My Small Time Encounter With Big Oil

Air is cleaner and food tastes better

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

  1. #1 by Cliff Lyon on December 4, 2011 - 9:55 am


  2. #2 by Richard Warnick on December 4, 2011 - 11:55 am

    Thanks, Larry. It’s been said about dam sites, but it’s equally true for energy resources. The threat of development never goes away, and each generation has to fight the same battles over and over.

    I worked closely with Jim Pissot (they misspelled his name on TV) in the 1980s. Now he’s Executive director of the WildCanada Conservation Alliance in Alberta.

  3. #3 by Karmen on December 4, 2011 - 12:01 pm

    Larry, you’re my hero.

    I have been going berserk over the coal mine proposal next to Bryce Canyon — I’m from a little town in the valley and spent summers in the Park as a child. I’m seriously losing years over the thought of this coal mine.

    I’m not sure what to expect at the meeting Wednesday night. My daughter was at the Panguitch meeting, and her friend was at the Kanab meeting. Both were simply “poster sessions” with posters and shiny happy faces to present and answer questions about the issues – destruction of 54 acres of wetlands, for example (Wetlands, you say? There are wetlands in the so. Utah desert? And someone proposes to DESTROY them???). The meeting(s) were essentially PR sessions, extremely biased, with no open mic for the sharing of opinion, etc.

    This is VERY troubling to me as people in the two counties with the most direct involvement and most impacted by this proposal were not given the opportunity to stand up and speak out publicly at the meeting. I realize there have been other meetings that have had the open mic, but why, why, why???

    I will be at the Wednesday meeting and I hope that many, many, MANY others will also. PLEASE, people, the coal mine is a terrible thing and the proposal to extend is unforgivable.

  4. #4 by cav on December 4, 2011 - 12:10 pm

    That was back when you could tell your boss to: Take This Job and Shove It, walk, land a new job – often with better pay, in no time, and go from there.

    Doesn’t quite work that way these days.

  5. #5 by cav on December 4, 2011 - 12:17 pm

    Keep after them Karmen. Get some come contact email address and ship them docs supporting sanity. Thank you.

  6. #6 by Larry Bergan on December 4, 2011 - 12:35 pm


    All the treasures that people take pictures of at Bryce Canyon are in a really small place. You can walk through the famous pinnacles in no time at all, but there’s nothing else like it on earth or in the universe.

    I hate the fact that I had to use my car to get to these precious places because it has to be the ultimate conflict of interest.

    I can’t afford to go anymore, but the images in my mind will remain for as long as I am alive.

  7. #7 by Larry Bergan on December 4, 2011 - 12:54 pm

    cav said:

    That was back when you could tell your boss to: Take This Job and Shove It, walk, land a new job – often with better pay, in no time, and go from there.

    Actually,I had to take a pay cut to land another job, but kept that one for a quarter of a century. It was the best decision I ever made.

  8. #8 by Richard Warnick on December 4, 2011 - 1:31 pm

    What’s most at risk from coal development are the distant views from Yovimpa Point, as well as air quality.

  9. #9 by Karmen on December 4, 2011 - 1:52 pm

    The views, primarily from Yovimpa, and the night sky are indeed the most directly affected in the Park itself.

    There are other issues that are not just at risk but will be GONE: the wetlands, mule deer migration, sage grouse habitat — even with the proposed management adaptations for the last two. The environmental degradation will last beyond our lifetime. These are marginal lands where you can see jeep tracks for years afterwards. Restoration cannot repair the system to what it is before the disturbance. The increase in traffic on the highway during summertime will go from busy to downright dangerous. There have already been complaints about the trucks (too fast, crowding, passing, etc.).

    If the BLM approves the extension, what we’ve seen with the small operation will not only be magnified, but will last 25 more years! That’s an entire generation, folks. Things will NEVER be the same. The quiet, homegrown lifestyle that so many appreciate in those small towns will be something to look back on and reminisce to your kids about — “I remember back in the day when the skies were clear and you could see forever. . . .”

  10. #10 by Larry Bergan on December 4, 2011 - 2:09 pm

    If we had listened to Jimmy Carter the changes wouldn’t have to be so abrupt.

    But here we are!

