Bill introduced to protect San Juans

Source: Seattle PI

Seattle PI - Joel Connelly

As Interior Secretary-designate Sally Jewell endured a Senate committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., four lawmakers on Thursday reintroduced legislation to protect 955 acres of scenic jewels — bluffs, islands, lighthouses and bays  — in  Washington state’s San Juan Islands.

“Whether through this legislation or a presidential designation, we must preserve these cherished federal lands in the San Juan Islands,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who did double-duty by introducing Jewell to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and praising her to the skies.

Western Washington lawmakers have called on President Obama to designate a national monument in the San Juans that would include such spots as remote Patos Island and renowned Turn Point on Stuart Island.  Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has visited the area and championed its preservation.

But not a peep has been heard from the White House.

Obama visited Washington four times during the 2012 campaign cycle, using the Evergreen State as a political ATM machine with $35,800-a-couple brunches to fill his campaign warchest.  Unlike other recent Democratic presidents — Bill Clinton in particular — the 44th president he did no public events and has shown little if any interest in Northwest economic or land use issues.

Cantwell, Sen. Patty Murray, and Reps. Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., are pursuing a “dual-track approach,” hoping to get a national monument designation before Salazar leaves office, but pursuing legislation to designate the San Juans lands as a National Conservation Area.

The legislation is, however, bound for the House Natural Resources Committee.

The House panel is chaired by a Washington lawmaker, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., but the ultraconservative Hastings has failed even to hold hearings on home-state preservation proposals — even an Alpine Lakes Wilderness expansion bill is cosponsored by a Republican colleague Rep. Dave Reichert.  Hastings has demonstrated a discourtesy unseen for years in the Washington delegation.

The proposed national monument in the San Juans is backed by local county commissioners, and was endorsed in a letter signed by 150 people involved with local businesses.

Obama has authority, under the 1906 Antiquities Act, to designate monuments.  The authority was used by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 to create a national monument that became Olympic National Park, and used as recently as 2000 by President Clinton to designate a Hanford Reach National Monument along the Columbia River in Eastern Washington.

The Obama administration has been weakest and most out of balance in its policy on public lands.  It has opened more than 6 million acres of federal land to oil and gas leasing, while creating only a few tiny national monuments.  Conservationists are hoping that Jewell will be an aggressive advocate for recreational users of federal lands:  29 percent of Washington is in federal ownership, including three national parks, plus national monuments, national recreation areas and historic sites.

In her committee appearance, Jewell faced senators who view federal lands as places to drill, mine, log and pave — despite the fact that outdoor recreation supports 6.1 million jobs in America.

“We need you to affirm the public lands provide not just a playground for recreation enthusiasts, but also paychecks for countless energy producers, miners, loggers and ranchers,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.  Murkowski, ranking Republican on the committee, has threatened to hold up Jewell’s nomination in a dispute over a proposed road through an national wildlife refuge in Alaska.

Jewell was diplomatic.

“I have a commitment to the president’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, increasing our nation’s production of both traditional and renewable sources of energy on our public lands,” she said.

It’s not the sort of remark to get a nominee in trouble.