House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Thursday that the federal government should rethink its approach to states whose land is largely federally owned.
“Until you’ve been in states that are overwhelmingly owned by the federal government, you cannot appreciate how maddening bureaucracy can be,” Gingrich said after two days of touring Utah and Idaho along with other members of the U.S. House Republican leadership.
“I think the federal government may have a special obligation to rethink how it deals with states that are overwhelmingly federally owned,” he said. “I think at least half the problems, frankly, are problems of attitudes and problems of a kind of bureaucratic arrogance that just is counter to everything Americans believe in.”
Gingrich’s comments, which came two days into a four-day tour of forests, mines, ranches and the like in four Western states, were music to Rep. Helen Chenoweth’s ears.
She called the tour - and the chance to introduce House leadership to Westerners who share her views about natural resource issues - “unbelievably valuable for what we’re trying to do as far as forests and forest health.”
The tour was organized and paid for by the Western States Coalition, a loose group of state legislators, county commissioners and others in 14 Western states. A nonprofit organization, the group criticizes the environmental movement and has sued over the federal designation of a national monument in Utah.
Idaho environmental groups blasted the tour as an orchestrated effort to put a good face on Western timber and mining industries.
“What they’re going to see are shining examples of mining and lumbering in this state. We’d like to tell them the rest of the story,” said Russ Biaggne, president of the Idaho Wildlife Federation.
Wendy Wilson, head of Idaho Rivers United, joined Biaggne at a separate press conference that featured a cardboard cutout of Gingrich. “This is the closest we’re going to get to Newt today,” she said.
Tour organizers noted that they included an environmentalist in the Idaho tour program. John McCarthy of the Idaho Conservation League was added to the agenda a day before Thursday’s Idaho leg, and gave a 10-minute presentation.
House Majority Whip Tom Delay, R-Texas, seemed impressed by McCarthy’s appearance, along with presentations from the Forest Service and the timber industry.
“If we can bring people together, the environmentalists, and the timber people, and the ranchers and the farmers and everyone that has a vital interest in the West … maybe we can work on some of these problems and get things done,” Delay said.
He also praised the trip organizers, and said the tour allowed him to see firsthand “the wonderful things that are going on … people working together, making a living and still protecting the wildlife and the environment and the natural resources of this area. It’s absolutely incredible.”
Taylor Johnson - son of coalition founder Met Johnson, a former Utah state legislator - said the money for the tour came from private donations, “mostly with companies and organizations that are concerned or have issues regarding Western states land issues.”
About a dozen members of Congress are on the tour. The itinerary includes a ranch barbecue, a chance to see Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park and a theater performance along with the tours and talks.
The tour heads today to Wyoming, where the group will meet with mining industry representatives and state officials. It wraps up at Yellowstone on Saturday, where the group will discuss park management.
Chenoweth, an enthusiastic supporter of the coalition, said she was thrilled that so many congressional leaders attended. Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, was among those on the tour, along with Reps. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, Billy Tauzin, R-Louisiana; John Peterson, R-Pennsylvania; and Sue Kelly, R-New York.
“They will be giving us three days of their lives because they are as concerned as we are about Western issues,” she said.
Chenoweth’s press secretary, Chad Hyslop, acknowledged that environmental groups might have chosen different stops for the tour. “I think if they want to do that, they can bring the speaker out themselves,” he said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo