For 22 years, I had the privilege of sitting on the Natural Resource Committee. When I went on the committee in 1981, Morris Udall from Arizona served as chairman and Emanuel Lujuan from New Mexico was the ranking member. I later became chairman of that committee.
We worked with all the land and water issues, Indian issues and matters affecting parks and territories. One of the first bills I worked on was the Utah Forest Service Wilderness Act bill. Sen. Jake Garn was the Senate sponsor. Members of the Interior Committee were quite familiar with the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act, the NEPA Act, the FLPMA Act and many other pieces of legislation affecting our natural resources. After we completed the Forest Service Wilderness Act, which was signed by President Reagan, we started on the BLM & National Park Wilderness Act.
Working with the state of Utah, we came up with a figure of 4.2 million acres. That legislation was carefully drafted to follow the 1964 act. The environmental community came up with 5.7 million acres. After the Bruce Babbitt inventory (poorly done) strangely came up to 5.7 million acres, the environmental community immediately changed its proposal to 9.3 million acres. The intriguing question was who it could get to sponsor the bill.
As committee chairman, I tried to make certain that a member was always given the first chance to sponsor a bill that was in his or her congressional district, or at least in the state they represented. In this case, the Utah environmental community shopped the Congress and finally found Maurice Hinchey from Ithica, N.Y. When Hinchey first introduced the 5.7 million acre bill, he had never been to Utah. I remember asking him if he'd ever seen the acres in question. He responded that he had flown over the area on his way to Los Angeles. I did not let those bills out of committee. In my opinion, they were contrary to the wishes of Utah residents and, in most cases, violated the 1964 Wilderness Act.
On more than one occasion, I challenged the environmental community to put its 9.3 million acres, the state's 4.2 million acres or zero on the ballot. I said I would sponsor and carry its legislation if it received a majority of Utah votes. But if they lost, they should support whatever won. They declined that challenge, demonstrating to me and many other members of the committee their lack of sincerity. I found it interesting that Rep. Hinchey was willing to tell Utahns how to run their state, but when other members introduced legislation in his state, he was highly offended.
The environmental community said it would go along with my challenge if all states could vote on the Utah wilderness bill. I think that is acceptable. If they will produce a resolution from those states indicating that we can vote on issues which are applicable only to their states.
Hinchey is out of line to attempt to tell the people of Utah what is right for us. And I cannot see what the environmental community has done to help the environment of the state. It appears to me all they do is raise money and file lawsuits. Many of the environmentalists support draining Lake Powell, are against the Legacy Highway and oppose almost every proposal for energy development.
Regarding the Legacy Highway, the lawsuit brought by the environmental community and former Mayor Rocky Anderson cost the state of Utah more than $200 million. If they were really stand-up individuals, they'd spend the rest of their lives repaying the debt they created.I continue to stand by the unwritten law that congressmen and senators should sponsor and carry legislation affecting their own states.
Jim Hansen is a former Utah congressman.