Udall says environmental cause not lost | SummitDaily.com

Udall says environmental cause not lost

Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk

BASALT – Rep. Mark Udall said environmentalists will “have their hands full” over the next four years because of the re-election of President Bush, but he remains optimistic that many of their causes aren’t lost.Udall, a Boulder-area Democrat whose 2nd District includes Summit and Eagle counties, said he suspects that Bush will continue to do in a second term what he did in the first – attempt to “undercut” numerous environmental laws.”The past is prologue unless proven otherwise,” Udall said.On the other hand, he noted the president has stressed he wants to work with Democrats and reach out to the 55 million Americans who voted against him.”If he truly does that, he will change his environmental policies,” said Udall, who has championed bills to expand wilderness protection on public lands in Colorado and is highly regarded for his environmental record.Udall said that while Bush doesn’t have to be concerned about re-election any more, he does have to worry about his legacy. He said he doubts the president wants to be remembered for dismantling environmental protections.If he tries, there are still checks and balances in Congress, even though Republicans increased their control of the House and Senate.

“There are a lot of defenders in Congress to protect the gains we’ve accumulated,” Udall claimed.That could be tested on the administration’s energy plan.”I fear we’re about to fight the same battle again on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” Udall said.The Bush administration tried and failed to win congressional approval to open the refuge to drilling. Udall expects administration proposals to “sweeten the pot.” But he believes enough bipartisan opposition remains to rebuff another attempt.While Bush’s re-election makes the jobs of environmentalists more difficult, it’s not impossible for them to promote their agendas, Udall said.He said they must cultivate their relationships with Republicans in Congress. They must also demonstrate how protection of public lands is vital to the economies of states like Colorado and much of the West.And they must continue to press their case that developing alternative energy sources benefits national security by reducing dependence on foreign oil.Colorado environmental leaders aren’t ready to throw in the towel, although they acknowledge Bush’s re-election makes their jobs more difficult.

“It gives us a hell of a lot more to do. It stretches our resources really thin,” said Sloan Shoemaker, director of the Roaring Fork Valley-based Wilderness Workshop. “The administration’s probably going to be unloading both barrels on us.”The biggest clash between environmentalists and the Bush administration is over domestic oil and gas development.Steve Smith, a spokesman for The Wilderness Society, said Bush’s re-election means gas development will remain the top priority for the Bureau of Land Management. The effort to lease public lands in places such as Garfield and Pitkin counties to gas companies will likely be accelerated, he acknowledged. And environmental groups can be expected to expand their efforts to draw attention to the issues and raise debates about whether the ecological damage is worth the limited amount of gas to be gained.”The organized environmental movement won’t roll over and say there’s nothing to do here,” Smith said.Smith and Shoemaker said they believe the Bush re-election will influence how the BLM will resolve a dispute over gas development on the Roan Plateau, a massive mesa outside of Rifle.The BLM delayed releasing a draft management plan for the area until a date that fell after the election. Environmentalists don’t believe that’s a coincidence.Udall agreed that it’s a fair assumption that bureaucracies like the BLM are influenced by the occupant of the White House. Managers in the BLM, for example, realize they can only advance their careers by making decisions their superiors support.

Shoemaker said the election will likely influence other issues that will affect thousands of acres in the White River National Forest which incorporates 80 percent of Summit County.Those include:– Increased timber cuts. The Bush administration maintains that forest health can be increased and fire danger decreased by logging. Environmentalists are concerned that land managers for the U.S. Forest Service will be under pressure to meet quotas, regardless of whether the projects are worthwhile.– Roadless area protections. The Bush administration proposed scrapping former President Clinton’s roadless rule, which prohibited mining, logging and road-building in more than 50 million acre nationwide. The Bush rule would require state governors to “opt in” to a program protecting roadless areas. The administration delayed a decision on that change until after the election.– Motorized recreation. The travel management plan is being worked out for the White River National Forest. Shoemaker alleged that “the motorized recreation community sees a friend in George Bush” as evidenced by the decision to overturn Clinton’s plan to ban snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park. He questioned whether the administration could also influence the outcome in the White River.Smith noted that the good thing for environmental groups is there are laws in place that the government must follow, regardless of who is in the White House. If those laws aren’t followed, there are environmentalists who will be there “with loud voices and lawyers,” he said.Scott Condon’s can be reached at scondon@aspentimes.com

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