By Greg Lakes, editor
Feb. 3, 2003
In addition to the Bush administration policies that generate
national headlines, a variety of other environmental conflicts are being played
out across the region.
Last week, BLM Director Kathleen Clarke announced proposed
changes in the agency's grazing policies that she said would allow more
local conservation and that environmentalists said echoed the Sagebrush Rebellion.
The new rules would give ranchers a property interest in the improvements they
make on grazing leases, and critics said, make it difficult to evict ranchers
who abuse their leases once they have the makings of a "takings" case.
Western ranchers, a solid base of support for Bush, have long sought recognition
of the fences, corrals and watering improvements they make on their leases,
but environmentalists say the policies would give leaseholders property rights
to public lands.
Another aspect of the new policy would require the agency to consider local
"custom and culture" in its environmental analyses, a phrase that's
been a mantra of Wise Use groups for more than a dozen years.
In May 2001, Bush ordered BLM officials to expedite
oil and gas exploration on public lands across the West, and since, nine
projects have been proposed, completed, sued over or reversed in court in Utah
The largest, a seismic survey over 1,700 miles of the Book Cliffs, is pushing
deep into remote backcountry, and the exploration company is working a crew
of 30 for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to try to beat an expected court
order to stop.
County officials in Utah, Colorado and California have claimed jurisdiction
over hundreds of miles of backcountry tracks on public land, mainly to deem
the tracks county roads and to block any new designations of wilderness.
Last month, the BLM announced a new rule that allows counties to submit their
claims, and agency officials will then decide if the BLM will cede its interest.
Agency officials said the new rule was a way to settle the long-standing and
increasingly bitter dispute, but critics saw it as a way to streamline the giveaway
of rights of way.
Environmentalists alleged the Grand Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National
Monument, Dinosaur National Monument, much of the Mojave Desert in California
could be opened to backcountry
Late last month the U.S. Senate approved a Bush administration initiative
to overturn a provision of the 25-year-old Clean Air Act and allow aging power
plants to upgrade without meeting stricter air quality standards.
The new policy, opposed by Arizona's Republican Sen. John McCain, will allow
Arizona's Four Corners power coal-fired plants and 144 other point sources in
the state to increase pollution levels.
The EPA and Agriculture Department devised new rules agency chiefs said would
from large feedlots by requiring managers to write their own plans to lower
the amount of runoff but allow them to keep the plans secret.
The new regulations will apply to more than three times as many feedlots and
EPA director Christine Whitman said they would reduce nitrogen and phosphorus
pollution by 25 percent. But critics said the rules had no minimum standards,
were heavily weighted in favor of feedlot owners and amounted to a step backward.
Bush hit several environmental themes in his State of the Union address, citing
programs he said will result in cleaner air, healthy forests and emissions-free
cars. But a New York Times piece said the programs don't reflect any change
Citing Republican strategists, the article said the
underlying motive was to appeal to suburban mothers and other groups who
see environmental protection as the duty of the federal government, and to pull
those crucial swing voters' support for the impending war in Iraq.
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