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Loss and Loathing on the Cheney Trail

Illustration by Brian Wilcox

A neighbor had warned Lisa Bracken of a strange phenomenon on the trail up to western Colorado’s towering Mamm Mountain. On an April morning, she set off from her home in the small town of Silt, in the shadow of Mamm, to see it for herself. She hiked for about an hour through the budding trees and brush. After climbing several hundred feet, Bracken reached Divide Creek, and grew alarmed at what she saw.

Cold water, but bubbling like a boiling pot. Bubbles rose and popped everywhere. To test a theory that gas from a nearby well caused the bubbles, Bracken and her father, who had hiked with her that day, lit a match and found that a stream of bubbles burned. After taking photos, she headed home worrying about her family’s health and the future of the water supply for the residents and farm animals along the creek.

When she got home, Bracken called state authorities to report the bubbles in the creek, which flows to the Colorado River. Within days, energy giant EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. began trucking 5-gallon water jugs to the Brackens and 20 neighboring families. Monitoring showed that the seeping gas apparently had contaminated the water with unhealthful levels of benzene and other toxic chemicals that typically occur in gas wells. After investigating, the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission cited EnCana for allegedly polluting the creek. EnCana has paid a $375,000 fine without admitting guilt.

Authorities assure Bracken and her neighbors that the creek is again safe because EnCana has repaired the well and the toxic chemicals have dissipated, but the residents continue to fear for their health and worry that their properties have become worthless.

The people of Silt are among a growing legion of farmers, ranchers, American Indians, and businesspeople — Republican, Democrat and Independent alike — who are bearing the brunt of booming natural-gas development in the Rocky Mountains under Vice President Dick Cheney’s secretly developed 2001 National Energy Policy.

The public will never know for sure what went through Cheney’s mind and who influenced the policy; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this summer that he had a right to keep the information secret. Environmental groups fought the secrecy all the way to the Supreme Court in a vain attempt to reveal what they believed to be undue influence over the nation’s energy and environmental policies by energy companies, large and small. They suspected that the administration had unfairly stacked the national energy policy in favor of the energy industry at the expense of the general public.

Three years after the policy was introduced, it is clear that Cheney — former chief of the energy-services company Halliburton — has done just that. His policy has allowed his energy-industry cronies and campaign contributors to drill on the cheap in the absence of environmental standards that commonly apply to most any other industry in America, such as a duty to control air pollution with the best available technology.

Major campaign contributors have been beneficiaries of the secretly developed policy and are among the biggest drillers for natural gas in Colorado and Wyoming. They include Secretary of Commerce Don Evans’ former employer Tom Brown Inc., which was recently bought by EnCana, and George and John Yates, who run Yates Petroleum, and R.D. Cash, a former chairman of Questar Corp. who still remains on its board. Household-name companies such as BP and Marathon Oil also are busy drilling under eased environmental requirements while they reap record profits under the Cheney blueprint to open every gas-bearing area in the Rocky Mountains to drilling while he holds office. Halliburton is another big winner as it carves up the new business created by drilling tens of thousands of new wells with just a few major competitors.

Energy companies contend they are merely meeting the nation’s growing demand for energy. “This is about providing what is being required by the consumer,” said Hugh Depland, general manager of public affairs for BP America Exploration. He rejected the notion that BP and other energy companies have exchanged campaign contributions for relaxed environmental standards under the National Energy Policy. “The industry is a lot greener than it’s been for a long time.” Said Don Larson, director of public affairs for BP America’s Rocky Mountain operations: “I don’t see it being politically driven. It’s stricter than ever now.” Other energy industry executives, including Allan Urlis, chief spokesperson for Mid American Energy Holdings, said that more domestic drilling is needed to reduce reliance on foreign sources of energy.

Meanwhile, there are many losers in the growing swath of denuded land, contaminated soil, polluted water and air pollution along a path — call it the Cheney Trail — that runs up the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico all the way to Canada. However, that should come as no surprise, because that is exactly what Cheney had planned, even before taking office in 2000.

“I voted for Bush,” said Bracken. “I’m part of the problem.” This fall she will vote against Bush-Cheney because they are “too far removed from real people to know what’s going on in their back yards.”

