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Week of 2.22.08

Transcript: Fighting Over Forests

BRANCACCIO: It is a fascinating presidential primary season, so fascinating on the democratic side that politics is leading to some big arguments within families...we'll see some of that in action in a few minutes. But first, there are rules to protect tens of millions of acres of America's pristine public forest. Before they leave, the bush administration would like to make some changes. Changes that are pointing toward more development, more mining and more chances to make a buck. Senior correspondent Maria Hinojosa and producer Brenda Breslauer have been investigating.

HINOJOSA: Meet a group of people who are fighting for something that belongs to all of us...

GABETTAS: I live here because of the outdoors.

HINOJOSA: Fsherman and tackle shop owner Jimmy Gabettas. Cattle rancher Brent Stewart.

STEWART: I don't know of any place in this country that there's anything more, more beautiful as far as country goes.

HINOJOSA: and conservationist Marv Hoyt.

HOYT: I think that the—how we manage our public lands, is a big deal to all Americans, because they all have a piece of it. They all—whether they're gonna be here or not, they still know it's here.

HINOJOSA: This is Idaho, one of the last great wilderness frontiers. More than one third of the land here is national forest. But natural treasures like this are under threat, says Hoyt.

HOYT: What you're seein' here could change dramatically, both the way it looks and ecologically.

HINOJOSA: Marv Hoyt runs the Idaho office of the greater Yellowstone coalition. He says this is the biggest environmental story you've never heard of. Last month, buried deep in the federal register, was a proposal that could determine the fate of much of America's forests. It's an effort, he says, by the Bush administration to open up national forests to more logging and mining. He's fighting to stop it.

HOYT: Half of the Forest Service lands in the, in the US are open to development of one type or another, more than half. So we think this, you know, preserving this last of the best is, is the right thing to do.

HINOJOSA: When it comes to America's forests, there are different levels of protection. 18% of them have been designated "wilderness" by acts of Congress. No one can touch those. 51% have been opened to mining, logging and drilling over the past 100 years. That leaves 31% ....nearly 60 million acres of pristine forest that have not yet been developed. To protect that land, the U.S. Forest Service, under President Clinton, came up with a plan.

The plan had a name that few have ever heard of....the "Roadless Rule." ...it prohibitted new roads from being built in these remaining national forests. The idea was to keep the area off limits to most commercial development but useable for recreation: hunting and fishing, hiking and mountain biking, even all terrain vehicles and motor bikes.

But the Bush administration has made no secret of its opposition to the rule and now has come up with a plan to replace it.

REY: What we've proposed is to invite governors who are interested to participate with us in what will be a federal decision.

HINOJOSA: Mark Rey oversees the U.S. Forest Service and is one of the top Bush administration officials in the department of agriculture. He says the Clinton plan was flawed because it was done in haste as the Clinton administration was on its way out the door.

Rey: The majority of states in the West felt that the Clinton Rule was hastily developed and rammed down their throats even during the public comment period, both the President and the Vice President were already out on the political hustings, because we were in an election in 2000, basically taking credit for doing this, as if it was a fait accompli.

VANDERMARK: I would, you know, respectfully disagree with the Undersecretary.

HINOJOSA: Rob Vandermark works for the Pew Environment group, a non profit organization working to protect national forests from development.

VANDERMARK: The Roadless Rule was a result of almost three years of process. 600 public meetings around the country. They received over 1.5 million comments from citizens, from scientists, from governors, from county commissioners, from members of Congress. It was one of the most exhaustive federal rulemakings in the history of the United States.

HINOJOSA: Vandermark says the Bush plan is part of the adminstration's larger agenda.

VANDERMARK: As this administration is heading out the door, I think they seem pretty intent to giving over the keys to some of our most precious national lands in the national forests to, to industry.

HINOJOSA: What the Bush administration did was take away the Clinton plan's protection for the nearly 60 million acres of undeveloped forest. Instead, using a states' rights argument, it asked governors to petition the forest service with their own proposals for the roadless areas in each state. Remember, this is federal land, owned by all of us. Idaho was first and has become a test case.

