Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Base is Getting Restless

If I could persuade President Bush to read just one article from today's New York Times, it would be Timothy Egan's "Drilling in West Pits Republican Policy Against Republican Base." The key sentence reads "Ranchers, cowboys, small property owners and local government leaders - the core of the Republican base in the Rocky Mountain West - are chafing at the pace and scope of the Bush administration's push for energy development."

"[F]or the first time," Egan notes, "it is the Republicans who find themselves the target of angry speeches about lost property rights and tone-deaf federal land managers. And people who have been on opposing sides of the major land battles in the West - mainly property owners and ranchers versus environmentalists - are now allies.

'The word from Washington is drill, drill, drill, and now they've basically destroyed our ranch,' said Tweeti Blancett, a coordinator for George Bush's presidential campaign in San Juan County, N.M. 'We've been in a firestorm down here. A lot of Republicans are upset.'"

The report continues, saying that the push-back from Western residents "poses a conundrum" for the Bush Adminstration. "The president has made oil and gas drilling a priority on federal lands. Last year, the Bureau of Land Management issued 6,052 permits to drill oil and gas wells, triple the number from 10 years ago. Nearly 40 million acres of public land outside Alaska now have oil and gas leases on them ... But by pushing for so much drilling close to national parks, wilderness areas and favored hunting grounds, the administration has angered many communities."

Egan concludes his report with this quote: "'It's tough to beat the federal government," said Gordon Johnston, a lifelong Republican and three-term county commissioner in Sublette County, Wyo. 'But there are a lot of us who feel we have to fight them, because they're wrecking this land.'"

If this isn't the perfect opportunity for a grand centrist coalition of property rights advocates, energy independence proponents, and conservationists, I don't know what is. There is a niche here to be filled, a political vacuum just begging for leadership. Who will fill the void? Who will stand up for the responsible use of resources balanced with calls for renewable and alternative energy sources as well as respect for property rights and the preservation of our wilderness areas?

The country wants leadership, not more of the same. Who will step up?


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