Old hands in the region are not necessarily out to deny California and the rest of the nation from tapping Rocky Mountain gas. Instead, they demand strong environmental policies and believe the price of gas should account for good practices needed to preserve their own back yards. They point out that while it takes about $1 million to drill a gas well around Silt, wells there can produce up to $50 million worth of gas over their life at today’s prices. They also advocate investment in renewable energy and laud Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plans to put solar panels on new homes and, by 2017, to make 33 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable resources, up from today’s goal of just 20 percent.

Moved by the stories of Bracken and others, I decided to travel to this land of majestic green peaks, rushing water, American Indian spirituality and rugged cowboy traditions. I strapped myself behind the wheel of a cheap rental car, cranked up the sound, and drove hard and fast to hit the Cheney Trail. I felt compelled to meet the people and see what was becoming of this last great wilderness in the lower 48 states, an iconic land that holds a special place in the American imagination.

My time was too limited to drive the entire 1,600-mile length of the Cheney Trail — from the Mexican border to Canada — so I set out to explore the middle portion where drilling has become most intense.

First, I headed for the San Juan Basin, an area in northwest New Mexico that already has thousands of gas wells and recently has been opened to expanded gas development by the Bush administration. As I drove the 700 miles from Los Angeles, I remembered that while leading Halliburton, Cheney, in a 1999 report he helped develop as a key member of the National Petroleum Council, advocated opening the Rocky Mountains to massive gas drilling. The report showed that the lower 48 states’ biggest reserve of natural gas remains in the Rocky Mountain region, but that it could not be developed due to environmental protections intended to maintain the land as a wilderness that provided water to the thirsty West, ranch land to feed the nation, and recreational space for the burgeoning number of city dwellers.

That same year, in a speech to the London Institute of Petroleum, Cheney complained that oil and gas “is the only large industry whose leverage has not been all that effective in the political arena.” Determined to change that situation when elected, he invited energy-industry executives to become part of a secretive task force charged with rewriting the nation’s energy policy. The task force quickly invited the National Petroleum Council to make a presentation to federal officials on March 27, 2001. The council’s key recommendations: increased access to gas on federal lands, streamlined approval of drilling, and rollbacks of regulations that impaired gas development.

In that same speech, Cheney described himself as “mean-spirited, short-tempered and intolerant of those who disagreed.” So before the task force could complete writing its policy, Bush administration officials got busy adopting the industry’s recommendations, shooting off a series of policy directives to field offices of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other federal agencies. BLM director Kathleen Clarke directed her agency’s field-office staff to rush drilling permits out the door, while other directives told them to short-circuit environmental analysis for drilling projects backed by major campaign donors to the Bush-Cheney administration.

Typical of this is Yates Petroleum, which has the rights to drill at the beginning of the Cheney Trail on the Otero Mesa, an empty desert area near its headquarters in Artesia, New Mexico. In 2002, George Yates ran a fund-raiser for Cheney and Bush in Artesia, a poor community dominated by a rusty gas-processing plant, train tracks, rundown buildings and a dump full of rusting oil-and-gas well equipment. The town’s only bright spot is the block where Yates has its modern corporate headquarters at one end and a family-owned restaurant known as the Wellhead Restaurant–Brew Pub at the other. Oil-and-gas-industry executives journeyed to the dilapidated town to eat with Cheney for $250 a plate and pay $1,000 to ham it up in grip-and-grin photos with the vice president.

President Bush himself picked up $2.2 million in Denver at a June fund-raiser at the Phipps Mansion organized by oil-and-gas man Bruce Benson, who now chairs the Benson Mineral Group after the company he formerly headed, U.S. Exploration, Inc., was bought out in 2003. Bush pledged to explore for energy in more “environmentally sensitive areas” with better drilling technology. Guests dressed in formal wear sipped Coors, the only beer available at the $5,000-a-couple fund-raiser, and applauded Bush’s pledge, said the White House press office.

A Yates Petroleum employee who would not speak for attribution dismissed as “ridiculous” any suggestion that the fund-raiser led to concessions from the Bush administration. The vice president’s press secretary, Kevin Kellems, said he could not address questions about any connection between energy company contributions and changes in energy policy under Cheney’s watch. Ann Womack, Cheney’s spokesperson in the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign organization, did not return calls.

When I finally reached Gallup, in the San Juan Basin, I drove north along U.S. Highway 491 on the New Mexico side of the Navajo Nation. The setting sun shone over craggy rock formations around the town of Shiprock, dotted with gas wells and small houses without electricity. Ahead, a trail of orange pollution from the stacks of the San Juan coal power plant, which sends electricity to distant Southern California, stretched downwind toward Farmington, New Mexico.

