Don't expect problem solving in 1997-1998

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories.

How will the elections affect environmental issues in the Congress? One thing is certain, observers say: They won't make resolving problems any easier.

Wilderness: In Utah, the elections seem to bolster the chances of passing a small-acreage wilderness bill. With Democratic Rep. Bill Orton ousted by Republican Chris Cannon, the delegation will now be united behind such a bill. Yet Utah environmentalists, who roused a national constituency opposing 1.8 million acres and pushing 5.7 million acres, say they do not anticipate a repeat of last year's attempt to pass a 1.8 million-acre bill (HCN, 9/30/96).

"I suspect the delegation will lay low for awhile," says Mike Matz, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Utah may actually, incredibly, witness some peace efforts. Right after the election, the Department of Interior announced a new initiative: "We want to adopt a program that is the opposite from the "War on the West," something I'm calling "Working with the West," assistant Interior Secretary George Frampton told the Salt Lake Tribune. Frampton said it would involve greater local involvement in federal land management decisions.

From within Utah, Gov. Mike Leavitt, R, announced he was ready to try a different approach to the wilderness issue: piece-by-piece legislation. "Our efforts will be devoted to finding ... (areas) where differences are small and agreement is great. They do exist."

In Montana, the replacement of Rep. Pat Williams, D, by Republican Rick Hill, means there's not much hope of resolving Montana's decades-long wilderness fight, says John Gatchell of the Montana Wilderness Association.

Meanwhile, time is taking its toll. Over the stalemated years, logging operations and off-road vehicles have cut new roads into roadless areas, he says. "We're not only losing the open space battle in our valleys, we're losing our wildest public forests."

Salmon: Pat Ford of Save Our Wild Salmon says the re-election of incumbents and conservatives in Montana and Idaho almost guarantees that the Pacific Northwest will yet again fail to figure out how to recover salmon and steelhead. Clinton is the only hope, Ford says, and he did nothing to resolve the salmon issue in his first four years.

Mining: With a Republican majority and the easy re-election of industry stalwart Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, the mining industry is ready to again protect the 1872 Mining Law. One new factor may be the White House, which recently announced that it will make mining reform a priority next year.

Nuclear Waste: Activists in Idaho don't expect much help from the Clinton administration in fighting nuclear waste shipments into the state. Idaho voters upheld a 40-year agreement between Gov. Phil Batt and the Department of Energy allowing more than a thousand new shipments. That, plus the re-election of Sen. Craig, bodes well for those who want to store and treat waste in Idaho.

The Batt-DOE deal requires that the waste stay in Idaho only temporarily. Whether that waste ever leaves depends on the long-planned Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. Craig pushed for a quick opening late last session, but Nevada's congressional delegation killed it. The stalemate will likely continue in 1997, observers say.

Finally, the DOE says it intends to open the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico by November 1997. WIPP would accept nuclear waste from the nation's nuclear bomb production facilities, but it faces numerous procedural hurdles and a lawsuit from activists.