance of public opinion, which strongly supports the preservation of our public lands.Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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