Eugene Weekly : Natural Resistance : 10.14.10

At the Table
Vested interests too often hold sway
By Mary O’Brien

A trashed creek bed in the Gentry Allotment

Climate change legislation in the U.S. Senate fell apart this year under the bipartisan “leadership” of Sens. Lindsey Graham (R), John Kerry (D) and Joseph Lieberman (I). Cap and trade was the major key to the legislation for Democrats. Cap and trade is a market-based approach to limit the total amount of carbon emissions (major greenhouse gases) by issuing permits for a “capped” amount of emissions. Those industries reducing carbon emissions could sell their permits to those emitting carbon. Graham, knowing the Democrats wanted cap and trade, insisted in exchange that the bill assist the nuclear industry and expand oil drilling. Graham invited Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to write the drilling language. Graham also wanted to curtail the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The Chamber of Commerce was invited to write the language for that. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) from cold Maine wanted home heating oil exempted from greenhouse-gas regulations. Billionaire T. Boone Pickens, a natural gas businessman, insisted on tax incentives for natural-gas vehicles and installation of natural-gas fuelling stations. President Obama’s February budget proposal included $54 billion for nuclear loan guarantees, and in late March the president announced that large areas of U.S. waters would be newly open to oil and gas drilling. The American Truckers Association insisted on billions for new highways from which to spew greenhouse gases, and the Edison Electric Institute, representing electric utilities, insisted on delaying cap-and-trade from 2012 to 2015 on the same day. They got that on Earth Day, April 22, the day the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. And so the pathetic bill was ready.

Sen. Harry Reid (D) then said he wanted to pass immigration reform before the climate-change bill and would not promise support for the cap-and-trade piece (which already had been modified to satisfy the oil refineries), because it might be referred to as a tax. At that point Graham left, and we had no climate change legislation at all. 

My work week is not within energy politics. Instead, it’s largely within the equally resistant landscapes of livestock grazing on Forest Service lands. A couple of weeks ago I was out on a particular livestock allotment with a Forest Service District Ranger and Rangeland Management Specialist. At issue is the renewal of the grazing permit for another 10 years. 

The Forest Service indicates there are 8,300 acres of “rangeland” suitable for grazing within this 22,200 acre allotment. During summer each year, 17 ranchers collectively graze 1,440 cattle on the allotment. This amounts to a cow-calf pair grazing (i.e., each cow daily consuming 32 pounds of vegetation) and trampling around for a month on 1.9 acres of suitable rangeland. 

So we’re visiting the allotment. The cattle have not only consumed the non-native pasture grass (seeded years ago for cattle by the Forest Service) to about an inch above the ground, they’re even eating the rubber rabbitbrush shrubs which are basically unpalatable and of nil nutrition. We walk to the muddy, trampled creek below one of the few springs. The creek is becoming an incised ditch. The rangeland manager admits this violates the Forest’s standards, but adds, as if it were a defense, “It’s been going on a long time.”

The manager explains he’s planning to split one of the pastures in half, so all the cattle will graze on one half the pasture for half as long and then go to the other pasture. It’s not making sense. 

“Do the numbers,” I say. “There are simply too many cattle for this land.”

“But the permittees would appeal any decision to reduce cattle numbers,” he responds. 

“On what legal basis?” I ask.

“They would just appeal it.”

And the Chamber of Commerce won’t agree to EPA regulation of greenhouse gases; the nuclear industry won’t agree to cover their own loans; the American Truckers Association insists on more highways on which to spew greenhouse gases; and the oil industry insists on more offshore drilling.

Aldo Leopold wrote in the 1940s, “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us.” 

The only hope for land, air and water is to insure that more than representatives of abusers are present, with power, at all decisionmaking tables — local, state, national and global.

Mary O’Brien has worked as a public interest scientist since 1981. She is currently dividing her time between Eugene and Castle Valley, Utah.