FEBRUARY 19, 1996
An update on the battle in the West over environmental regulations, the so-called sagebrush rebellion that erupted in the 1980's. The "rebellion" was over the opening of public lands to more grazing, mining, logging, and oil exploration. Rod Minott of KCTS-Seattle reports.
SPOKESMAN: We'll take this one for sure.
ROD MINOTT: On a recent morning in Southwest Washington, Chuck Cushman founded himself gearing up for battle.
CHUCK CUSHMAN, American Land Rights Association: People really like this, and we get people who declare their convention a Clinton-free zone.
MR. MINOTT: Cushman, a property rights activist, was packing his tee-shirts and pamphlets for a special meeting, a key gathering of conservatives committed to scaling back government environmental rules.
WOMAN SINGING: Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hailed--
MR. MINOTT: The pre-summit conference in Portland was organized by leaders of a movement known as Wise Use, a movement which says it is pro-environment.
CHUCK CUSHMAN: I think there has to be a balance between environmental protection and people, that you have to have a strong economy to afford a clean environment.
MR. MINOTT: Cushman has been a top strategist for Wise Use since its founding in 1988. It grew out of a fight over public land in the 1980's known as the Western Sagebrush Rebellion.
CHUCK CUSHMAN: The environmental groups were having tremendous power. These green lobby groups were targeting ranchers, miners, lawyers, forestry people, private property, growth control, all kinds of regulations, wetlands, endangered species, and the local people were being divided and conquered. They really didn't know how to fight back.
MR. MINOTT: Four hundred delegates, mostly Republicans, from 13 Western states, attended the conference to strategize and share ideas. The Wise Use agenda calls for opening up public lands to more grazing, mining, logging, and oil exploration. Other proposals would turn over millions of acres of federal BLM land to the states and re-write the Endangered Species Act to force the government to pay landowners for preserving rare plants and animals.
ELIZABETH DOLE: Your efforts here today will help ensure that Bill Clinton's war on the West will not succeed, and that is crucial.
MR. MINOTT: Keynote speakers included Elizabeth Dole, wife of GOP Presidential Candidate Bob Dole. Wise Use has seen its influence grow in the fields of the 1994 Republican sweep both in Congress and in state houses across the West. Many conservative House Republicans saw the win as a mandate to cut environmental regulations and embraced much of the Wise Use agenda. At stake are federal environmental laws passed over the last 25 years designed to protect and clean up air, water, and land.
MET JOHNSON, Western States Coalition: We do have an open door to the members of Congress and we do use that open door regularly.
MR. MINOTT: Met Johnson is co-founder of the Western States Coalition, the group that sponsored the Wise Use summit.
MET JOHNSON: We stand for a healthy environment and we stand for a healthy Western economy. We want to resolve failed public policy and reduce the heavy hand of bureaucracy.
MR. MINOTT: But on a number of key environmental issues rolling back that bureaucracy has proved elusive. Examples include efforts to open up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. House and Senate conferees attached language to the omnibus Budget Reconciliation Bill allowing for the drilling. The measure was vetoed by President Clinton in December. On property rights, bills that would require the federal government to pay landowners for losses due to regulation have yet to clear Congress. While the House has approved a property rights bill, the Senate has yet to move its version to the floor for a vote. On endangered species, bills in both the House and Senate would rewrite the Endangered Species Act, reducing protections for at risk animals and plants. While the House Natural Resources Committee has passed legislation, the Senate has yet to take action on its Endangered Species proposal.
CHUCK CUSHMAN: Ideas take time.
MR. MINOTT: Wise Use leaders like Chuck Cushman say they never expected to win everything overnight in Congress. He says change is incremental.
CHUCK CUSHMAN: Our people are not used to being in a position where we have a majority in Congress, and so I think many of our people naively thought we elected a Congress, they're going to go ahead and fix this thing. That's not the way it works. The environmental groups know that. You elect these people, and you've got to stay on 'em in order to get 'em to do anything. And we didn't do that. A lot of our people let down. We asked 'em to--I personally asked 'em to write the letters. A lot of them didn't do it.
MR. MINOTT: Setbacks have also taken place at the state level. Voters recently rejected property rights initiatives in both Washington State and in Arizona. The measures would have required governments to compensate property owners for losses triggered by environmental rules. So far, the most significant legislation supported by Wise Use that has succeeded is a salvage logging rider attached to a spending bill. Congress passed and President Clinton signed the measure into law last Summer. But the rider not only stepped up logging of dead and dying trees, it also waived environmental laws to allow clear-cutting of old growth trees in some national forests of the Northwest.
MR. MINOTT: That victory outraged environmentalists who picked the Wise Use Conference. Environmentalists say the fact that the Salvage Timber Bill has been the only significant legislation that has passed shows that many believe Wise Use and its agenda are too extreme. Tom Novick is with the Western States Center, an environmental group that monitors Wise Use.
TOM NOVICK, Western States Center: They portray themselves as seeking balance in the environmental debate, you know, the whole phrase "wise use" sounds good. Who could be against wise use? The reality is when you pull that veneer off, you find, as I said, that they're primarily financed by resource industries that benefit from the rollback of environmental laws.
MS. FARNSWORTH: Wise Use ties to industry are not hidden.
MAN: I had talked a little bit with Matt here today about the possibility, I told him I'd be going to work with him to try to raise some corporate money or the coalition, and then to get a little money in treasury for you guys.
ROB BISHOP: I appreciate it.
MR. MINOTT: But Wise Use leaders deny that means they are extremists.
ROB BISHOP, Western States Coalition: Our goal is not to dismantle the environment and it's not to rape it and leave it there.
MR. MINOTT: Rob Bishop is co-founder of the Western States Coalition, a political arm of Wise Use.
ROB BISHOP: There has been a lot of bad science that's been thrown around in the name of environmentalism. And that bad science has produced, has produced efforts that have been costly to people and harmful to the land. So Wise Use is specifically that. It is wise use. It's not a fancy way of saying, of trying to rape the land in a nice, gentlemanly way. It is simply saying that the land is there and it should be managed. That's the purpose of it.
MR. MINOTT: Critics refuse to believe the land management argument and insist Wise Use really is a radical, anti-environmental movement. But Wise Use has a lot of supporters, some say up to 100,000, and is expected to remain a potential political force in the West.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The way I see it because I'm a cowboy, that means I'm an endangered species, so I shouldn't have to pay no taxes at all.
MR. MINOTT: Most of the 400 delegates attending the summit meeting were publicly elected officials, county commissioners, and state legislators from rural areas. Many vowed they would press ahead with proposals to pass regulatory reform at the local level, including property rights legislation. Wise Use leaders like Chuck Cushman remained optimistic about victory.
CHUCK CUSHMAN: For years, we've been fighting the offensive, we've been fighting where the environmental groups have wanted what we've had, they've wanted to take away our property, and they haven't wanted to pay for it. Now we're fighting over what they have, see. The agenda is they're on the defensive. I, I think we're not losing, we're winning.
MR. MINOTT: With the 1996 elections on the horizon, both sides in this environmental battle are bracing for a bitter fight.