Much of the debate is playing out here in southeast Idaho where mining is deeply rooted in the community.

STEELE: You ask somebody at the top levels in industry in Caribou County what's the most important thing to you? Permitting our next mine.

HINOJOSA: Mark Steele publishes the local newspaper in Caribou County, in the heart of mining country. While people here may love the land, industry pays the bills. Mining means jobs for more than a thousand people and pays more than 50% of the county's property taxes. Environmentalism, he says, is seen as a threat to the local economy.

STEELE: Well, you got realize in Southeast Idaho, much, much of Idaho, if you're an environmentalist, that's a four letter word. But what I find with great irony is if you go up to a fifth grade class here, ask the kids to raise their hands, how many of 'em are environmentalists, you're not gonna see a hand. 00:01:10:06 But you ask 'em how many of 'em like to go fishing on Saturdays with their dad, or go campin', every one of those hands are gonna go up.

HINOJOSA: That tension between land and livelihood has made for some unlikely alliances in southeast Idaho. Take Brent Stewart, the cattle rancher, a lifelong Republican who finds himself joining forces with Marv Hoyt, the environmentalist.

HOYT: He said, you know, we're not gonna agree on grizzly bears and we're not gonna agree on wolves, but he said, this is something we are gonna agree on.

STEWART: My uncles, would have probably turned over in their graves if they'd known I'd had a house full of environmentalists up at our ranch [LAUGHS] entertaining 'em a year ago, you know.

HINOJOSA: Brent Stewart has a lot at stake. Stewart brings his herd of 800 cattle here to Nevada for the winter months but the Stewart family ranch in southeast Idaho is the place he calls home. The Stewart family has spent four generations here. Every year the entire extended family....and that's a lot....come for the summer.

STEWART: If you talk to any one of the 200 of 'em, if you want to talk to them about Idaho or about memories, that's all they talk about is that ranch right there.

HINOJOSA: But the ranch is located right next to the Caribou National Forest, a place where mining would expand if the Idaho proposal is approved.

STEWART: What I want is for this mining company to give up the idea of comin' into my back yard and destroying it.

HINOJOSA: What has the Stewart family getting political is this ....phosphate mining. Phosphate is a crucial nutrient in agriculture that is used to make fertilizer. In Idaho, one of three states that supply the majority of phosphate to America's farmers, it's mined like this....what's known as an open pit mine where they blast a mountain to expose the phosphate ore and then dig it out.

But a little more than ten years ago, a problem was discovered.

This is video taken by government investigators in 1997 when 176 sheep were found dead near a mine site.

The trouble was traced to selenium, a mineral which is released from the rock during phosphate mining. In tiny amounts, selenium is part of a healthy diet. But larger amounts or prolonged exposure can be toxic. News stories from the time show that horses that came into contact with selenium near another mine had to be euthanized.

HOYT: Clearly by 1997, everybody knew there was a big problem.

HINOJOSA: So big that 17 of Idaho's 18 open pit Phosphate mines have been ordered to clean up under the superfund law. Most are located on public land, which the companies have leased from the government.

PROUTY: Obviously all the mining companies are going through a process of addressing selenium contamination.

HINOJOSA: Aan Prouty is director of environment and regulatory affairs for the J.R. Simplot Company, one of three phosphate mining companies in Idaho. Hundreds of sheep have died near Simplot's closed Conda Mine.

PROUTY: We have now learned that sheep are highly sensitive—domestic sheep are highly sensitive to Selenium.

HINOJOSA: So in 2001; 160 sheep died after drinking water that came down from the Conda Mine.

PROUTY: Yeah, that's right.

HINOJOSA:: So this is all stuff that you have been tracking and watching?

PROUTY: Yeah. I mean we have, we have thoroughly, you know, investigated for example the, the sheep that died at the Conda Mine. I, I fully anticipate that the Conda Mine, when we're done, that we will remedy those areas and return these areas back to grazing.

