Grand Canyon

Joe Wyatt at the Grand Canyon.

While fighting a brutal Arizona wind chill of 20 degrees last April, my son Dan and I stepped off the rim of the Grand Canyon and headed for the Colorado River, 4,400 feet below. We paused often along the nine mile trek to photograph the vastness of the Canyon’s panoramas, the sunlit walls, the tints and hues, strata laid down over eons only to be reshaped by the ineluctable hand of erosion. After a night’s sleep by the river, and led by OARS Company guides Jimmy and Jon, we trekked back to the rim, forever in awe of the experience.

But, sadly, there are threats to such public spaces. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has proposed selling 1,600 acres of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah. Additionally, his management plan would open a vast 700,000 acres of Grand Staircase and Bears Ears, also in Utah, to mining and drilling. Luckily, at the northern edge of Yellowstone there was pressure from residents and local officials sufficient to force Zinke to re-think mining projects that could have damaged yet another pristine area.

Threats to our environment intrude at every turn. Until he was ousted for ethical and legal entanglements, Scott Pruitt was the anti-Environmental Protection Agency director of that agency. He had repeatedly sued the EPA when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma, only to be named EPA’s director. For just one among the many reasons we should care, additional pollutants resulting from Pruitt’s and the President’s rollback of the Clean Power Rules will kill about two dozen West Virginians annually, a recent EPA study revealed.

In a palm-to-forehead shocker, West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection actually waived its authority to decide whether the Mountain Valley Pipeline complied with state construction rules. Likewise, the Army Corps of Engineers bowed to MVP officials’ wish for a month or more of disruption to the water flow at each of four river crossings, even though the Corp’s rules set the limit at just three days. The 4th U.S. circuit Court of Appeals stopped the policy-bending, saying regulators couldn’t change their rules just to please the gas pipeline’s builders. The massive project cuts a path 125 feet wide and 200 miles long through West Virginia.

Yet, state DEP Secretary Austin Caperton said the project’s environmental impact, “ultimately will be zero.” In contrast, Caperton’s own inspectors soon found sediment-laden waters leaving the construction site. We need natural gas, but we also need to know that our officials will take a firm approach to minimizing the pipeline’s damage to the environment.

Recently, Congress failed to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, cash that comes from offshore drilling revenue. It costs taxpayers nothing. According to the Gazette-Mail’s John McCoy, the Fund’s projects have included Coonskin Park, Kanawha State Forest, Little Creek Park, St. Albans City Park, Cato Park, Shawnee Park, most of our state parks, various river access points and more. Will Congress do an about face and bring the Fund back from the dead? Stay tuned.

A 53-mile stretch of the New River soon may be designated as a national park, same as the Grand Canyon. Such news provides hope that the world we live in will endure efforts of those who would blindside it to please business interests.

Joseph Wyatt is a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist and emeritus professor at Marshall University. His latest book is The Iraq War, 1998-2018: Quagmire in Babylon. It is available at Empire Books in Huntington and on Amazon, or for $19.95 plus $5 shipping and handling from BPK Press, PO Box 844, Hurricane, WV 25526.