The year was 1981 and Reagan had just taken office and appointed James G. Watt as Secretary of the Interior. The Reagan presidential campaign was successful at making Jimmy Carter look like a weak president who was not capable of running the country. Ted Koppel had been on television every night for months reinforcing the myth that Carter’s weakness was responsible for American hostages being taken from the embassy in Iran.
At the same time Reagan was inaugurated, there were split screens – high-tech television at the time – showing his swearing in, and the hostages being released. The media has still not told us, with any voracity, that the hostages were released because we made a secret weapons deal with that country.
The Republicans immediately started to flex their muscles and picked James G. Watt to tour the country, advocating oil production at the expense of irreplaceable public treasures. He even said it himself; “I will err on the side of public use vs. preservation”. I started getting mail from the Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society asking for donations, which I gave for the first time in my life. I had just spent the best times of my life, backpacking into places like Arches, Zions, Capital Reef, and the Uintas with a good friend.
The local ABC affiliate reported that Watt would be visiting Utah and even gave the room number where a press meeting would take place in the Federal Building. Having maintained a nearly perfect working record at my job, I hated to ask for a day off with such short notice, but I badly wanted to go to the event and record what was said.
My boss said no.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t show up for work without calling. I went to the Federal Building that day and there were hundreds of people there. I asked them when the meeting was going to start. They all told me we would not be allowed into the meeting.
I was not a happy guy.
I had just jeopardized my job to be there and decided to go upstairs. The meeting was being held in a very small room with a capacity of about 50 people. There were reporters and a woman dressed in jeans hanging around murmuring against Watt. I asked if it would be OK if I went inside. They looked at me like I was crazy and said “sure”. So I, incredulously walked in, holding my little recorder and stood there waiting to see this man whom I imagined would look like an evil Marlboro Man. A couple of secret service guys came in and were looking behind curtians to assess any threat which gave me some pause about what I was doing.
Even after Jim Hansen walked past me escorting Watt, It didn’t dawn on me that he was the man who was intent on destroying Utahs wilderness for profit until he took the podium. Yep, that tall 28 year old standing there with man boobs during the procession is me:
The recording I made was of such poor quality that nothing could be heard. I remember that Watt’s presentation was unremarkable except for my observation that he kept repeating the phrase, “we’re here to restore Americas greatness”.
You really have to admire the profiteers for their tenacity. They are back again trying to gain access to the very coal they meant to exploit in 1981, ignoring the fact that they will pollute the beauty of Utahs beloved Bryce Canyon. Try to show up at the hearing – not listening – hearing.
What: Alton Coal Mine Environmental Impacts Hearing
When: Wednesday, December 7, 6:00 PM
Where: Salt Lake City Library, 210 East 400 South, Salt Lake City