Photo by Lin Alder
Elections matter for our public lands. Last night brought enormous change for the worse. Wilderness may be a bi-partisan issue, although it fares better under one party and that party was crushed last night. But we’ve overcome bad elections before by uniting supporters in the face of great threats.
A similar election in 1994 threw us into a horrendous legislative fight that few thought we could win. But we did, nationalizing the need for redrock protection along the way, and winning two million acres of protection through designation of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. What appeared a disaster was converted through grassroots action into a stunning amount of redrock protected. Sometimes strength comes through adversity.
Here’s a quick summary of our potential challenges and opportunities:
Congress: With the Republican sweep of the House, leadership of the key committees controlling public lands will be held by those hostile to wilderness.
- we’ll need to block attacks against key legislative authority that protects our land, water, wildlife and air, and we’ll need to stop bad wilderness bills;
- it will be more difficult to pass good wilderness legislation;
- the oil and gas industry is probably still hung over from last night’s celebration because our public lands now face “drill baby drill” part II;
- we can expect scary votes on Arctic drilling, oil shale and other dirty fuels subsidies.
White House: Any pretense of bipartisanship just vaporized. Facing a despondent base and re-election in two years, Obama likely will respond more to outspoken and well-organized constituencies. That’s where you, the committed redrock activists, come in. Increased partisanship may result in the Obama administration standing up for strong environmental protection, and using every tool available to do so. Their most powerful tool is the Antiquities Act, especially for establishing new monuments in Utah.
Notable races: Our champions remain — Senator Dick Durbin wasn’t up for election and Congressman Maurice Hinchey defeated his opponent (who tried to use the redrock against him). Friends like Representatives Raul Grivalja, Rush Holt and Martin Heinrich won tough races. And it appears Senate cosponsor Michael Bennet will win in Colorado. But we lost a great friend. Senator Russ Feingold was a hero for the redrock time and time again – as well as a brave and honest man for progressive causes generally. His loss is a tragedy.
Last night was a blow for our public lands. But since SUWA was founded, we have outlasted or survived 6 secretaries of the interior, 6 Utah governors, 13 congressmen, and 3 senators. Politicians come and go, but the movement to protect the redrock continues. And, with your help, we will.