Public be damned | AspenTimes.com

Public be damned

Paul Andersen

There’s an illusion in this country that the public has a say in what the Bush administration does regarding natural resources. The recent lynx debate in the White River National Forest was indicative of federal manipulations aimed at easier resource access.Bush has his second-term mandate, and it’s damn the icebergs, full speed ahead! The ship of state is churning the twin screws of natural resource exploitation and corporate profits, and there’s no slowing it down.Drilling for oil and gas on federal land is the strongest example. The feds and the oil and gas industry are pushing an agenda that has inexorable momentum, and it translates into roads and drill pads on sensitive lands, driven by an antiquated energy policy.Recently, the Garfield County commissioners took public comment on plans to drill the Roan Plateau. Most of the voices in that packed hearing room asked for caution, if not a downright halt to drilling plans on this unspoiled mesa top.A local Sierra Club representative warned that the plateau’s rare plants and other environmental resources deserve protection. “Why spoil all of this for the profits of a few?” posed the rhetorical question.A representative of the Colorado Mountain Club said Garfield County has already been drilled heavily for natural gas. “We are supplying a lot of energy for the nation, and we need a balance,” she said.The commissioners will comment later, but if the situation in New Mexico is any indication, their comments will be meaningless. When extractive energy is in the equation, nothing is off limits. A drill rig could sprout on Mount Rushmore, lancing George Washington’s nose!Even with overriding objections by New Mexico’s governor, the Interior Department recently announced a final plan for expanding oil and gas drilling on Otero Mesa. This desert grassland is ultimately defensible for its unique, wild-land attributes.What’s unusual in the Otero defense is the unity of the opposition, which has brought together a rare coalition of ranchers, property rights advocates, hunters and conservationists.The fact that Otero Mesa’s nearly 2 million acres of Chihuahuan grassland will be drilled and bulldozed is sad enough, but the real tragedy is the heavy-handed, top-down, bureaucratic checkmate of local initiative. “I am very disappointed by the Bush administration’s failure to respect New Mexico’s position on oil and gas leasing in this precious, sensitive and world-renowned area,” Gov. Richardson said in a statement. “The Interior Department is ignoring its stated policies of respecting and working with states regarding major land management decisions.”The reason: what Richardson labels as Bush’s “one-way, oil-only energy policy.” Plundering wild nature for marginal energy reserves has become an act of desperation from an administration unwilling to shift to energy efficiency and conservation.”The bottom line continues to be we are talking about destroying the largest remaining desert grasslands in America for at best a few days’ worth of oil and gas. That is shortsighted,” said a spokesman for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.The drilling orgy is predicated on a spurious notion that was described by a natural gas industry representative who spoke at the Garfield hearing. “The more natural gas we can produce as a nation, the more secure we will be,” he said.”Security” has become the password for access to fossil fuels at any cost. Local autonomy is devalued and eventually trumped. Raising a drill rig is akin to raising the flag on Iwo Jima.But this no cause for defeat. Rather, it is a call for heightened activism. The American public must be educated that the trade-off for cheap energy is a desecration of heritage lands. Meanwhile, local voices guarding that heritage must rise in volume, intensity, and passion. The battlefront is here and now.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.


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