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Western Coalition Trees Clinton Adviser Conservative Group Says Environmental Initiatives Fail To Protect Users Of Land

Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press

President Clinton’s top environmental adviser strolled into a buzzsaw of opposition Saturday, meeting with conservative Westerners loudly opposed to fed eral control of their lands.

Even the list of accomplishments read as Kathleen McGinty was introduced drew criticism.

“What she sees as successes we see as failures,” said Laura Cleland of the Oregon Lands Coalition in Salem, Ore.

McGinty, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, spoke to the Western States Coalition Summit, a twice-a-year gathering of local and state politicians, natural resource industries and others concerned about federal control of Western lands.

She came to defend the recently proposed American Heritage Rivers Initiative, and also the Clinton administration’s general efforts to find consensus on environmental disputes.

But her remarks were sometimes met with derisive laughter, and later by pointed questions, about federal power.

“I believe government can’t be the answer to all our problems,” McGinty said. “But I am not prepared to rely on the kindness of strangers.”

McGinty said disputes such as establishment of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah and protecting animals under the Endangered Species Act have polarized environmental debate into an endless series of court battles.

“We must achieve stewardship of the land and economic opportunities together,” McGinty said.

A centerpiece could be the Heritage Rivers Initiative, proposed in the president’s State of the Union address this year.

The initiative is a voluntary effort designed to help riverside communities find existing federal programs to improve their waterfronts for environmental, economic and recreational benefits. It does not contain new money, propose new laws or exert more federal control.

The president plans to proclaim 10 rivers as American Heritage Rivers in January.

McGinty talked about how cleanup of the Delaware River through her hometown of Philadelphia helped spark an economic rebirth of the waterfront.

But the benign-sounding program had no friends at the summit.

“We don’t believe you yet,” an audience member told McGinty.

“I’ve picked that up,” McGinty replied. “It’s a scary proposition for our country to have that distrust among citizens and government.”

Several audience members insisted the river program was being secretly pushed, even though McGinty pointed out it had been in the Federal Register, was the subject of numerous public meetings and had an Internet site.

Others worried the program would throw out existing water rights and would eventually become mandatory.

As McGinty spoke, it became obvious that she and the audience were working from entirely different view points.

Her listed achievements included the Clinton administration’s Pacific Northwest forest-management plan and creation of the Grand Staircase monument.

“The president’s forest plan closed hundreds of mills in the Northwest,” Cleland complained.

Rob Bishop, retired speaker of the Utah House of Representatives and a co-founder of the coalition, criticized the federal government’s creation of the new national monument, and demanded to know the reasons for the designation.

McGinty’s explanation that part of the monument contained plateaus where the native grass had never been grazed drew laughter.

“You may think that’s not valuable,” McGinty retorted, but some scientists do.

In the end, McGinty called the meeting a beginning and said she hoped people could work together.

Met Johnson of New Harmony, Utah, president of the coalition, said the group is “solution-oriented” and thanked her for coming.

“Am I done? Where’s the door?” McGinty joked as she left the podium.

The three-day meeting was the first by the group in Washington.

It concluded Saturday after participants discussed issues such as a perceived pro-environmentalist bias in school textbooks, how to combat fear of farm chemicals, using the court system to fight for rights and opposition to the theory of global warming.

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