The next morning I met Samuel Sage, who is a behavioral counselor for the Indian Health Service in Farmington and president of the Navajo Chapter in Councilor, New Mexico. His community recently has joined in a legal challenge to massive gas development in the San Juan Basin in the northwest corner of the state.

“We’re sacrificing our lungs for your lungs,” said Sage. “In the long run there’s not going to be that much oil and gas here. It’s all going to be used up.”

He said that many of his constituents are concerned about gas development because they still live traditional Navajo lives, hauling water from springs, growing their own food, herding animals and making traditional spiritual offerings at sacred spots.

While the Navajo control the land’s surface, the federal government retains the option to lease development rights of the gas below to energy companies, Sage explained. Along with those leases, the companies gain the right to use the surface of the land as needed for establishing wells, service roads, and pipelines to carry the gas to market.

Energy companies have long produced gas in the San Juan Basin. Late last year, however, the Interior Department’s BLM approved a request by companies to drill 10,000 new gas wells in the basin.

Some of the giants of the energy world operate in this rolling desert area. They have been among Bush’s biggest contributors, including BP, which gave almost $1 million to Republicans in the 2000 election. Less well-known companies such as Houston-based Burlington Resources and Fort Worth–based XTO Energy also are big operators in the San Juan Basin. Burlington chairman Bobby Shackouls is well-known by Cheney as a member of the National Petroleum Council and one who could easily write a $2,000 check to Bush-Cheney 04 Inc. XTO contributes heavily to Republicans in Congress who oversee energy issues. It has paid off too. The company saw its profit jump 73 percent in the second quarter of this year over a year ago.

“We had a great relationship for the first 35 years,” said Tweeti Blancett, a well-to-do Republican with a 32,000-acre ranch in the San Juan Basin. Blancett, who helped run George Bush Sr.’s New Mexico campaign, was busy when I was in the area, but told me by phone that she had become dismayed by the scale of gas development in her area and the increasing arrogance of the energy industry.

Not all ranchers agree with Blancett. Rancher Paul Bandy, who has an 18,560-aczre spread east of Aztec, N.M., told me that he credits the Bush administration with better enforcement of regulations on gas development. He also lauded the industry for taking voluntary steps, such as repairing old wells and maintaining cattle fences. Burlington Resources and other energy companies, on their own, are helping to control air pollution from gas operations in the San Juan Basin as more wells are drilled, said Bruce Gantner, manager of environmental health and safety for the company. This includes reducing emissions from engines used to pump and process gas and reducing vapors emitted at gas wells. “We’d like to see no increase,” he said. “Over time, we’d like to see a decrease.”

Bandy believes energy company initiatives are bringing improvement for many in the area. Others disagree.

I drove through much of the San Juan Basin with Dan Randolph, a gray-haired scientist who spent years of his life studying the changes in plant life and soils in the West before becoming oil-and-gas-issues organizer for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. We drove along U.S. Highway 64 for some 30 miles from Farmington to Bloomington. The gentle green farms on the banks of the slow-moving San Juan River were giving way to the industrial yards of drilling-services companies.

A little past Bloomington, we pulled into the 80-acre farm of Tony Valdez, a native New Mexican born in the area in 1929 who has worked the land for 41 years. With calloused hands he pointed toward a crew of roughnecks from Halliburton and XTO Energy, Inc., who were reworking a well on his property. “They said they’d be here a week, and they’ve been there for four weeks,” he said.

We walked down to the well where a group of large-bellied men with Texas accents labored in coveralls and hard hats under the hot sun. Engines roared as oil dripping from their equipment pooled in a ditch just yards from the San Juan River. Valdez pointed to where they had driven over his planted field in a heavy truck to stake the derrick needed to re-drill and patch the well.

“What hurts the worst is the attitude,” said Valdez, who one day faced a Sheriff’s deputy at his door after the roughnecks complained that the slight, elderly farmer had blocked their access to the well the day before, a charge he flatly denied.

Randolph drove with me out to one of the main gas-development fields in the area further outside Bloomington. Just over a ridge, a large flame of burning gas puffed smoke from a newly drilled well. We turned onto a dirt road above the river where there were wells as far as I could see, along with their tanks for holding the liquid hydrocarbons that come up with the gas, as well as compressors, pipelines and other equipment. All of it sat on a series of “pads” consisting of two or three acres where the energy developers had removed the vegetation to set up their wells. Dust rose as roughnecks in large white pickup trucks rushed along the miles of dirt roads through the once bucolic river valley.

As we drove above the river, we could detect a hint of pollution in the bone-dry air, due in part to emissions from not only the giant diesel engines and compressors used in drilling and operating the surrounding wells but also from the heavy hydrocarbons frequently whiffed in this giant gas field. New Mexico’s Environment Department has found that air pollution in this rural area nearly exceeds federal health standards. “This is no longer a wild landscape,” lamented Randolph. “It’s an industrialized landscape.”

The land became greener as I drove the winding road from New Mexico some 80 miles to the upland farm town of Ignacio, Colorado. After taking a hard right turn, I slowly bumped over a seemingly endless dirt road toward the HD Mountains, named after a cattle-ranching enterprise that went broke around the turn of the century after overgrazing of the native grass. Near the very end of the road, I turned up a dirt driveway and was greeted by Janine Fitzgerald and her daughter. They welcomed me into their house made of bales of straw which, with its exposed framing, plaster walls and solid wood floor, exuded a rustic beauty.

Fitzgerald — who farms and raises draft horses — explained that the residents in her area have begun organizing to fight a plan by the National Forest Service to open the peaks above them for gas drilling as soon as next spring. BP, XTO and other companies want to drill some 200 coal-bed methane wells from which they would pump out water to recover natural gas. People in the area who depend upon mountain springs and water wells are concerned that the pumping will deplete their drinking and irrigation water. They also worry that water removal will cause gas to rise from the coal into their homes, creating an explosive hazard, and into fields where it will kill the roots of the grasses on which their animals graze. Their fears are borne out by the draft environmental-impact statement for the project, which warns of such possibilities.

Residents of the HDs will resort to civil disobedience to stop the drilling when it comes, said Fitzgerald as the afternoon wind roared in the background. She paused, and I gazed out her living-room window, momentarily captivated by the puffy white clouds that blew quickly across the deep-blue sky above this area the Anasazi Indians once considered the fount of sacred springs.

“This has been a really contentious project,” said Ann Bond, public-affairs officer for the National Forest Service. “We’ve seen a lot of emotion.”

I wanted to find out about the water-contamination problem along Divide Creek, and drove 250 miles to Garfield County, Colorado, winding over the enchanting San Juan Mountains, across the Gunnison River and through the red plateaus of western Colorado to Grand Junction. The next morning, I drove east up the Colorado River along I-70 to the small town of Rifle, Colorado, where a reporter without an appointment can walk right into Garfield County Hall or the Chamber of Commerce and talk to an executive.

Doug Dennison, oil-and-gas auditor for the county, greeted me warmly with a firm handshake. A robust man with a tan and open-collared shirt, Dennison has been trying to bring together residents, elected leaders and the energy industry to resolve concerns over air and water pollution and changes in the landscape that are occurring with increased gas drilling in his area. His strategy is to get drilling companies to follow voluntary best-management practices, especially when it comes to controlling air pollution, which, he said, is the source of most of the complaints to the county about drilling. Some county officials and residents are also concerned that energy companies, which have come to Garfield County in waves since the 1950s, will leave after this “play” of 10,000 new wells is finished, creating a bust among the businesses that now are expanding to serve them. I strolled down Rifle’s quaint main street to a coffee shop to meet Lisa Bracken, a real estate broker and trained paralegal.

Bracken said that gas development in Garfield County has reached the point — with its smoke and odors that regularly cause people’s headaches — where “it’s almost a taking” of people’s property. “They can do it right, but they’re not forced to do it right,” said Bracken, who is still drinking bottled water. “What I’m seeing is plunder and degradation in the interest of a few. That’s not in the interest of America.”

I let Bracken get on with her day, and headed nine miles up the Colorado River to Silt, where the EnCana gas well allegedly contaminated Divide Creek. The city staff there is developing an ordinance to require best practices, including environmental monitoring and a city fee for drillers to fund a gas-well inspector. “A lot of residents are concerned,” said Janet Steinbach, the local community-development director. However, the city’s authority covers only a small area of the land that’s open to drilling, and is limited under a state Supreme Court case won by the oil-and-gas industry which in large part overturned local controls set by Frederick, Colorado.