HINOJOSA: Simplot is still digging phosphate out of another mine, Smoky Canyon, and is now awaiting federal permission to expand there. But Marv Hoyt wants to prevent that. In 2005 and 2006 he and his organization tested the water in a creek below that mine.

HOYT: What we found there was really alarming. We had fish that had Selenium concentrations in their flesh that were two, three—almost three times what the EPA's recommended concentrations were.

PROUTY: We're confident that that work is gonna result in, in that stream getting back to where the selenium levels are below the, the water quality standard.

HINOJOSA: Simplot has started a cleanup and says its already spent five million dollars mostly at Smoky Canyon, one of four mines its responsible for. But by the company's own estimate, it will take five to ten years to return the water to acceptable levels there.

HINOJOSA: So when people say, clean it up before you think about mining any more, you say?

PROUTY: Well, our response is, we are acting responsibly. We're taking care of the issues and problems that have happened. We're committed to do that. We're committed to being here in southeast Idaho.

HOYT: To date, not one of them has been cleaned up. They've made baby steps in the case of one of the mines in cleanup, but the rest of them are sitting there continuing to pollute.

HINOJOSA: Meanwhile, the new Idaho proposal would open more than 600,000 acres of national forest to commercial development with allowances for phosphate mining in areas that are currently roadless.

HOYT: There is a web of influence, and I think it really plays out in the Roadless Rule.

HINOJOSA: Hoyt says while there is no direct evidence of industry's influence in the Idaho plan, there certainly are a number of influential politicians who come from the phosphate mining industry, including Idaho governor, C.L. "Butch" Otter. He was an executive at J.R. Simplot for more than twenty five years.

And there's Dirk Kempthorne, the former Idaho senator and governor who is now the Secretary of the Interior. He used to work for another phosphate mining company, the FMC Corporation.

STEELE: Industry in Idaho's—They've got the political clout. They pay the best lobbyists. They, they contribute to candidates. They throw out—throw the soft money in. They're the 800-pound gorilla.

HINOJOSA: The Idaho proposal also means more federal land will be open to logging. And remember Mark Rey the Undersecretary of Agriculture who oversees the Forest Service? He came too comes from an industry background.

You have years of working for the timber industry, trade associations, the National Forest Products Association, the American Paper Institute. Doesn't this color it, your interest?

REY: I've been a public servant now for 13 years.

QUESTION: But you had a strong tie to—the logging industry.

REY: But, you know, people who come into public service usually come from someplace else. They're—they're not born under-secretaries.

HINOJOSA: When it comes to forests, Rey says conservation often requires active management, like selective logging to reduce the risk of fires. The Clinton plan, he says, was too restrictive to allow that. But environmentalists say the changes are a smokescreen to get private industry into public lands.

Conservationists say, look, the Forest Service basically used this,—they charge—as an opening to essentially give away land to the timber and mining industries.

REY: That's just inflated rhetoric with no basis in fact.

HINOJOSA: But ultimately, is this about preserving these lands, from your perspective, yes or no?

REY: It's about protecting roadless area values.

HINOJOSA: If the government wants to protect the land, many in Idaho ask, why doesn't it require the Selenium contamination to be cleaned up before allowing even more mining?

HOYT: This is public land, public water, public resources. They ought to clean it up now, before we take a chance on letting them make a bigger mess.

HINOJOSA: Mark Ray says there are now much stricter controls to prevent the kind of contamination that now exists in Idaho. But the top scientist on Selenium at the forest service has issued a warning.

Dr. Dennis Lemly, who says, quote, "The ecosystem is a tinderbox, and allowing additional selenium discharges will likely start a cascade of irreversible events, culminating in severe toxic impacts to fish and aquatic life for many years to come."

So when you have one of your own scientists saying this will be irreversible—

REY: Dr. Lemley is correct about the impacts of Selenium, for the most part. We listen to our scientists since we pay them. It's in our interest to listen to what they have to say. But when these pro—proffered there is an if/then hypothesis. If we allow Selenium discharges to occur, then these are consequences will happen.

