Tuesday, October 26, 2004

It took nature 150 million years to sculpt the buttes, mesas, canyons, and breathtaking vistas of Utah. It took the Bush administration considerably less time than that to give oil and gas companies the right to destroy those vistas.

In 1999, 440,000 acres of Utah wilderness were given protected status by the Bureau of Land Management, meaning that oil and gas drilling, mining, and other industrial development was not allowed in that area. Now, Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior under George W. Bush, has declared that protection null and void; and has opened 2.6 million acres of land in Utah to developers.

Congress can still designate this land as protected wilderness; and in the past, the Department of the Interior has administered policies that temporarily safeguard areas like this until Congress decides if they qualify for such wilderness protection. However, Norton has made it clear that the Interior Department will not uphold these interim protections anymore.

It gets worse. The Bush administration has declared that the Interior Department will no longer identify and earmark wild lands for protection, as that agency has done since the 1970s; they say the applicable law forbids them to do so, although previous administrations have always accepted without question the concept that it's the federal government's responsibility to protect and preserve the country's natural heritage.

Norton says opening up formerly protected areas to development is necessary to balance the need for wilderness with the need for economic growth. But, as the Los Angeles Times article points out, only 3% of the United States, exclusive of Alaska and Hawaii, is protected wilderness. Ninety-seven percent is not enough to ensure healthy economic growth?

Apparently not. In the words of Connie Brooks, a Bush administration lawyer, "We need a clear statement. No more wilderness."

No comments: