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The price of Washington pork

Dear Editors,
If you gave someone $158,100 a year with annual increases regardless of the job done, an expense account of up to $3 million, a gold-plated health insurance policy that most working stiffs can only dream of, then topped it off with a diamond-studded tiara of a retirement system that allows up to 80 percent of working salary at retirement, wouldn't you think that person would feel some sense of obligation? Forget about it.

This employment profile belongs to your U.S. senator. Actually, it's a double whammy, since each of us is burdened with the equally evil twin. Evidence of each senator's disregard of us, their distant employers, is as overwhelming as the $388 billion omnibus appropriations bill just passed.

So what's in this bill? Nobody knows for sure - it's15 inches thick. Senators haven't read it, but they voted for it, thus giving the lie, once again, to their claim to be the world's greatest deliberative body. We do know it's laden with pork and back-door law making.

Here'swhat's been rooted out so far. Montana's SenatorBurns attached a rider that undoes parts of a federal law protecting wild horses and burros on public land,allowing some horses to be sold to slaughter houses. The estimated 30,000 wild horses roaming public land will sharply decrease so that the 7 million private cattle grazing on public land at about $1.73 per cow and calf can increase.

Another rider increases our fees to use public lands. If we are caught without the requisite pass, estimated cost $85 to $100, we can be subject to a fine of $5,000 and/or six months in jail. Dubbed the "walk-in-the-park" tax, it has been advertised as raising about $200 million in annual revenues. Offsetting taxes on the rich are promised.

Sen. Pete Domenici, N.M., inserted a rider that forgives any repayment from Animas-La Plata project backers of $163 million in recent cost overruns, thus ending the Reagan-era policy requiring developers to pay a significant portion of any federal water project.

Colorado's Sen. Ben "Nighthorse"Campbell, the A-LP project's chief sugar daddy,had already forgiven all but a sliver of the original cost estimate of $338 million in earlier legislation. But Campbell apparently didn't feel up to another squeeze on the taxpayers whilestill under criminal investigation for influence peddling.

The Domenici and Campbell giveaways of public money to A-LP special interests have been accommodated through the massive fiction that A-LP is going to cost a piddling $500 million. That's a lot to you and me, but not to the folks who can pass a $388 billion spending bill without reading it.

The truth is the $500 million merely covers the construction costs of the project. Missing from this calculation is the interest taxpayers will have to pay on this debt over the expected 100 year life of the project. It will be in the billions of dollars.

Also missing is the $50 million guesstimated for the Gallup Pipeline and $13 million for high-capacity power lines to the project pumping plant in Durango. Domenici has already tabbed us for the former, and the feds are laundering the latter so that it doesn't show up on project books.

Project operating costs are also missing from the grand total. We will have to pay them until some uses for this water can be found - figure decades. Again, costs will be huge since the water will have to be pumped uphill to a reservoir Domenici recently had renamed "Nighthorse Reservoir" in another bill. "Nighthorse Reservoir's" only foreseeable use is a grandly subsidized venue for the seemingly inevitable Sen. Campbell Memorial Regatta. We will also have to payto replace projectpower to its present users.

Add in the $100 million in cash settlements to the two small Ute tribes who, according to the myth spawned by Campbell and Domenici, have been waiting centuries for water. These 2,400 Indian peoplealready control over 150,000 acre feet of water, enough for over 1 million people. The larger Southern Ute tribe, with about 1,400 members, has an investment portfolio estimated in the $2 billion range. That makes every man, woman, and child in the tribe a millionaire, without even adding inthe greater value of their oil, gas, land, timber and water reserves. The portfolio gets larger each day from the cash and water the rest of us nonmillionaires are, with the help of a few senators, shoveling their way. The Ute tribes are also the project's general contractors.

Overall, project backers will pay less than1 percent of the construction costs, basically none of the interest on this huge debt, none of the project's operating costs until uses can be found for the water, and none of the replacement costs of power used by the project. Get ready for another doozy when they finally find a use for the water, and they get "our" senators to pay for moving it with our money.

The project's costs are in the billions, with the public paying over 99 percent. The people who want it, the people with access, the people making campaign contributions to senators Domenici and Campbell, will pay next to nothing.

Mark Twain defined a senator as "a person who makes lawsin Washington when not doing time." He had it about right. But the only way we can get these folksto the hoosegow and squelch the special interest legislation coming out of Washington is with the truth. The truth is not partisan. It's neither left nor right. We must act in unison if we are to stop the fools in Washington, the people we hired, from destroying our house.

- Phil Doe,

Citizens Progressive Alliance

Bringing Detroit up to speed

Dear Editors,

Can anyone remember when Detroit used to make the best cars in the world with the latest technology?

Currently, the U.S. automakers are years behind Honda, Toyota and Nissan. Finally, just this year, Ford is unveiling its first hybrid vehicle. It's about time. What's happening in California is very revealing. This fall California passed ground-breaking regulations that will reduce global warming pollution from cars by 30 percent by 2016. These regulations will also reach far beyond California's borders to clean up our air by forcing the auto industry to implement off-the-shelf "clean car" technologies they have until now refused to install more widely in their fleets. Canada is already considering complimentary regulations to California's as well.

Unfortunately, the auto industry has launched an all-out war on these regulations by hiring lawyers, lobbyists and PR executives to prevent California from implementing these pollution controls and to prevent other states from adopting similar regulations. By fighting these new regulations, the auto industry fails to recognize that global warming is real (one industry PR campaign actually insists that carbon dioxide isn't even a pollutant) and poses serious environmental and public health threats to California, the U.S., and the rest of the world.

These lawsuits also show that automakers are out of touch with consumer demand. Many Americans want cleaner cars, as the intense demand in the hybrid vehicle market demonstrates. But by refusing to bring cleaner cars to the market, the auto industry is depriving consumers who want automobiles that are safer for their families and the environment, and save money and oil at the pump of that choice. At the same time, the automakers are denying themselves access to that potentially large and lucrative market. I don't see how that makes any sense at all.

- Bill "Wilbur" Vana,
via e-mail





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