| Archived Story
Congress puts focus
on West's evolution
WASHINGTON - Gov. Brian Schweitzer and former
Rep. Pat Williams will testify this week at a congressional hearing
on the “evolving West,” highlighting the region's economic
transformation and efforts to balance growth with the preservation
of public lands and resources.
The Montana Democrats will lead off the House
Natural Resources Committee hearing as the only two witnesses at its
first panel on Wednesday. They will be followed by a second panel
that includes American Indian leaders, researchers and a lumber
The committee's chairman said
the oversight hearing marks “just the beginning” of a congressional
effort to examine Western natural resource issues and listen to new
perspectives from the region.
“There is no question but that the economic
transformation in the West is historic,” Williams said in a recent
interview. “The West has now moved from an extractive economy to a
conservation, restoration and service economy. And service does not
mean hamburger flippers. It means health care workers and architects
Williams, who is helping found a new group to
work on Western issues, said the area is the fastest-growing region
in America demographically and “now has a footloose
“The old economy was based around timber, gold,
silver, oil and gas and copper, and workers had to go where those
resources were,” he said. “Today's economy is that people move not
to jobs, but to natural amenities such as mountains, near wilderness
areas, lakes and rivers. And then the jobs follow the people. The
Internet, the PC is one of the reasons it works that
Williams said Congress has been ignoring the changes in
the West and needs to start addressing some of the issues that have
“They need to get balance in the natural resources
extraction industries, particularly methane gas,” he said. “We need
innovative solutions to the overcrowding of our national parks. We
need humane, rational immigration policies for the Southwest. Just
to name three (issues).”
Williams, who served nine terms in
the House, now works with the University of Montana's Center for the
Rocky Mountain West in Missoula. He recently helped found an
organization called Western Progress, with offices in Phoenix,
Denver and Missoula.
Western Progress is a public policy
advocacy group that will hold its first conference in Phoenix in May
on the economic benefits to the West of wind and solar energy, he
Like the new congressional interest, Williams' two
groups “are indicative of the efforts to understand and guide the
new West,” he said.
“Governor Schweitzer and I are both
pleased and relieved that Congress is truly asking questions about
the West and then listening hard for answers,” he
Williams said the committee may call a series of
hearings on the topic, possibly holding some in the West.
think what they're trying to do is better understand the significant
transitions that are under way in the Rocky Mountain West so that
they can apply appropriate legislative solutions and assistance,”
Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., who chairs the
Natural Resources Committee, pledged a new focus on the
“When it comes to natural resources issues before the
Congress, in some circles the West has continued to be portrayed as
a place predominantly frequented by the miner with pick and shovel,
and the lone cowboy on the range,” Rahall said in a
“This hearing is just the beginning in the
committee's commitment to bringing in new voices that we have not
heard from in recent years and looking at issues affecting the
natural resources of the Western states from a different
perspective,” he added.
The hearing will highlight the impact
of the West's “dramatic transformation in recent years as a result
of local efforts to combine sound resource conservation with robust
economic development,” a committee statement said.
will include economic growth as it relates to the preservation of
public lands, protection of clean water resources, energy
production, the contributions of American Indian communities and
technological advancements in the West, it said.
witnesses include Clifford Lyle Marshall, chairman of the Hoopa
Valley Tribe; Matthew Box, vice chairman of the Southern Ute Tribe;
Luther Propst, executive director of The Sonoran Institute; Russell
Vaagen, vice president of Vaagen Brothers Lumber Co.; and Bob Lee,
forest resources professor at the University of Washington.
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