Legacy or Sham?

The Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution has been established in Mo Udall's name. Would he even like it?

And consequently, it's now the stuffed-shirt, hard-edged CEOs who are looking for group hugs.

One such example is Enlibra, which New Times' Michael Kiefer wrote about after attending the "Western Governors Association Environmental Summit on the West," held here in Phoenix. ("Balancing Act," December 10.) Enlibra might sound like a perfume, but it's not. It's a process. The brainchild of the governors of Utah and Oregon, Enlibra, like the Udall conflict-resolution institute, is designed to promote harmony and limit litigation. And, like the institute, it makes some environmentalists edgy.

Rob Smith, federal lobbyist for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, says, "There are a lot of voices out there that say we really need conflict-resolution on the environment, and a lot of them are polluters or government agencies that don't want to enforce the law.

"In my view, the problem is we have dirty air in the city and we have dirty water in too many places and our wildlands are being lost to development. The problem isn't that we're arguing about that. And some people seem to think that if you're arguing, there's a problem, whereas I think if you're arguing then you're in the public process, and welcome to democracy."

Suckling claims that the only reason the industry types want to make nice is because they're getting slaughtered in court. He notes that logging has declined by 84 percent on national forests since 1989, grazing is dwindling on public lands, and communities like Tucson are beginning to address urban sprawl.

It's not the mere notion of negotiation that raises Suckling's hackles. He says his group negotiates all the time, but only from a position of strength. And the way to get that strength is to file a lawsuit.

Suckling says industry doesn't just want to negotiate, it wants to win. He points to a recent settlement his group forged with the U.S. Forest Service, in which cattle will be removed from 300 miles of river habitat. The ranchers didn't like the agreement, so they urged U.S. Representative Don Young of Alaska, chair of the House Resources Committee, to hold hearings investigating the pact. Suckling says Young even went so far as to demand a list of Forest Service employees who were members of the Southwest Center.

"They want us to make these agreements. When we make an agreement and the agreement actually protects the environment, then we have congressional hearings into the agreement. It's absurd," Suckling says. "They're not after out-of-court agreements, 'cause we have those all the time. What they're after is preventing any reduction in logging, development and mining.

"We're finally making some serious headway on many issues," Suckling says. "Now they're saying, basically, stop kicking the loggers' butts and sit down and talk to them. Ridiculous. Why would we do that when we're winning?"

He continues, "The Udall Center was created as the happy face of environmental rape. But ultimately it doesn't matter, 'cause the Southwest Center doesn't have to use it. We're not going to use it. We're going to keep doing what we do as long as it's successful."

Suckling says his one encounter with the conflict-resolution institute only fueled his suspicions. Recently, Suckling's group asked NAFTA's Committee on Environmental Cooperation to do a study on the dewatering of the San Pedro River, the last undammed river in Arizona, near Sierra Vista.

When it came time to solicit public comment on the study, Arizona's congressional delegation suggested the Udall Center (the institute had not yet been created) run the process.

Suckling says he was horrified when Udall Center officials announced that only local comment would be allowed--thus throwing a wrench into the Southwest Center's plan.

"The local political scene is completely dominated by developers," Suckling says. "And therefore our strategy has been to nationalize this issue. . . . because we're certainly not going to get any help at all from local politicians."

When he complained, he was told that he could solicit outside comments independently, but that the Udall Center wouldn't. (Emerson tells me the center was assigned only the task of gathering local comments.)

"They are trying to bill themselves as a neutral party here--we're just collecting comments--but yet they bought the developers' line lock, stock and barrel," Suckling complains.

That is in sharp contrast to Mo Udall's strategy as a congressman, he says.

"When Mo stepped in and said we want to protect hundreds of millions of acres in Alaska [during the fight for a wilderness bill in the 1970s], he was blasted by the Alaska delegation. Their first response was, who the hell is this guy in Arizona to tell us how to protect land in Alaska? They opposed it. They bitterly opposed it. But Mo really saw that Alaska was the last frontier in North America and it needed to be protected, and it was only going to be protected by somebody outside of Alaskan politics.

" . . . If Mo had attempted to run all his environmental initiatives through a conflict-resolution center, I don't think Mo would be known today for the environmental legacy that he has, and Alaska would be just one more clear-cut instead of a vast, temperate rain forest."

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