Kiss a super idea goodbyeThe rest of the world knows the West for its wide-open spaces and its national parks. And sure, the region is home to some of the nation's most spectacular wildlands - but it's also home to some of its most spectacular messes. Our mountain towns are pocked with the remnants of hardrock mines; our urban areas are dotted with industrial dumps; and spread around the most remote parts of the West are some of the most toxic sites of all * Cold War weapons plants and military installations.
For 22 years, the federal Superfund cleanup program has paid out millions of dollars to clean up these messes. The beauty of Superfund, as it was originally envisioned, is that it sends the tab to the polluters; the trust fund was fed by a tax on the chemical and oil industries. Superfund hasn't been an ideal tool. The program has been fraught with corruption and entropy. But it nonetheless represented an ideal - that justice is served when people and corporations are held responsible for their actions.
As HCN Senior Editor Lolly Merrell writes in this issue's cover story, you can throw that ideal out the window. In the mid-1990s, Congress killed the Superfund "polluter tax," and unless it is reinstated soon, the trust fund will be tapped out within two years. "Superfund" will still be around in name, but rather than sending the bill to the companies that create the messes, Congress will send it to you and me - or just bag the cleanups altogether.
The idea of reviving the Superfund tax is being kept alive in Congress by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., (a former Montana farrier) among others. The chance of reinstating the "polluter tax" is nil in the looming Republican-controlled Congress, but it's a worthy cause, particularly for forgotten Western towns such as Eureka, Utah, which live with past mistakes that dwarf their ability to deal with them.
More election reflection
While the November elections sent many conservationists reeling, longtime HCN board member Andy Wiessner, a public lands consultant and "sometimes lawyer-lobbyist," had reason to celebrate. Andy and his wife, Patsy Batchelder, along with a group called Eagle County Citizens for Open Space, helped convince voters in and around Vail, Colo., to approve, by a margin of just 51 votes, a 1.5 mil property tax increase to raise money for open-space preservation.
Andy tells us the neighboring Pitkin, Routt and Summit counties already had open-space taxes. "Eagle County has come of age," he says.
Andy couldn't help but partake in a little good-natured political cynicism, though. He wrote up a short dictionary for bewildered Western voters. Some choice entries:
Andy is pushing for a more civil atmosphere during the 2004 elections. "I'm longing for the candidate who rejects the advice that 'negative advertising works' and 'you've got to fight back.' I also want to see candidates who will limit campaign contributions," he wrote in an e-mail. "But most of all, I want to see one who will look the TV camera straight in the eye and say, 'My opponent is an honorable and decent person ... but here's why you should vote for me.' "
We also got this update on fishing and hunting, "bait and blast" Democrats from John McCarthy, policy director for the Idaho Conservation League:
"David Langhorst won the Idaho House seat in District 16, Boise. He's a hunter and angler, hunter safety instructor, and former board member of Idaho Wildlife Federation. His traditionalist hook-and-bullet credentials helped him win, without question. (We're told that during his campaign, Langhorst bagged a deer while bowhunting and served it to his campaign staff at a potluck.) He won by about 12 points, against a six-term Republican incumbent.
"Alan Blinken lost by some 30 points against Sen. Larry Craig, although Democrat Blinken did have better hunt-and-fish credentials. Craig has been nailed in the past for his hunter claims, when he didn't have a current Idaho hunting license. Craig is on the board for the NRA, so all is forgotten and forgiven from the gun lobby. Blinken got a stupendous color photo on page 1 of the Idaho Statesman, fly-fishing with a fish on, in the main story on the candidate. But he was using a guide to fish, which takes away he-man points."
VisitorsThe flow of summer travelers through the office has slowed, but we did have a nice visit with Barbara Tyler of Orofino, Idaho, who dropped by.
Another unexpected visit came from private investigator Bill Tidyman, a former special agent with the FBI. Bill, who does not subscribe to HCN, would tell us only that he was working for another investigator. He requested copies of our tax returns for the past three years, which we were more than happy to provide - as a nonprofit corporation, HCN is required to make our tax information available to the public. When Tidyman dropped by the offices of the local environmental group - the Western Slope Environmental Resource Council - requesting the same information, the staff also obliged, and pointed out that he could have saved himself the five-hour drive from Denver and found the information on the group's Web site.
A correction, and an apologySeveral readers have written in to tell us we mixed up our Snake River dams in an item in the Bulletin Board in the Oct. 28 issue. The piece implied that two recent reports related to the same dams on the Snake River. Not so. The first was an application from Idaho Power to renew its federal license for three dams in Hells Canyon on the Idaho-Oregon border; the second was a report issued by Rand that looked at the economics of alternative power sources for the Northwest, looking specifically at four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington State.
Reader Gary Smith of Seattle offered these gentle words: "This is just the sort of breathless froth that gives bias a bad name. HCN is better than this ... isn't it?" We certainly like to think so, and thanks for setting us straight.
Subscribers have also been calling wondering where their papers are. It seems that our mom-and-pop mailhouse in Denver sent out both the Nov. 11 and Nov. 25 issues late. Because of trouble with their labeling machine, they've been affixing your mailing labels the old fashioned way * by hand. We're optimistic that this issue will arrive on time.
Say what you want about Utah, but the state has some of the greatest place names around - and now, you can hear Radio High Country News in an awful lot of those places. KUER public radio now broadcasts our half-hour weekly news and interview show from Annabella to Aurora, from Bicknell to Blanding, from Eden to Elsinore, Manila to Milford, Panguitch to Park City, Ticaboo to Tropic ... Listeners along the Wasatch Front can hear the show at at 90.1 FM each Thursday at 6:30 p.m. For information on how to find it elsewhere in the state, visit our Web site at hcn.org, click on the "Radio HCN" microphone icon, then click "Where to listen."
Public radio fans in the Seattle area can now catch Radio HCN on KBCS Bellevue-Seattle, on Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m. KBCS's frequency is 91.3 FM.