HINOJOSA: The Simplot company says that "if" is not going to happen.

PROUTY: We are very, very confident that those new mining practices are not gonna result in the same type of Selenium issues that we've had in the past.

HINOJOSA: So will mining and logging expand? In Washington, all eyes are on the Idaho proposal, where a national comment period open to all ends in April. Colorado has also filed a petition that would affect millions of acres in the Rocky Mountains.

The forest service expects to issue a decision on the new rule in September before the administration leaves office.

On the ground in Idaho, the locals are looking out for the land and its legacy.

GABETTAS: It's getting impacted to the point that the things that you enjoy doing on it you wouldn't want to do it.

HINOJOSA: Jimmy Gabettas says he's worried about what more mining means for his fishing and tackle business.

GABETTAS: There's a couple of streams down there that I used to fish that I would not—eat a fish out of right now.

HINOJOSA: Brent Stewart says the decision could mean the end of 60 years of the family cattle business.

STEWART: If somethin' happens to our water, then as far as we're concerned, the ranch is history. You know, they'll just destroy a, a thousand acres of not only beauty but that's my, that's my livelihood, you know.

HINOJOSA: Mark Steele thinks industry has the edge.

STEELE: I'll tell you who's gonna win. And that'll be industry in the State of Idaho. This is Idaho. And industry rules here.

HINOJOSA: And Marv Hoyt says this is a fight that should concern all Americans.

HOYT: There are millions of people that at least know they have the opportunity to visit the American west, the public lands. And yeah, they might not get to it this year or next year, maybe they won't ever, but it's the idea that they can still do it, it's still there, it's still wild, it's the thought of it that really makes it important. And it's really—it's part of the American psyche.

BRANCACCIO: Now on to the hot political season and how families are dealing with divided loyalties. Once again, my colleague Maria Hinojosa.

HINOJOSA: For Republican voters, there's no question who the nominee will be. But of the two remaining Democratic candidates, deciding which to vote for is causing serious arguments in some households.

Earlier this week I spoke with feminist Letty Cottin Pogrebin who supports Hillary Clinton and her daughter, author Abigail Pogrebin who has chosen Barack Obama.

HINOJOSA: So this election has been let's just say divisive in your family.

LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN: It's been lively.

ABIGAIL POGREBIN: There's a lot of blood on the floor.

HINOJOSA:: Blood on the floor?

LETTY COTTIN POGRABIN: No, no.

HINOJOSA: What makes this election so compelling between the two of you, mother and daughter?

ABIGAIL POGRABIN: I mean, I think it's because I was raised in a family where we all kind of agreed on everything. And here I am now in my forties. It's the first real departure. It's the first real disagreement.

HINOJOSA: Letty, you are not just one of the founders of Ms. Magazine, you have been called one of the founders of the women's movement in the United States. So, when your daughter says to you, "Mom, I'm going for Barak Obama."

LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN: Yeah.

HINOJOSA:Your reaction?

LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN: I thought she should consider more seriously what she was doing. I mean, she did consider it. But I thought that abandoning Hillary was a very serious thing to me. I felt as if Hillary's turn had come and she deserved it. And she represents women in a way that's very gut level.

HINOJOSA: Okay. Abigail, your mom says, okay, if my daughter wants to abandon—

ABIGAIL POGREBIN: Abandon. I heard that word, too.

HINOJOSA:Your mom is saying you are abandoning Hillary Clinton.

ABIGAIL POGREBIN:Yeah.

HINOJOSA: You're abandoning essentially the women's movement.

ABIGAIL POGREBIN: Well, you're abandoning a certain triumph I think. A certain goal. A certain victory that's been, you know, worked for for decades. And she has been a lynch pin of that effort and that movement.

HINOJOSA: Which is that if you're a feminist in America, the ultimate goal is to have a woman in the White House.