    The pubic airwaves have to be returned to the pubic.

    Limbaugh and Hannity will have to find their way.

  11. #11 by brewski on December 4, 2011 - 10:03 pm

    To me the real insidious thing about the Alton Coal Mine is not just that it makes the air dirty near one of our country’s greatest treasures (Bryce Canyon).

    No, the real offense is that the coal mined at Alton goes to the Intermountain Power Plant in Delta.

    100% of the power from IPP goes to California.

    So in effect, when someone turns on their light switch in Hollywood, the power comes from Delta where the burning coal creates a brown smog over Nephi, and the coal itself comes from places like Alton.

    So the sinister deed here is that the people in Hollywood have successfully exported their pollution to Delta and Alton.

  12. #12 by Larry Bergan on December 4, 2011 - 10:14 pm


    So only Hollywooders have to suffer?

    • #13 by Glenden Brown on December 5, 2011 - 8:33 am

      Larry – do you notice the rhetorical game brewski is trying to play here? First, he says all the power goes to California, then reduces all of California to Hollywood. Notice the dishonesty in how he attempts to frame the issue – it’s not “California” it’s “Hollywood” as if the millions of other Californians don’t exist, as if Orange County isn’t arch conservative. His comment gives us clear indication that he doesn’t actually care about the issue, he’s just trying to score cheap debating points by attacking “Hollywood.”

  13. #14 by brewski on December 4, 2011 - 11:14 pm

    I’m not sure I understand your question.

  14. #15 by Rico on December 5, 2011 - 6:55 am

    brewski, you’re out of the SHU! Congrats.

  15. #16 by Rico on December 5, 2011 - 6:59 am

    So the sinister deed here is that the people in Hollywood have successfully exported their pollution to Delta and Alton.

    Power plants, prisons, landfills.

    Get down on your knees and pay proper homage. We are your “job creators.”

  16. #17 by Prudence on December 5, 2011 - 9:31 am

    I think Mr. Brewski is arguing for a carbon tax to offset the public cost of the carbon output/environmental impact on Utah.

  17. #18 by Rico on December 5, 2011 - 10:10 am

    More stimulation from Hollywood: hazardous and nuclear waste repositories.

    California, a prophet on the burning shore
    California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door
    Like an angel, standing in a shaft of light
    Rising up to paradise, I know I’m gonna shine.

  18. #19 by brewski on December 5, 2011 - 10:49 am

    Among the utilities which get power from IPP, the City of Anaheim is the only one in Orange County. The other participants are all in Los Angeles and Riverside counties. So yes, the people of the City of Anaheim and the people of Hollywood (a neighborhood within the City of Los Angeles) are exporting their pollution to Utah.

    • #20 by Glenden Brown on December 5, 2011 - 11:45 am

      Notice how brewski continues when his dishonest framing of the issue is pointed out to continue to obfuscate. Riverside county is a Republican county and he could easily have said “Temecula exports their pollution.” But of course that wouldn’t serve the purpose of the culture war, so he focuses on Hollywood. If he wanted to mention LA neighborhoods, there’s a lengthy list of them, including Chinatown and Watts and Sherman Oaks and Van Nuys. He could have started out by saying Disneyland exports their pollution but Disney – unlike Hollywood – isn’t an rightwing bugbear and so it wouldn’t have seemed scary enough.

      Interesting, isn’t it, that when faced with an issue that he could have tried to find common ground, he nevertheless resorted to misleading rhetoric in an attempt to create ideological diviseness.

  19. #21 by brewski on December 5, 2011 - 10:52 am

    Yes! I am a huge fan of a carbon tax, as well as taxes on NOX, lead, mercury, and any other pollutants that are emitted. In fact, Milton Friedman supported taxing pollution in his famous Phil Donahue show interview.

  20. #22 by Rico on December 5, 2011 - 11:48 am

    In a little known quirk of geography, Riverside County has been subsumed within the boundaries of Hollywood. Outsiders still cling to the antiquated “Riverside County” nomenclature, but “in the know” locals affectionately now call it East Hollywood.

    True story.

  21. #23 by brewski on December 5, 2011 - 4:30 pm

    Temecula is not part of IPP.

