Columns » Outsider

Going, going, gone



There's nothing like the fog and chaos of a postwar environment for score settling, for taking care of business absent the restraints of law and order.

The murderous anarchy in Iraq came as no surprise to aid workers, diplomats and reporters. But the right's romantic revolutionaries, who now control America's foreign policy, were into head-in-the-sand denial. According to Rummy & Co., torching buildings, assassinating your enemies and looting museums, libraries and hospitals are just a sign of natural high spirits, the exuberance of a newly liberated people.

Just wait; once the Iraqis realize that the benefits of democracy and capitalism are, thanks to America, theirs for the taking, the country will blossom as never before.

It's kind of touching, really, to see our hardheaded Republicans turn into a bunch of softhearted do-gooders. C'mon, guys, this is what liberals do: agitate to overthrow brutal dictators, replace them with democratic reformers, and then prop 'em up with billions in foreign aid.

What happened, I wonder, to the sourly realistic Republicans who held sway for so many decades? It's as if they all went to a revival meeting, accepted the Lord and became missionaries for the American Way.

Well, the new idealism doesn't exactly encompass the entire Bush administration. You coldhearted realists out there will be happy to know that, taking advantage of the fog and chaos of war, the administration's domestic policy honchos are taking care of business.

Like their ideological soul mates who removed 40 centuries of history from Iraq's National Museum in 48 hours, the Bushies plan to trash 40 years of environmentalism in the next four years.

We all know about the administration's efforts to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, drilling and production. And we all know that the administration has refused to support even modest conservation measures. That's old news; let's look at the new stuff, much of which, thanks to the war, doesn't even get mentioned in most Colorado newspapers.

Remember Gale Norton, once Colorado's attorney general, now Bush's Interior secretary? Last Friday, she told Congress that the department plans to end to end all reviews of presently unprotected lands being considered for wilderness protection.

In addition, she's withdrawing the "wilderness study area" designation from all lands so protected since 1991. That includes 3 million acres of red rock canyon and rock formations in southeastern Utah, which will now be opened to oil and gas exploration, not to mention ATVs.

And how does Norton justify this retroactive de-listing of wilderness study areas? She cites a 1976 law, which urged the Interior Department to complete its inventory of potential areas by 1991. Naturally, it didn't get done, since the Reagan-Bush administrations dragged their heels for 12 years, leaving the work to be done by Bruce Babbitt and the Clinton administration.

Thanks to Babbitt, the work was completed. And thanks to Norton, all of the work of the last 12 years is gone, forgotten, finito -- it never happened.

As for coalbed methane, those familiar with its production know that it's environmentally dubious. Coalbed methane production facilities have turned Wyoming's Powder River Basin into a nightmarish industrial landscape of polluted groundwater, howling pumps and thousands of miles of pipelines, all without a nickel of compensation to the ranchers whose property values have plummeted.

And you may even be aware that here in Colorado, the Delta County Commissioners -- old-line Republicans every one -- have been fighting to protect their rural turf from the same fate. But Washington doesn't much care what the locals think; the new federal budget includes $3.4 billion in subsidies for coalbed methane exploration and production.

Meanwhile, the Feds have quietly handed over their senior water rights on the Gunnison River to our own Colorado water buffaloes. What this means is simple: The United States government is no longer interested in assuring minimum stream flows in Colorado's rivers. If gold medal trout streams are reduced to stagnant trickles, too bad. Suburbia first, everything else second.

Strange, isn't it, having an administration that suffers from multiple personality disorder? On the one hand, they spend blood and treasure to rescue a broken land from decades of tyranny. And on the other, they dedicate themselves to marring and defacing what many Americans most value: untrammeled wilderness, free-flowing rivers, placid ranchlands.

Like Alexandria's great library, looted and burned many centuries ago, the treasures of Baghdad's museum are broken and dispersed, gone forever.

Our treasures are still in place but, unless we fight to protect them, they'll be gone too -- carried away under cover of night and fog.

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