Outdoor Industry Pushes Back Against Western Republicans' Oil Friendly Land Policy

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!

But as Republicans from Montana to Colorado strive for the most creative ways to cater only to industries with the deepest pockets, businesses in the west are waking up and pushing back.

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!"

Run for the hills, school children!  Or the strip mine where the treeless hills used to be!  And be careful, that's also where we buried some radioactive stuff

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.


Obama's Offshore Drilling Announcement Disappointing, but Inevitable

The President made a major announcement this morning about the expansion of offshore drilling. According to First Read, this is a major departure from the campaign that should tick off folks like me:


The announcement is stunning for those of us who paid close attention to the presidential race. And it will be yet another test for Obama's Democratic base -- in this case, environmentalists. As the New York Times writes, "But while Mr. Obama has staked out middle ground on other environmental matters - supporting nuclear power, for example - the sheer breadth of the offshore drilling decision will take some of his supporters aback.

That most reputable news source, the New York Daily News, has a similar headline: “Obama's move on offshore oil drilling likely to upset environmental groups.” We’ll ignore for the moment that they don’t actually quote any critical environmentalists.

While it wasn’t the case when I started blogging in 2006, I have over the last two years or so come to define myself as an ardent environmentalist, working with a climate non-profit and joining the Sierra Club last year, so I figure I ought to give a quick reply to this (speaking for myself, not the non-profit):

I’m not surprised. Anyone paying any attention to the news over the last year saw this coming. You saw it coming when the House, allegedly far more liberal than the Senate, passed a bill lifting the ban on offshore drilling last August, and you saw it coming when Kerry-Graham-Lieberman started negotiating an energy bill with the goal of actually passing their gridlocked chamber. I don’t like it – offshore drilling might help a teensy eensy weeny bit with our addiction to foreign oil, but it's counterproductive for climate change and transportation issues - but since I was already resigned to the fact that it would happen apart from Obama’s presidency, I’m not half as disappointed as First Read tells me I should be. I’m just thankful that the ban remains in effect for the west coast and fragile ecosystems in the northeast. I hope groups like Earthjustice and the NRDC don't ignore the issue and put out statements of annoyed disappointment, but that they also don’t get bogged down in the uncuttable weeds and keep their focus on the doable: passing a good energy and climate bill next month.

[UPDATE] Jerome, with John Aravosis:

..the White House is in the process of antagonizing yet another key Democratic constituency. It's not entirely clear how, in effect, demonizing environmentalists helps to inspire a new generation of young people, most of whom seem themselves as environmentalists. If the President had been for offshore drilling during the campaign, then his current position, while misguided, would be understandable. But, as in the health care debate, gay rights, and other issues, the President stakes out one position, then later goes back on it, and the people simply asking the President to keep his promise are demonized as unrealistic or extreme.

Democrats are not extreme for simply expecting the President to stay true to his word.

There's a saying, quickly becoming the meme on Obama, that every promise he makes has an expiration date. Some, like this, were easy to predict, as those around here back in July 2008 will remember. I would also not that Greenpeace is quite critical:

Is this President Obama’s clean energy plan or Palin’s drill baby drill campaign? While China and Germany are winning the clean energy race, this act furthers America’s addiction to oil. Expanding offshore drilling in areas that have been protected for decades threatens our oceans and the coastal communities that depend on them with devastating oil spills, more pollution and climate change.

The problem here isn't Obama's position; its actually quite the pragmatic one, at least in theory (assuming we get something renewable in return-- which is quite an assumption given recent history).  Hopefully, this creates some sort of movement for Kerry-Lieberman-Graham to happen and be of substance.

Emanuel, Salazar to leave Administration? (Updated)

The Democratic exodus continues, with today’s emphasis shifting from the states and Congress to the administration: Rahm Emanuel is considering leaving his job as White House Chief of Staff to run for Mayor of Chicago, and Ken Salazar has no comment on whether or not he will resign as Interior Secretary to run for Governor of Colorado.

The Washington Post’s Sally Quinn has the scoop on Emanuel: “Emanuel is said to have told people that the chief-of-staff role is an 18-month job and that he is considering a run for mayor of Chicago.” Taeagan Goddard adds:

"Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's current term is up in February 2011 -- there is no term-limit on the office. Daley has had a difficult year both personally and professionally. His wife Maggie has been battling cancer, and his popularity has suffered from the botched privatization of the city's parking meters and the loss of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games."

This would be bad news for the White House, for at least two reasons. First, as Quinn points out, if Emanuel is worrying about his own political future, he might have less concerns for his boss’s. Second, is there anyone who could fill his shoes? Say what you will about his politics, but the man knows how to get things done. President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe writes in The Audacity to Win, “Rahm was a five-tool political player… I panicked at the thought Rahm might not go for [the job]. The gap between him and the next best contender was a gaping chasm.” The news also surprises me. I always assumed that Emanuel would eventually try to go back to the House and continue angling to eventually become Speaker of the House.

The other story comes from Colorado. Yesterday the conventional wisdom was that Governor Ritter’s retirement opens the door to a run from Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who would likely be a stronger candidate. But would he be the candidate if an even bigger name got in? Ed O’Keefe, also of the Washington Post, has the story:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar dodged four questions about a possible campaign for Colorado governor during a previously scheduled conference call with reporters on Wednesday. Salazar is reportedly "under tremendous pressure" to make a run as the state's current governor, Bill Ritter, said he will not seek reelection

Asked by another reporter if he is considering a run or has a preferred candidate, Salazar said: “I’m not going to comment on that. The governor has not yet made his formal announcement and there are other conversations that are going on in Colorado.” Salazar ignored similar queries later in the call. He spoke during a call that announced new requirements for oil and gas companies before they can drill on federal lands…

In his first year Salazar has instituted a department-wide ethics overhaul, settled a major class-action lawsuit regarding American Indian trust accounts and has faced criticism from environmentalists regarding his decision to remove grey wolves from the endangered species list. Wednesday's announcement has also earned him the ire of oil and gas companies that accuse him of discouraging development on public lands.

