Business coalition formed to counter environmentalists
WASHINGTON - A coalition of Western business and agricultural organizations has banded together to take on environmental organizations.
The groups are aiming to create a conservative version of popular environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society.
"We are going to have our own score card," said Jim Sims, the executive director of the Partnership for the West. "We're also going to have voter registration drives."
For years, environmental groups, such as the League of Conservation Voters, have graded lawmakers' environmental positions based on the votes that they cast.
According to its literature, the partnership plans to support environmentally sound energy development, common-sense regulations, preserving public access to federal lands, water for the future, increased jobs and prosperity, and greater state and local control.
The coalition specifically plans to push for enactment of energy legislation, an overhaul of federal forest management policy and "meaningful reform" of the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.
Sims, who was part of Vice President Dick Cheney's panel to create a national energy policy, addressed a handful of lawmakers and a plethora of lawmakers' aides and showed them a video at a barbecue Tuesday in the Capitol.
"While we work to build a strong West, there are those who want to turn back the clock," the video narrator said as pictures of mountains and streams intermingled with pictures of mining and timber operations. "Those opposed to responsible development have gained the upper hand in recent years. That's about to change."
A number of Montana and Wyoming organizations and companies that do business in the states are members of the partnership. The members include Arch Coal Co. Inc., Montana Petroleum Association, Teton Oil & Gas Corp., Wyoming Mining Association and Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
"They got a bunch of money from the oil industry and they are claiming it's a grass-roots organization," said Wilderness Society Northern Rockies spokesman Chris Mehl.
Sims said the Golden, Colo.-based organization is bipartisan, but there were few Democrats at the Tuesday meeting. Two members of Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus' staff were at the meeting.
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., attended the organization's kickoff event in Denver on Sept. 26 and sent staff members to the meeting.
Rehberg stressed that the organization was not partisan and insisted that they planned to work with Democrats.
Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., was one of the few Democrats who showed up at the kickoff event in Denver.
"I dropped by and listened to what they had to say," Udall said Tuesday. "I'll work with them if they are truly interested in having a dialogue, but if they are just a front group for the extractive industries, I will oppose them."
While glancing over the list of member organizations Udall was concerned.
"It looks to me that they have work to do to bring some balance," Udall said.
Udall has frequently worked with environmental groups. His wife, Maggie Fox, is the Sierra Club's deputy executive director. Udall is planning a run for Senate against Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo.
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