From Silt’s small City Hall, I found my way south across the Colorado River to Divide Creek, which was flanked by modest suburban-like homes on enough acreage to raise horses, chickens and cows and to grow some vegetables and fruit trees. I got out under a blazing sun to look at a portion of the creek, which was the source of life for a thicket of pine, cottonwood and cedar trees along its banks. Drilling had ceased in the area after the contamination was detected early this year, but is due to resume soon.

Later that day, residents of Silt gathered at Burning Mountain Fire Hall where the Western Colorado Congress had convened a meeting to plan the course of litigation it has filed against EnCana. “I would feel better if I could tell Dick Cheney to fuck himself,” said Duke Cox, a local general contractor who said he has lost business because of his stand for environmental controls on drilling in Garfield County.

The residents recalled the day when an unexpected gas flare rocked homes and shot flames into the sky along Divide Creek. They complained about vibrations, noise, lights and recent patches of dying vegetation they suspect are caused by gas seeps. Brian Macke, acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, confirmed that there recently was “a loud percussion” from a well near Divide Creek when a piece of equipment unexpectedly plugged up.

“It’s been something short of living your worst nightmare,” said Gary Gagne, who with his wife once looked out his living-room window onto quiet, starry mountain nights but now sees the stadium-bright lights of a noisy well-drilling operation. For four months they too have been drinking bottled water.

“We’ve watched our planned retirement go right out the window,” said the Vietnam veteran, who wears an eye patch due to a war injury and operates an independent computer-maintenance business in Garfield County. He complained that local, state and federal authorities have not answered residents’ pleas to regulate gas drilling in their area. “It’s almost like, you have the right to bear arms, go take care of it yourself,” he mused.

The next day I wanted to get the other side of the story on gas drilling, so I went over to the Garfield County Chamber of Commerce, which is housed in a small building in a park along the Colorado River and which doubles as a visitor’s center. While the chamber has taken no official position on gas development, chamber manager Kathy Lambert said that many local people welcome the gas industry. “I see the energy companies putting some economy into the area,” she said.

I left the chamber and drove out Mamm Creek Road past the new Burger King, McDonald’s and Subway, and then by a giant Wal-Mart just across the Colorado River from Rifle’s historic downtown. It’s there that the energy industry has set up a row of equipment yards, machine shops and other facilities and offices to support gas development in the county. I pulled into the parking lot of EnCana where a trim and fit Walter Lowry had traveled from the company’s corporate headquarters in Denver to greet me. Trained in engineering and law, Lowry spent some 20 years drilling for oil and gas, but now is director of community and industry relations for EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), which he notes is the largest producer of natural gas in North America.

We climbed into a Chevy Suburban and headed out to Grass Mesa, where the company is drilling for gas high above the Colorado River. Lowry said that new directional drilling technology has enabled EnCana and other producers to minimize their impact on the land by drilling several wells from one drilling pad. The drill can travel horizontally from the pad before shooting straight down into the pay dirt of deep sandstone that holds the gas. Lowry also showed me wells where the company is controlling air pollution by flaring vapors from the tanks used to collect the liquid hydrocarbons that come up with gas, and new engines that are cleaner and quieter to power drills. The company intends to phase in the new equipment eventually at all of its wells, he said.

We drove along a gravel-covered road built by EnCana above well pads where directional drilling has been completed and men driving bulldozers were busy re-contouring the outer portions of the barren drilling pads. The company would soon plant the re-contoured areas with natural vegetation, Lowry explained.

In another step to protect the environment, Lowry said EnCana has phased out using fluids containing diesel fuel to “fracture” the sandstone, replacing those toxic liquids with water, which is recycled. After drilling a gas well, energy companies pump the water down the well under high pressure to create cracks in the underground rock that are up to 1,200 feet long and a few hundred feet high. These fractures make it easier for the gas to flow out of the porous rock to the well. “We’re committed to be the industry leader,” summed up Lowry. Yet residents remain concerned that the fracturing process is inexact and can crack the rock all the way to the surface, allowing gas and hydrocarbons to flow up and contaminate wells, surface water and soil.