This one has fewer ramifications for the administration but more for the Colorado landscape. Salazar would be a formidable opponent: unlike Hickenlooper or Republican Scott McInnis, he has already won state-wide office once. He’s also Hispanic, an advantage in the state with the nation’s 7th largest Hispanic population. He’s also seen as more moderate than Hickenlooper, and Colorado is a purple, not blue, state.

The fact that Salazar said “there are other conversations that are going” suggests to me he’s wondering what Hickenlooper will do: Will Hickenlooper defer to me? Will he run if I do? Does he know yet? Do we need to work out a deal? Am I willing to risk my current job and the party’s standings for a bloody primary fight? Do I even want the job with my kids now in DC? This is a situation worth keeping an eye on, to say the least.

[Update 01-06-09 13:11 by Nathan Empsall] Public Policy Polling is not so rosy about Salazar:

I'm a little skeptical about whether a Ken Salazar candidacy for Governor in Colorado is a good idea for Democrats politically. Even before going to the cabinet Salazar's approval numbers were not stellar- in August of 2008 he was at a 39/36 spread in the state.

And Colorado has not been good to Barack Obama since he won the state. His approval was already below 50% there in April, even before his numbers started their slide nationally. When Gallup released approval numbers for all 50 states in August his standing in Colorado ranked 43rd, behind places like Alabama and Kentucky where he got trounced at the ballot box. Salazar's association with the Obama administration is more likely to have hurt his standing in the state than helped it.

[End Update.] Overall, this exodus is an intriguing story, and not necessarily the negative one the press claims it to be. It’s good the storyline is coming when it does as it gives the party plenty of time to prepare – better now than in May. The specific known and potential retirements are a mixed electoral bag, despite what Politico’s headlines may have you believe: Dorgan and Emanuel are bad. Dodd is good, very very good. Cherry is neutral. Salazar is a crapshoot, given Hickenlooper.

Help Robert Byrd Stop Mountaintop Removal Mining

Today is all about health care, as well it should be - but I want to take a minute to look not at how we can cure sick people, but at one way we can help prevent them from getting sick in the first place. According to the NRDC, "Coal-burning power plants are the largest U.S. source of carbon dioxide pollution -- they produce 2.5 billion tons every year. Automobiles, the second largest source, create nearly 1.5 billion tons of CO2 annually."

From the Clean Water Act violations caused by mountaintop removal mining to the hurricanes and droughts that global warming will cause to the thousands of lives shortened every year by coal-fired power plants and mines, there's no two ways around it: coal kills. And yet because of the thousands of jobs coal provides in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming, coal is also king. Legalized prostitution and drug markets would also create thousands of jobs, and yet they stay banned, as well they should. Job creation is not a valid excuse for destroying the lives of children and the future of the planet - something coal state politicians seem to have forgotten.

Until now. Politico had this jaw-dropping story yesterday:

In an early December op-ed piece released by his office -- also recorded on audio by the frail 92-year-old senator -- [Senator Robert] Byrd argued that resistance to constraints on mountaintop-removal coal mining and a failure to acknowledge that "the truth is that some form of climate legislation will likely become public policy" represent the real threat to the future of coal.

"Change has been a constant throughout the history of our coal industry," Byrd said in the 1,161-word statement. "West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it or resist and be overrun by it. One thing is clear: The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose."

In almost any other state, Byrd's remarks might not have caused such a stir. But in West Virginia, where the coal industry -- even in its currently diminished form -- accounts for 30,000 jobs and more than $3.5 billion in gross annual product and provides roughly half of all American coal exports, according to the state coal association, his statement reverberated across the political landscape.

Earlier this month, I suggested donating to the Senate campaign of Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway as a way to help stop mountaintop removal mining, given that his primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, is an unabashed supporter of the method that creates floods and destroys drinking water. I've made my (small) contribution; have you?

Here's another, easier way you can help stop mountaintop removal mining. A new Sierra Club action alert says that the Interior Department is poised to reverse some Bush-era coal regulations but is facing pressure from the coal industry and asks readers to send the Department a public comment urging them to proceed with strengthening the rules. Please take the ten seconds to forward the Sierra Club's comments to the Department, or to write your own.

The Department of Interior and its Office of Surface Mining have publicly stated that they intend to revise the "Stream Buffer Zone Rule," a decades-old prohibition on surface mining activities within 100 feet of flowing streams, which was gutted by the Bush Administration.

But Big Coal is already pressuring the Obama Administration to keep the destructive Bush policies in place. We need your help to flood the Department of Interior with messages supporting the restoration of these necessary safeguards.

Interior Secretary Salazar needs to hear from you before the December 30th deadline for public comments.

Communities throughout the Appalachian region suffer daily from contaminated drinking water, increased flooding, and a decimated landscape resulting from the damage and destruction wreaked on thousands of miles of streams by mountaintop-removal coal mining.  Reinstating and enforcing the 100 foot prohibition in the Stream Buffer Zone rule will rein in the reckless mining that has ravaged Appalachia.

There's more...

Ken Salazar and the Future of America

(Cross posted from 21st Century Democrats)

This past Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar spoke in front of a group of interns and students as part of the 21st Century Democrats' Youth Leadership Speaker Series.

There's more...


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