    IPP includes the cities of Los Angeles, Anaheim, Riverside, Pasadena, Burbank, and Glendale. So Riverside County is not in IPP. The City of Riverside is.

    The city of Anaheim is in Orange County. Anaheim is 36% white and 64% people of color. 49% of registered voters are Dems and 51% Rep.

    The City of Riverside is in Riverside County. Riverside is 34% white and 66% people of color. The mayor of Riverside authored a document called “The Mayor’s Call to Action for a Sustainable Riverside.”

    • #24 by Glenden Brown on December 5, 2011 - 5:05 pm

      And yet, you chose to mention Hollywood, not even a city, just one community in one city. The issue isn’t who lives in those cities or what party affiliation they claim, it’s your systematic dishonesty in trying to turn the conversation into something it’s not. This is why your comments normally get sent to the troll bucket forthwith.

      There is a sensible common ground on this issue. Try getting there.

  22. #25 by brewski on December 5, 2011 - 5:15 pm

    OK, you’re right. It isn’t just Hollywood. It is also Watts, Westwood, Brentwood, Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Highland Park, Hancock Park, Echo Park, Lincoln Park, Glassell Park, etc.

    They are all exporting their pollution to Utah. Please call Antonio Villaraigosa and complain.

  23. #26 by cav on December 5, 2011 - 5:31 pm

    Arnold Schwarzenegger is Satan!

    There. I said it.

  24. #27 by Larry Bergan on December 5, 2011 - 5:39 pm

    Utahn’s traditionally love Hollywood, so trying to divide us is not going to work.

  25. #28 by Larry Bergan on December 5, 2011 - 5:41 pm


    I got an E-mail from Mr. Pissot and he is still fighting the good fight on many different fronts. What would we do without people like that.

    I’m glad you got a kick out of the post.

  26. #29 by Richard Warnick on December 6, 2011 - 9:44 am

    Hard to believe it was 30 years ago. And we’re still fighting the same battles.

    • #30 by Glenden Brown on December 6, 2011 - 3:52 pm

      It’s not that same battles we were fighting 30 years, it’s the exact same battles we humans have been fighting for ten thousand years against the forces of superstition, ignorance, foolishness, against the forces that believe in a divinely ordered monarchy or nobility governing the rest of us, forces that reject reform because it threatens their political influence, forces that would reject science if they can’t turn it to their own ends or abuse it. We’re fighting the same barbarism that burned witches at the stake and that tortured heretics during the Spanish Inquisition. It’s the same ignorance that led Stalin to embrace Lysenko’s fraudulent research and the Chinese communists to begin the Great Cultural Revolution – it is the way of thinking that values ignorance when it supports power and fears knowledge. It’s the same battle we’ve always been fighting.

  27. #31 by Larry Bergan on December 6, 2011 - 2:33 pm

    Don’t you love that reporter saying Watt wanted to bring the policy pendulum from way out in left field, back to mainline America.

    When people give up their precious time to save the most beautiful places on earth, knowing they won’t make a penny out of it, that’s called way out there!

    Indeed; things haven’t changed a bit in 30 years; At least on television. I don’t think there was a reporter in the room that day that would admit to supporting Watt’s direction, but we never heard their opinions.

  28. #32 by Richard Warnick on December 6, 2011 - 2:57 pm

    Watt, of course, was a member of the religious right who mocked the idea of preserving public land for future generations. “I don’t know how many future generations we can count on until the Lord returns,” he famously declared.

  29. #33 by Larry Bergan on December 6, 2011 - 4:31 pm

    When I got back to work after my action, I actually had to have an argument with my manager over the fact that he thought we could exploit the earth as much as we wanted and just wait for Jesus to come back and restore the earth to it’s glory.

    That was one of those conversations that you just walk away from in stunned silence before it’s too late. Then they get mad at you for thinking they’re stupid.

    Leave me with an option.

    • #34 by Glenden Brown on December 6, 2011 - 4:35 pm

      I wish there were an option. How do you respond to that kind of thinking without staring at them like they have a dead chicken on their heads?

      I saw a bumper sticker the other day: Jesus is coming. Look busy.

  30. #35 by Larry Bergan on December 6, 2011 - 5:24 pm

    Watt and Jim Hansen were famous for shooting from the hip. Reagan had to apologize to the Beach Boys and then finally fire him for making asinine remarks about cripples and Jews.

