My Testimony To Protect Public Lands In Utah
By Josh Cameron | Our Voice Contributor
Yesterday, February 26th, I went up to the Utah State Capital, because bills were being proposed to roll back protections on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national parks. One person in the Utah state legislation, Rep. Noel who lives in Kanab, sponsored legislation to reduce the size of the monuments, without disclosing that he owned land in Grand Staircase Escalante. A clear conflict of interests.
For those who don’t know, the Utah State Capital is literally on a hill, and there are copious stairs leading up to the capital. Then once within the capital I had to ascend to the 4th floor, again with stairs because I was running late. Once I walked in, Rep. Noel’s bill was being proposed to the state Senate. While I am hyper involved in politics, I don’t always have the ability to go and speak during work hours… because it’s during work hours.
What I didn’t realize when I sat down to make my public comment, is that I was sitting right next to Rep. Noel. I literally just walked into the room less than 2 minutes prior. My heart was still beating fast from so many stairs, I didn’t have a chance to collect my thoughts, so I just launched into my feelings on the subject.
Addressing the Senate I said my name, and I said “as a citizen of this state it concerns me that Rep. Noel didn’t disclose that he owns land on Grand Staircase – Escalante, and the sheer level of corruption”… I was then cut off by a Senator. She told me that we aren’t here to discuss corruption, we are here to discuss the merits of his bill.
I believe corruption is something necessary to tease out to fully appreciate legislation this corrupt politician is proposing, but I acquiesced.
I acknowledged her point and said, “my problem with bills to roll back protections on these monuments is that it falls back to a 19th century law that effectively allows someone to go stake out a 20 acre plot of land, put four poles in it, one in each corner, and attach a note that says this land belongs to me”. I said, “we live in 2018, why are we falling back on such a ridiculous law from the 19th century”?
Remember, I was literally sitting next to Representative Noel. The way the hearing works is those who have a bill that pass the house that go to the upper chamber (Senate) sit in the middle of three chairs with those making public comments on either side of them. After my comments this old white man leans over to me and says I need to educate myself. He didn’t add any context to his point, just that I was wrong and I need to educate myself, just because. This is the guy who purposefully left out the fact that he owned 40 acres of land on Grand Staircase, purposefully hiding his conflict of interest telling me I need to educate myself.
Now that said, I wasn’t aware of the above context, because again, I didn’t realize who this ass-bag was. So again, heart beating fast, I now have a rush of endorphins from speaking in public, and this old man tells me I’m wrong and I need to educate myself. So I look at him, and in a very loud and disruptive manner (I really like disruption), I ask “AND WHO ARE YOU”? He declined to say who he was. He then again said I need to educate myself because of the mineral rights act of 1890ish. Full disclosure, I am not fully abreast of obscure 1800 laws. I looked at him incredulously and again said, in a loud voice, “I AM QUITE EDUCATED, THANK YOU”.
When you’re done with your public comment, you’re expected to go back to your seat in the audience and not at the table where speakers present their case. Public comments were closed because I was the last one. He was then addressed by name by the Senate Chair, and it dawned on me who this was. So I sat there. I sat there to make it as awkward as I could for him. The Senators didn’t tell me to take my seat. No one told me to go away, so I didn’t. He was then forced to sum up his bill with me, an antagonist, sitting to his immediate right! He tried to address the accusation of corruption, but like I was shot down, the chair shot him down as well.
When he left his seat after his summation, he left out a back door, looking really nervous, came back in after a couple minutes to flag down another person and take them out the back door as well.
Did I change Rep. Noel’s mind? Hell no. Did I make him scared because I outed his corruption and aired the ridiculousness of what we’ll roll back to if our public lands are opened up to fossil fuel extraction?
You bet your ass I did.
I believe I also just inclined his uphill battle that much more in November, giving any opponents on the left or the right some ammunition to call him on his bullshit.
I was feeling a little bummed, because I would have preferred to have collected my thoughts more. While I enjoy disruption, I also can be quite articulate. So I was sitting with the rest of the people in the assembly waiting for the next bill I wanted to address, which was to exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act. Exempting us, Utah, from this Act is a Koch brothers dream. This was the real reason I showed up, but being able to call out Rep Noel’s bullshit was just gravy.
Twelve people asked to speak. I was one of them. I was about the eighth person to speak, and wasn’t able to stay for the final four, because I had school to get to, but of the 8, only one person was in favor of rolling it back. My comments when addressing the proposed bill, that already passed the Utah State House and is now in the Senate to exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act, were as follows (or at least a very close approximation of them):
“My name is Joshua Cameron. I am a national coordinator for Our Voice USA. I am also a combat vet. I must say, when I was in Kosovo, Macedonia, Kuwait and Iraq, we didn’t treat their civilians as bad as we treat our indigenous folks. We didn’t just walk in and take their land. Dr. Zehnder perhaps you can help clarify…”
I was then relatively politely rebuked by the Chair who said we aren’t here to ask direct questions to the Senators, but to give public testimony.
“Okay, so perhaps you can add clarification after I speak. Here in Utah we lose 1000-2000 people a year to our terrible air quality. I wonder how this will resonate within the populace that we are opening up our public lands to oil and gas extraction. We’ve been able to scientifically prove that China’s air pollution can cross the ocean and poison our air. So anyone who makes the argument that Southern Utah’s air doesn’t affect Northern Utah’s air is absurd.”
Now just before I spoke, a man who owned a mining company gave testimony that we should be so lucky to live in a state with great mineral wealth. So I addressed him during my testimony.
“To the gentleman who spoke of our mineral wealth. Tell me again what happened to the San Juan River. Oh yeah, the tailings flooded it and poisoned it with heavy metals that we may never be able to get rid of. The problem with these fossil fuel extraction and mining companies is they privatize profits while socialize risk. I wonder, now that taxes are a subject of debate, how local Utahans will receive news that their taxes have to pay for any mishaps or abuse the companies do to the land.”
At this point I was warned my two minutes to speak were up. I continued on to briefly.
“Look, right now there is a hunt for an ancient crocodile in Grand Staircase. We could literally find ourselves on the map with the scientific community, and show respect to our indigenous tribes by adhering to the Antiquities Act.”
I wanted to hit as many areas of concern I could within two minutes. I didn’t fool myself into thinking that I would change their minds. I wanted to give political ammo to those watching and listening.
That was my piece. Again, did I convince a single Senator? Probably not, but guess what? Now Dr. Zehnder has to answer questions about why a doctor, who is bound by the Hippocratic oath to do no harm, didn’t raise hell about this absurdity that pollutes our air even further. Air that often is on par with industrial China air quality. We have 1/10th the population of L.A. and as bad and sometimes worse air quality.
I have had enough social media arguments to know that my interlocutor in these cases is not my true audience, but those listening, those watching those voting in November, ARE.
So again, I may not have changed anything about exempting Utah from the Antiquities Act or prevented Grand Staircase from mineral extraction, but what I did was further incline the uphill battle these corrupt politicians have to climb in order to get re-elected. This is the purpose of public forums even when it seems all is hopeless.
Those of us who have the means to speak in public. Those of us who have the means to use vacation time to get off work early and go to their State Capital to speak. Those of us who give a damn enough about the electoral process and making this country a better place for us and future generations owe it to humanity to make it harder for the corrupt to get away with their bullshit, and easier for those who want to get involved to see the beacon of hope.
Anything done, can be undone.Anything undone, can then again be protected, but it takes strength and energy from the community.
Together, we can win.
Together, we can accomplish anything. When we raise Our Voice, the 99% in a collective and coherent manner to add to the human condition and not simply detract from it for corporate gains, this country will shake to its core!
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