The Western ‘Lords Of Yesterday’ Attack Climate Change Response

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"The Western ‘Lords Of Yesterday’ Attack Climate Change Response"

Our guest blogger is Tom Kenworthy, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Sen. John Barasso (R-WY) and Glenn Beck
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Glenn Beck deny global warming.

In his book “Crossing the Next Meridian,” University of Colorado law professor Charles F. Wilkinson called the timber, mining, grazing and water development interests who for too long dictated how our western public lands should be managed the “lords of yesterday.”

Western lawmakers with their politics still stuck in a 19th-century time warp continue to do the bidding of the lords of yesterday, who now include big energy interests. Witness the letter 16 House and Senate Republicans sent to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar protesting his secretarial order creating a Climate Change Response Council that is designed to coordinate efforts among Interior agencies like the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to cope with the impacts of climate change. The new council, the lawmakers said, represents an end-run around Congress and could be used to stifle oil and gas development and other activities on western lands on behalf of “special interest groups with narrow agendas”:

Businesses in the West are worried about potential court challenges and administrative action. These new rules will allow special interest groups with narrow agendas to block all existing and future activities on federal lands in the name of climate change.

Of course, the “special interest groups” these politicians attack are the Western people, with the “narrow agendas” of preserving their land and way of life against the ravages of uncontrolled development and runaway global warming.

Leading the charge in this effort to ignore the new realities of a changing climate is Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), one of the Senate’s leading opponents of legislation to regulate carbon pollution. Barrasso represents Wyoming, the nation’s top coal producer, and is the chair of the recently formed Senate Western Caucus, a latter-day reincarnation of the 1970s “Sage Brush Rebellion” that fought federal oversight of Western lands, according to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Barrasso has previously temporarily blocked the Obama administration’s choice to head the air office at the EPA, fought the establishment of a CIA climate change center, and accused the EPA of “silencing” a dissenting voice to its finding that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health.

Salazar, whose department oversees public lands comprising about one-fifth of the U.S., most of it in the West, issued his order on climate change planning in mid-September. It sets up a council made up of senior officials to coordinate the department’s response to climate change, and establishes eight regional climate change response centers and a network of conservation cooperatives to work with states, localities and the public in developing strategies to cope with global warming impacts.

Barrasso and his co-signers see this as a conspiracy to get through administrative fiat what the Obama administration may not be able to get through climate legislation. “These regulations will hit the Western United States the hardest,” they charge in their letter. “Westerners will suffer from higher energy and fuel costs or simply be put out of work.”

If Barrasso et al. are genuinely worried about the western U.S. being hard hit, they should take a closer look at what climate change is already doing to the region. In the state of Wyoming alone, a mountain pine beetle epidemic spurred by climate change had claimed 1.2 million acres of forest by the end of 2008, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Elsewhere in the West, declining snowpack and earlier spring runoff will mean the Colorado River, the lifeblood for some 25 million Westerners, will be unable to meet demand as much as 90 percent of the time by mid-century, according to a recent study.

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