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    re: What is the noble cause, Mr. President?

President Bush, you owe Cindy Sheehan an explanation. Ms. Sheehan has been camped outside the your ranch in Crawford, Texas, waiting for your explanation of why her son, a Marine killed in combat in Iraq, died.

It is not enough to send your press secretary to tell Ms. Sheehan that her son died fighting for a "noble cause’; Cindy would like to know what you believe that noble cause is. We know it cannot be protecting the world from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, because none have been found. We know this noble cause is not to protect the world from nuclear annihilation, because Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program when we attacked. And even though you and the Vice President still try to cloud the issue saying that we are retaliating for 9/11, we all know now that not one of the 9/11 attackers was from Iraq.

I feel for you, Mr. President. I would not know what to tell the parents and loved ones of the killed or wounded soldiers what this noble cause is either. Because as far as we can see, there isn't one. And to admit that you may have made a mistake is just not in your nature.

In spite of what your advisors, the right-wing, talk-radio DJs, and the so-called "balanced news" pundits of FOX News would have us believe, Cindy Sheehan is not a traitor. She is just a mother of a fallen soldier who is waiting for an explanation.

If there are traitors in this conflict, it is the media who have not had the guts—that Ms. Sheehan has shown—to ask the hard questions about this war. You owe Cindy Sheehan an explanation, Mr. President. In fact, you owe every citizen of this country and every citizen in the world an explanation. We're waiting, Mr. President.

—GARY W. PRIESTER
Placitas

Pombo’s task force tears into the NEPA

—LAURA PASKUS
High Country News
As registering students chat in the glaring heat outside Rio Rancho High School, a more subdued crowd fills the school’s darkened auditorium: Lanky men in pressed Wranglers and new cowboy hats and environmentalists wearing "I support NEPA" stickers all await testimony about the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

When President Richard Nixon signed NEPA in 1970, the law required unprecedented environmental studies and public input for projects involving federal land or money. But Republican lawmakers have become increasingly critical of the law—and now, the House Resources Committee, chaired by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., is holding six hearings across the country to solicit input about it.

And indeed, this August 1 hearing turns out to be stacked against the environmental law. No members of any environmental groups sit upon the stage, and today’s spotlight clearly belongs to the energy industry. Dave Brown of BP America recommends that federal agencies grant "categorical exclusions" for permitting and leasing of oil and gas projects—that is, no environmental studies would be required. He also asks that outside parties be prevented from commenting on proposals, and recommends that taxpayers, rather than industry itself, fund environmental studies.

Once the nationwide hearings end this year, the Resources Committee plans to report its findings to Congress. But Congress is already moving ahead on some fronts: The energy bill, signed by President Bush in New Mexico on August 8, allows categorical exclusions for certain oil and gas activities, and the transportation bill, signed August 10, "expedites" the NEPA process for certain transportation projects.

"Everybody wants their own private exemptions," says Forest Guardians Executive Director John Horning. "And at the end of the day, there’s going to be nothing left standing."

The author is HCN’s Southwest editor. High Country News (www.hcn.org) covers the West's communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.


Western governors wary of roadless forest mess

When President Bush retooled his predecessor’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule, his administration promised to restore local control and give the states a say in managing national forests. But now it looks as though the fate of those areas will rest with Washington, D.C., after all.

The Clinton-era rule put 58.5 million acres of national forest land off-limits to road-building, mining and logging. Under the new rule, issued in May, governors have until November 2006 to petition the secretary of Agriculture to protect roadless forests within their states.

But after reading the fine print, even governors who initially supported the new rule have balked at the cost of petitioning. If a governor does not file a petition, or the petition is rejected, each national forest will determine what activities are allowed in roadless areas, just as it did prior to the Clinton rule. In short, the new rule looks like a flop, which is perhaps, environmentalists say, just what the Bush administration intended.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, D, who two years ago beseeched the Bush administration to keep the Clinton rule, is the only Western governor who says he is definitely committed to a petition. New Mexico is currently enjoying an oil- and gas-funded budget surplus, but the process is still daunting, says Ned Farquhar, Richardson’s senior policy advisor on energy and the environment. "The governor will petition with whatever resources we’re able to put together," he says. "But they’re probably going to reject it anyway."

Environmental groups say they may sue over the new rule as soon as this summer, arguing that the administration’s repeal of the Clinton rule was illegal.

On Capitol Hill, Reps. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., and Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., and several co-sponsors plan to reintroduce legislation this year to reinstate federal protection. Prospects for the bill appear dim, however, with many Western Republicans steadfastly supporting the new rule.

The author writes from Santa Fe, New Mexico. High Country News editor Jodi Peterson contributed to this story. High Country News (www.hcn.org) covers the West's communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.

 

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