Two weeks in the West


"The farmers respect the law. (But in Sun Valley) people get mad and call their lawyers. This is typical America, the land of greed, where people just take, take, take."

—David Murphy, an Idaho water-rights cop, who is ticked off at wealthy owners of vacation homes for illegally taking water from rivers and streams to grow lush lawns and fill private fishing ponds, according to the Idaho Mountain Express.

Maybe it will save a few trees. In his 2007 proposed budget, President Bush has slashed $2 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s $2.5 million library program. The cuts will hit the program’s 27 libraries across the country, which are used by reporters, EPA employees and the general public. The presidents of 16 unions, representing 10,000 EPA employees, have sent a letter of protest, urging Congress to restore funding to the libraries. The budget cuts, write the union leaders, will not only "demoralize its employees" but also make tens of thousands of original research documents unavailable to researchers and the public.

Confession in the gas fields. When Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne toured natural gas fields near Pinedale, Wyo., in late August, he told the Casper Star-Tribune he sees "significant progress" in attempts to limit the environmental impacts caused by drilling. But a few days later, the Washington Post revealed a confession of inadequacy by the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the drilling. BLM staffers, in an internal report, concluded that for the past six years, they’ve failed to protect air quality and wildlife around Pinedale.

Just a smidgen of rocket fuel won’t hurt, will it? For years, government regulators, environmentalists and industry have battled over how much perchlorate — a component of rocket fuel and explosives — is safe in drinking water. Pregnant women, fetuses and children are particularly susceptible to the chemical, which prevents the thyroid from absorbing iodine. The feds have set a lax and unenforceable standard, leaving the states to fend for themselves. On Aug. 28, the California Department of Health Service announced that any drinking-water sources in the state with more than 6 parts per billion of perchlorate must be shut down. Industry representatives complained that meeting the standard would be staggeringly expensive. Still, the requirement is much more lenient than environmentalists asked for, and pales in comparison with the 2 parts per billion limit set by Massachusetts, the only other state with a drinking-water limit for perchlorate.

If the feds won’t help ... After pleading futilely with the Bureau of Land Management to refrain from leasing land in the watershed from which it draws city drinking water, and even unsuccessfully attempting to buy the leases itself, Grand Junction, Colo., recently did its best to protect its own watershed. The city council on Sept. 6 voted unanimously to pass an ordinance imposing strict requirements on "high risk" activities in the watershed, including drilling. Companies must now post bonds to cover potential damages as well as prove that the proposed activity does not pollute drinking water. Last month, the BLM issued leases in Grand Junction’s and nearby Palisade’s watersheds.

Marching on Farmington. Approximately 1,000 Native Americans marched along the main highway into this northwestern New Mexico city on Sept. 2 to honor victims of racism and violence in Navajo Nation border towns. The march followed a year of mixed news regarding discrimination against Indians in this town of 44,000 people. Last fall, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission found that racial relations had improved since the 1970s, when "rolling" intoxicated Navajos was sport for young white men. But this summer, tension returned: Three Anglo men allegedly beat a Navajo man, and another tribal member was shot to death by a white police officer.

They don’t like one another, either. The founders of the Minuteman border vigilante group, Chris Simcox and Jim Gilchrist, are fighting, and some of its members are calling for an audit to find what’s become of more than $1.5 million in donations. According to the Arizona Republic, Simcox says Gilchrist is acting like the "lord and emperor" of the movement, while Simcox’s private company has come under fire for not delivering the "Israeli-style border fence" it promised. So far, it’s only laid out about two miles of a five-strand barbed wire fence.

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