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Utahns, legislators don't agree on conservation
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

How is it that Utahns elect so many people to state and federal office who simply do not legislate according to the values of the people who elected them?

There is a major disconnect between our votes, what our legislators actually do, and what Utahns say is important to them. What is the real motivation for the behavior of many elected officials? Someone is benefiting, and typically it isn't the average Utahn, the average voter.

In January 2011, Conservation in the West, a bipartisan survey designed to assess our core beliefs and values that relate to conservation, found that 89 percent of Utahns think clean air, clean water, natural areas and wildlife are either extremely important or very important to the quality of their life (click on Conservation in the West Survey at http://www.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies.

That's not surprising since these are necessary to the physical and mental health of everyone in our communities. Yet, decisions made by many of our elected lawmakers at all levels of government do not reflect these very strong values held by the average Utahn, the average voter.

In this same survey, 76 percent of Utahns said we can protect our land and water and have a strong economy with good jobs, without having to choose one over the other.

The vast majority — 78 percent — favored maintaining protections for land, air and water that apply to major industries, and fully 82 percent said we need to do more to ensure oil, gas and mining companies follow laws protecting our land, air and water.

A perfect example occurred when Judge Ricardo Urbina delayed the Bureau of Land Management's oil and gas leases on 77 parcels of land, about 110,000 acres, near Arches National park and other important landmarks. Judge Urbina recognized the importance of developing energy resources and raised important concerns about impacts to air quality and permanent damage to public lands.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has since withdrawn those leases. Congressman Rob Bishop called Salazar's action "just plain ludicrous" ("Interior: Drillers sit idle on 22 million leased acres," Tribune, March 31).

What is ludicrous about clean air and responsible energy development? Development of our public lands at all costs is what Rep. Bishop seems to be advocating, despite the fact that 70 percent of Utahns said we should ensure that Utah's undeveloped public lands are kept in their natural state. Who benefits from Bishop's position? Is it the average Utahn, the average voter? I think not.

Utahns don't want their environment destroyed, but do the voters in Utah think about the dichotomy between their own values and the actions taken by the officials they elect?

These actions make one think that a strong economy and job growth exclude conservation of our land, water and open spaces.

But that is just not true. Around Milford we are already developing renewable energy sources without compromising our wild lands.

In actuality, the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club represents the values of the majority of Utahns better than many of those we have elected to office at both the state and federal level.

The local Sierra Club supports and works hard to protect and conserve our air quality, water quality, open public lands and wildlife, the very things most Utahns say are important to them.

We, the taxpaying people of Utah, support our elected officials financially and pay for the costs of their decisions.

As "public servants," they are supposed to look out for our interests.

Marion Klaus has a doctorate in biology and chairs the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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