by John Mecklin and Erin HalcombWINTER BOARD MEETING High Country News board members and staff traveled to Berkeley in late January to do some work, enjoy a little sunshine, and — with help from some old friends — put on a show for our Bay Area readers, present and future. Our idea of a show is, of course, fairly serious: a panel discussion on post-election changes in the West’s political and policy landscape.
Environmental journalist Jon Christensen led panel members — longtime California Congressman George Miller, former Interior Department solicitor John Leshy, Sierra Club deputy executive director Bruce Hamilton, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation environment program officer Rhea Suh, and HCN executive director Paul Larmer — through pointed discussion of Western environmental policy issues facing the new Democratic Congress. If the panel reached any consensus, it was that the Democrats — although relieved of the need to “play defense” against Republican energy and land-use legislation — cannot afford to overreach, because they hold only slim majorities. As both parties jockey for advantage in the 2008 elections, the panelists predicted a spate of oversight hearings, along with limited legislative efforts to address the most egregiously anti-environmental actions of former Republican Congresses.
After a question-and-answer period, producer, director and HCN board member Mark Harvey introduced his documentary film, A Land Out of Time, which examines the environmental and cultural degradation that has accompanied the coalbed methane drilling boom in the mountain West. The film was a hit; a boxful of DVD versions sold out minutes after the credits had rolled. (Thanks to Harvey, of course, all proceeds benefited High Country News.)
NOTES FROM READERS Reader Mark Salvo of Chandler, Ariz., who directs the nonprofit Sagebrush Sea Campaign, e-mailed us a plea (HCN, 11/13/06): “The use of the word ‘overgrazing’ when the facts call for the word ‘grazing’ leaves readers with the impression that some level of grazing in the arid West is benign to native wildlife and watersheds.” Pointing to the nonexistence of words like overlogging and overmining, Salvo says, “The overuse of overgrazing is overpowering rational discourse.” Thanks, Mark — we’ll try to get over it!
Michael Green reflected on how the gas industry changed his once-sleepy town of Godfrey, Texas. “A few years ago the land men started knocking on doors, wooing our signatures,” he writes. Now, fear of driving on roads congested with trucks outstrips his excitement about the royalty checks. “That monthly mailbox money has helped, but it has also spurred inner questions regarding our values and future. As our rural home in Texas has now become an industrial zone, we have bought land in northern New Mexico and once again the quest for natural resources has followed us.” Sorry, Michael — this issue contains even more news about the growth of oil and gas.