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Know the West

Lobbypalooza, Denver '08


There’s energy in the air here in Denver, and as HCN’s resident youngun, I like to think it’s because of all the fired-up young people – bloggers, protesters, volunteers – who are here to demand progressive change. But there are plenty of folks here who are trying to keep change from happening – especially change in the laws governing resource extraction on public lands. I snuck into a lunch put on by the National Mining Association and the American Gas Association in an attempt to see the convention from the other side.

The lunch was delicious – a huge score in my efforts to be a well-fed convention freegan – but it had a distinct aftertaste of sleaze. Much of said sleaze came from the National Mining Association, whose lobbyists tried to convince me that they were serious about mine cleanup (just not, I suppose, about forcing mining companies to post bonds to guarantee cleanup after they go broke) and even open to changing the 1872 mining act to require mining companies to pay to extract federal minerals (as long as that royalty rate is “reasonable”). I didn’t get to finish talking to them because they got distracted by greeting and schmoozing with U.S. Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), a member of the House agriculture and natural resources committees who couldn’t resist the free food, either. Costa’s presence at the lunch was in violation of House ethics rules governing interactions with lobbyists – rules that are a long ways from being followed this week in Denver. 

But I’m an optimist, and I like to believe that in any crowd there are a few decent folks.  At the mining lunch, one of those folks was Pat O’Toole, a rancher from the Wyoming/Colorado border who had come to Denver to represent the Family Farm Alliance. Pat wants to make sure there’s enough water to support agriculture in the West, and he’s worried that climate change plus urban sprawl plus oil shale development could add up to a major pinch on farmers and their water. And while he was sharing a meal with mining and gas lobbyists, Pat is no friend of either industry. He doesn’t like what coal-bed methane drilling has done to his land, or what in-situ uranium mining threatens to do. And he says there are a lot of other ranchers who feel the same way.

Maybe next convention the farmers and ranchers will split off and have their own lunch, apart from the mining and fossil fuel types. But something makes me doubt that any congressmen would come. There’s not nearly as much money in ranching as in the extractive industries. And money to buy a swank lunch with booze – and more importantly, write big campaign checks – is what it takes to buy access to power these days.