To the north, the Bureau of Land Management has opened the Upper Green River Valley in western Wyoming to the drilling of 10,000 gas wells near the gates of the Grand Teton National Park, just south of Yellowstone National Park. The valley sits under the Wind Mountains of the Bridger-Teton Wilderness Area and is home to the biggest herd of migratory antelope in the lower 48 states. Recognizing that energy development might affect the pristine wilderness area, the Clinton administration chose to permit gas drilling in the area around Pinedale, Wyoming, the center of the valley, on the condition that an extensive environmental monitoring program would be carried out at the expense of the energy industry.

However, soon after Bush took office, Yates Petroleum, which drills in the area, convinced the new administration in 2001 to junk the monitoring program. The administration decided to cave into, rather than defend, a lawsuit Yates had filed against Clinton’s Interior Department. After closing down the local citizen task force that was to run the environmental-monitoring program, Bush’s Interior secretary, Gale Norton, took more than three years to appoint a new committee. The environmental-monitoring process has yet to restart. Meanwhile, the bureau approved hundreds of permits for gas drilling — including dozens to Yates Petroleum — which wildlife biologists say threatens the antelope and other wildlife in Cheney’s home state of Wyoming.

“We all sat around and commiserated,” remembered Carol Kruse, who at the time represented the state of Wyoming on the committee and now works for the BLM in Pinedale.

After the shutdown of the environmental-monitoring committee, retired U.S. Air Force physicist Perry Walker spent thousands of dollars to purchase his own scientific instruments to document the decline in visibility resulting from gas-well flaring and emissions from other equipment used in the growing gas field around Pinedale. When companies in the area complete wells, they often burn in open pits the first gas that comes out until debris and fluids are forced up and the well runs clean. Walker, a lifelong Republican, said his data show that in just a few short years visibility along the Bridger-Teton Wilderness Area has declined by 15 percent.

His data represent the type of information that the environmental-monitoring committee, set up in Pinedale by Clinton Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, was supposed to use as the basis for recommendations on needed steps to prevent environmental degradation in the pristine wilderness area. However, that would have impeded the aim of Cheney’s energy policy: to make drilling so cheap that energy companies would leave no gas or oil behind. “The Bush administration declared a full-court press on energy development in the Rocky Mountains,” said Walker.

The Rocky Mountains are now far behind me as I race home to Los Angeles, where much of the gas is headed to power plants and homes. Some of it will travel down the Kern River Gas Transmission Co.’s pipeline, which runs from the Green River Valley to Bakersfield. Kern River is owned by Mid-American Energy Holdings Co., whose chairman, David Sokol, and president, Gregory Abel, recently opened their checkbooks to give a combined $4,000 to Cheney and Bush. Kern River has expanded its pipeline to double the amount of gas it can carry to California.

As I crossed the Cajon Pass, an oppressive cloud of pollution hung over the San Bernardino Valley as the cookie-cutter tract homes, shopping malls and midafternoon traffic jams came into view. Yet I remembered the mountains, the horses in grassy valleys, and the mighty Colorado River, which makes Southern California bloom. What will become of them and the people I met along the Cheney Trail?

The answer lies increasingly here in Los Angeles and in towns and cities across the nation as voters prepare to vote this fall. The people can elect candidates at the local, state and federal levels who support energy conservation and wholesale development of renewable energy, or they can return Bush and the self-described “mean-spirited, short-tempered and intolerant” Cheney to the White House to complete their despoliation of the nation’s premier wilderness area in the name of maximum profits for their energy-company patrons. Under the Bush administration’s secret energy policy, Cheney has allowed billion-dollar energy barons to recoup instantly their small-change campaign contributions and profit like kings. For a few thousand dollars in contributions, companies like Yates Petroleum, BP, XTO and Questar have been able to stave off environmental requirements that would cost them millions of dollars a year and have instead gained billions in their rush to produce more fossil fuel instead of developing renewable-energy sources.

This November may mark the last chance for voters to put an end to the trail of destruction that Cheney has blazed up and down the Rocky Mountains. Unless Americans re-examine their responsibility to future generations of urban dwellers and rural folk alike, and to the migratory herds that rove across the land for a purpose we may little understand, the destruction of this national treasure will be virtually assured.

As I recall my trip, I know that this is a chance we cannot forgo. For despite our bright lights, air-conditioned homes, satellite communications and military might, we too, like the Navajo and ancient Anasazi, are bound to the land, the water and the wind in a sacred bond we dare not break.


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