Editor's Note: In our interview with former Utah Sen. Bob Bennett ("Bob Bennett after the fall," HCN, 10/29/12), Bennett said of his 2009 Washington County land bill: "The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance's board was split 7-7 over the bill. So they took no position, which effectively let it move forward." SUWA Executive Director Scott Groene disputes Bennett's account. He says the board never took a vote on the bill, and left it up to the staff to work on strengthening it and deciding whether to back it, which it ultimately did. We received the following letter from Groene, which we asked Bennett to respond to.
Scott Groene on the Washington County land bill
It seems former Sen. Bennett is still miffed that SUWA, with our conservation partners, activists, and congressional champions, blocked his anti-wilderness bills dating back to 1995.
His recent comments in HCN on the Washington County wilderness bill merit correction. Bennett first introduced an awful Washington County bill in 2006. His bill went nowhere in the face of opposition from SUWA and our Utah Wilderness Coalition partners. He then tried to jam through a better, but still flawed, bill in the next Congress. He did get one former green group CEO to endorse this bill. But he was opposed by the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, SUWA and others, and was unable to get the bill through the Energy Committee as he refused to negotiate with the committee chairman.
Bennett then tried to attach his legislation to a continuing resolution, which also failed. Finally, he was forced to make changes the Washington County commissioners didn't -- and still don't -- like. Those changes improved the bill enough that SUWA could support it.
The outcome of all this was a good wilderness bill. But the bill wasn't the result of a consensus-based process, and it shouldn't serve as a model.
Scott Groene, Executive Director
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
Bob Bennett Responds
Scott Groene's history is colorful, to say the least. In the picture he paints, he has been extremely effective while I have floundered helplessly in a vain effort to counteract his masterful tactical moves. My response: I stand by my story.
Scott was never a factor in the creation of the bill. Negotiations began with a conversation between me and the chairman of SUWA's board. A number of similar conversations followed, by phone and in person, with other members of the board; Scott was not present. When he was allowed to be in the meetings, his views were often pushed aside, in front of me and members of my staff, by members of his board. One major funder of SUWA told me why: "I have been giving SUWA large sums of money for over 20 years, and they haven't produced a single *#@# acre of wilderness. It's time to get something done for a change."
We obtained the support of members whom Scott calls his "congressional champions," including the committee chairman with whom he claims I refused to negotiate, without his help. When he learned that the deal had been made, he attempted to kill it. Only after it was signed did he grudgingly say a few nice things about it in public.
There was a deep split within SUWA with respect to the bill, the details of which were reported directly to me by members of the board.