ABIGAIL POGREBIN: Exactly. Exactly. I don't feel it in those terms. I don't experience her candidacy as a seminal moment in that way.

But I don't feel it as a sell out. I don't feel it as a disappointment. And I also resent it a little bit. Because I still—I still feel very much a feminist in every way.

HINOJOSA: Okay. But why has this election set off such a nerve, particularly among women of a different generation? Letty?

LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN: I think for us, it was unthinkable, women of my generation, that the moment when we would see ourselves actually represented by a—a viable woman candidate, there would be a viable male candidate. We thought it would be business as usual and we would be running against the traditional white male.

This time, it's like you differentiate on hope verses experience. How bizarre. I mean, hope verses experience. We want both, yes. But we now have to come down on one side or the other. If it be for hope or be for experience. Who expected this?

ABIGAIL POGREBIN: As Mom's saying, what wasn't expected was that it would be first woman against first black. And I also don't think you expected to have someone who was gonna make us feel what he makes us feel.

And I think it's pretty undeniable that if you hear him speak and especially to see him in person, that you don't feel something you haven't felt before from a politician in a long time.

HINOJOSA: But Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the revolutionary breaking all the grounds kind of candidate.

LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN: She still is a revolutionary figure. And—I think it's extraordinary that we have the first woman and she is a very plausible candidate. Very strong, as Abigail recognized. And somehow or other, she becomes the establishment candidate. I think that's very bizarre.

HINOJOSA: So, when you see these younger women saying, "I'm going for Obama", what does that do to you?

LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN: Again, I understand it. And I think that because—

HINOJOSA: In your gut, Letty. What does it do to you?

LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN: It hurts. It hurts. Because it's kinds of like, does a woman—when a woman finally deserves to be where she is, somebody comes in and undercuts her. And it's just like a feeling we've all known.

We've all known where you've worked hard in your job. And comes in a young whipper snapper. And you know, he can play golf with everybody and he can, you know, kind of charm. And he takes—he takes precedence.

But I do understand having been a kind of Kennedy aficionado myself in 1960. I understand how change can—can be seductive. And I just think it's important for women and men to think, you know, what would be so terrible about him waiting eight years and getting seasoned?

HINOJOSA: Oh, okay. Abigail, your mom is saying your candidate, an African American man, should wait essentially his turn.

ABIGAIL POGREBIN: I just don't think that things happen that way. You know, we are at a—at a particular political moment. We are at a particular historical moment. We have weathered the worst in terms of these eight years of George Bush. So, we're all kind of scarred and dazed by it.

And here comes someone who actually makes us feel that we're gonna feel proud of being Americans again. And I can't even believe I'm saying that sentence. I've never had sort of the language of patriotism in my life.

HINOJOSA: So, Letty, when Oprah says, look the reason why I can vote and choose to vote for Barak Obama is because I am a free woman. And I can make my choices freely. And I don't have to vote for a woman if I don't want to.

LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN: I do respect people who've reached this conclusion because, you know, it's like we did—the whole struggle to give women autonomy and give women a voice was to reach this moment when women could choose a different candidate than a woman.

I understand that. I mean, it hurts, but I understand it. And in a way, it's a measure of our success. So I am, you know, again, stuck, stuck between a rock and a hard place. Because I'm really celebrating the independence of a woman. And yet, I'm saying, why in the world when push comes to shove can't you support a woman?

HINOJOSA: So you're still trying to convince each other.

ABIGAIL POGREBIN: Oh, yeah. At one point—

LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN: She told me I had to stop.

ABIGAIL POGREBIN: I did. At one point, I just said I'm not changing my mind.

HINOJOSA:Mom. (LAUGHTER)

ABIGAIL POGREBIN: Mom. Mommy. (LAUGHTER)

HINOJOSA: Abigail POGREBIN, thank you so much. And your mom, Letty Cottin POGREBIN, thank you so much for joining us on Now.

LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN: Thank you, Maria.

ABIGAIL POGREBIN: Thank you.

BRANCACCIO: And that's it for NOW. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.