    It never mattered anyway, because the destruction of our environment depends solely on money and ONLY money. There is no other good reason to wreak our nest. No embarrassing statements from congressidiots or their appointees is going to change that.

    This is our challenge.

  31. #36 by Rico on December 6, 2011 - 6:29 pm

    Religious fanaticism and money: a dangerous cocktail.

  32. #37 by Karmen on December 6, 2011 - 6:49 pm

    Rico, pardon me for modifying and repeating:

    ___ (fill in the blank) and money: a dangerous cocktail.

  33. #38 by cav on December 6, 2011 - 7:31 pm

    Jesus honcho’s a slave-ship of Latino landscape restorers!

  34. #39 by Larry Bergan on December 6, 2011 - 7:34 pm

    Please give me the latitude to go way, waaay out in left field – not really – for a moment

    Native Americans didn’t have the things we have…

    Wait, let me rephrase:

    Native Americans didn’t have the things we had, but they DID have acres and acres of buffalo and starry starry skies. When The Stupid Department of Homeland Security can give me that kind of future, I’ll eat by baseball hat.

    I’m thinking my baseball hat is secure. 🙁

    I don’t have the illusion that things have ever been perfect on earth for any living thing, but what could happen if we don’t change quickly will be hell.

    Light years upon light years of stacked dollar bills could never change that fact.

    See; I told you I was going way out there!

  35. #40 by Larry Bergan on December 6, 2011 - 7:46 pm

    Come on cav; we still have the Genesis Device.

  36. #41 by Rico on December 6, 2011 - 7:54 pm

    I thought you were going to get way out there Larry.


  37. #42 by Larry Bergan on December 6, 2011 - 8:00 pm


    I’m not out on the street yelling at people right now; you have to give me credit.

  38. #43 by Rico on December 6, 2011 - 8:04 pm

    It could be that I’m way out there too and just don’t realize it.

  39. #44 by Larry Bergan on December 6, 2011 - 8:41 pm

    I always looked at the comments section as sort of a free-for-all, no holds barred kind of discussion: a place where the truth comes out.

    There is no other reason for it.

    Most commentators comply, some don’t. They have their reasons. 🙁

    People seeking the truth can tell the difference, however, they DO try waste our time, don’t they?

  40. #45 by Larry Bergan on December 6, 2011 - 8:56 pm


    Glad you’re here. We aren’t as well staffed as we’d like to be and you’re obviously on the right side.

    Sorry; left side or the middle…

    Darnmit; the rational side!

  41. #46 by Karmen on December 6, 2011 - 9:08 pm

    Oh thank you, Larry! I am always here but typically don’t say much (too inhibited, I guess). 🙂

    Will you be at the BLM hearing/meeting tomorrow? I hope it will be packed!!!

  42. #47 by Larry Bergan on December 6, 2011 - 9:14 pm

    I’ll be there!

    By the way, the picture I took and posted at the top of this post is NOT from Bryce Canyon. I didn’t have a camera at the time I visited that park. The picture was taken in Arches National Monument.

  43. #48 by Karmen on December 7, 2011 - 7:31 am

    Anyone! Everyone!

    Here is an email address for Keith Rigtrup, The Kanab BLM field office director.

    Please write and give him your thoughts.

  44. #49 by Richard Warnick on December 7, 2011 - 9:04 am

    If it was Arches National Monument, you must have been there before 1971.

  45. #50 by Larry Bergan on December 7, 2011 - 1:42 pm

    Why do you say that Richard?

  46. #51 by Richard Warnick on December 7, 2011 - 3:19 pm

    On November 12, 1971 President Nixon signed legislation that changed the status of Arches National Monument to a National Park.

  47. #52 by Larry Bergan on December 8, 2011 - 2:58 pm

    The “hearing” held last night went pretty well. There was a decent turnout but it wasn’t like a hearing; there were no chairs, just large glossy posters telling the history of the Alton area using maps and charts, ect.

    There were a few representatives of the BLM around the room who were willing to talk to anybody that was interested. There were comments sheets for people to fill out if they wanted to.

