Last winter, my husband and I took our annual trip to see our parents out West. I’m from Southern California and John’s parents moved out to Arizona a few years ago. So, we can usually see both sets within a couple weeks. And, luckily for us, the trips usually bring warmth and beauty into our lives during Boston’s dreary winters; we spend our time road tripping to places like the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Big Sur.
I was thinking about that trip yesterday morning when reading the news that the new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has cancelled oil and gas leases on 77 parcels of federal land in southeastern Utah. This move reverses the Bush administration’s decision to allow drilling on about 130,000 acres near Nine Mile Canyon, Arches National Park, and Dinosaur National Monument. When I look back at the photos from my trip to the Grand Canyon, I can’t imagine what it would be like to drop an industrial oil operation in the midst of that type of unmarred landscape. As Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), who grew up in Colorado across the border from southeastern Utah and opposes the leasing in Utah, told the Washington Post, “you can stand on a millions-of-years-old sandstone outcropping and see forever, it seems, and not hear a sound. That experience is very rare in this world.”
But beyond the inherent beauty of these places, I’ve met people like Carrie Dann of the Western Shoshone who live in and around Elko, Nevada and have fought an ongoing battle to protect their own site, Mt. Tenabo, from the threat of gold mining. Oil, gas, and mining companies may see our national parks and heritage sites as areas of untapped resources, but to many of the people who visit these places or have lived near them for generations, their cultural significance outweighs their revenue potential. Perhaps compromises can be struck to obtain new natural resources and protect important sites, but those conversations should really happen between the companies and the nearby communities themselves.
For now, I’m struck by the significance of Secretary Salazar’s decision so early on in President Obama’s term. As a colleague said when responding to an email about Salazar’s decision, “Now this is a change I can believe in.”
To learn more about Oxfam America’s Right to Know, Right to Decide campaign on oil, gas, and mining, go to www.oxfamamerica.org/rights-resources.