    Some “Occupy people came in and did a “mike check” which I gleefully joined in on. I think it is a great way to be heard when no formal hearings are taking place.

    Tim DeChristopher’s Defense attorney Pat Shea came in later on and organized more of a traditional hearing in the room so that anybody who wanted to could get up in front of the audience and be heard. It was not recorded as any state record, but made us feel better anyway. These days you have to take what you can get.

    It is always nice to show up at these gatherings because you see a lot of people who have been active in Utah for a long time still out there trying to do their jobs as citizens. With the Occupy movement, some new faces are arriving, and it’s a great thing to see!

  48. #53 by Larry Bergan on December 8, 2011 - 3:09 pm

    Richard said:

    On November 12, 1971 President Nixon signed legislation that changed the status of Arches National Monument to a National Park.

    I’m thinking that gave the place less protections.

  49. #54 by Richard Warnick on December 8, 2011 - 3:49 pm


    Public land management agencies have learned the hard way not to hold public hearings anymore. They just have open houses. You can comment in writing, but the media spectacle of the passionate activist speaking to a packed hearing room may be gone forever.

  50. #55 by Karmen on December 8, 2011 - 5:05 pm

    I was afraid it was going to be that way (open house) and sure enough. I was there handing out email addresses for all the BLM people from Keith Rigtrup in Kanab all the way up to Ken Salazar. I was glad when Pat Shea opened things up for comment and I got my say in. A friend (much more aggressive than I) and I got into a discussion with the attorney for the mine and the representative from Wheeler Equipment which was interesting. I too was glad that “occupy” did the mike check. The govt/corporate connection has to be broken! The guy from Wheeler got up to point out that almost all of the Alton residents support the mine. I told him (among other things), “It’s not their land. It belongs to all of us.”

  51. #56 by Larry Bergan on December 8, 2011 - 6:51 pm


    Your website provides a great resource on this issue. No wonder you are so passionate about Bryce Canyon!

    I always have to admire people who get up to speak in front of others when they know they are outnumbered by scores, but the guy from Wheeler is wrong. This isn’t about jobs or facts and figures, it’s about future generations having their lives changed by possibly one wilderness experience in an unspoiled land. Degrading that chance, no matter what the reason is a tragedy.

    I had no idea you spoke last night, but I’m positive I gave you an ovation. Thanks again to Mr. Shea for the chance to vent.

    So Gary Herbert got ten thousand bucks, huh? Disgusting.

  52. #57 by ben lively on December 28, 2011 - 7:12 am

    One of the problems with southern Utah is Mike Noel. Former BLM Realty Specialist turned politician. He was alledged to have been “too close” to the Andalex Coal Company when they tried to open a huge coal mine on the Kaipariwitz Plateau near Lake Powell. Studies in the 1970s and again in the 1990s showed it would be too much fuss. But Alton is a small town so they got steamrolled. And guess who lines his pocket? He has been behind alot of anti-environmental, wise use, anti-monument causes. Why because they interfered with his money making schemes NOT because he actually cares about the people of southern Utah.

  53. #58 by Larry Bergan on December 28, 2011 - 12:30 pm


    I heard that name, Mike Noel, being batted around OneUtah before. Probably on one of Richards environment posts. Richard really knows his stuff on that subject and many others as well.

  54. #59 by Richard Warnick on December 28, 2011 - 12:49 pm

    Mike Noel has spent years pushing RS 2477 road claims, and his name is associated with any other anti-wilderness effort that comes along.

    Note that Becky Stauffer has blogged about Noel here, as well as me.

  55. #60 by Rico on December 28, 2011 - 2:10 pm

    Mark Habbeshaw would be hurt if he knew you guys were characterizing Mike Noel as a “problem” and not including him as part of the conversation.

  56. #61 by Larry Bergan on December 29, 2011 - 5:31 pm

    It seems like when it comes to the environment, the few always want to trump the needs of the many.

    I remember reading an article from at least 15 years ago concerning some poor woman who had to drive quite a while to get to work. There were some rumblings at the time about paving The Burr Trail and the article told of how much easier it would be for her commute.

    Of course paving The Burr Trail would have ruined the experience for average visitors. If they have paved the trail now, please don’t tell me, I’d rather remember it the way I saw it.

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