Environmental Politics, Think
The Mountain Accord
–by Jeffrey Mathes McCarthy
From time to time I encounter an idea that obliges me to choose engagement or dissociation. Will I dig into the details, get my hands on the levers and try to build something, or will I recognize a wretched time-sink when I see it and stay clear?
Mountain Accord presents such a fork in the road for all of us: Your better self says, “Go to the meetings… read the planning documents,” but your cynical self says, “I’ve been burned by self-interested consultants before… the money will decide this, no matter what I say.”
I’ve decided it’s worth the effort to understand the Mountain Accord proposal, and I’ve concluded that now is an especially important time to express an opinion about the future of the Wasatch. You can do exactly that at MountainAccord.com/get-involved where each question is followed by a comment box for the easy typing of viewpoints.
JFK had a penchant for the sweeping phrase, and he said “let us not seek to fix the blame for the past, let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” Think of the Mountain Accord as a conversation about the future between stakeholders from local governments, the major ski resorts, leading environmental organizations, state agencies, and recreational users. This conversation started a year ago in subcommittees and focuses on the mountain lands between Parley’s and Little Cottonwood canyons.
Given the breadth of interests and the size of the topic, it’s helpful that the participants have sorted into four committees: environment, economy, transportation and recreation—topics that have risen to the forefront of local concern for skiers, water drinkers, businesses and mayors. If the first phase of Mountain Accord was gathering information to propose a blueprint for action in the Wasatch, this second phase is the moment for all citizens to spotlight their own agendas, or to identify their own objections.
The comment period has been extended until June, and thus allows us all more influence before the draft becomes a proposal for National Environmental Policy Act and Environmental Impact Statement review.
The biggest news, in my opinion, has to do with land-swaps and with trains. Most attractive here is the potential for land-swaps that trade base areas and boundary expansion to the ski resorts, in return for protection on more than 2,000 acres of the Cottonwood Canyons. Most dubious to me is the multi-billion dollar plan to run a train up Little Cottonwood right next to the road, creating years of construction delays and an enormous environmental impact.
In a democratic process all voices are equal, but some are louder than others. The present version of the Mountain Accord gives ski resorts an outsized voice because they are focused on particular prizes. That doesn’t necessarily make them immoral or corrupt—just well organized. If you have a different or overlooked position, organize your thoughts and use this mechanism to share them.
We residents of the Wasatch have a great stake in its environmental and economic future, but we need to show that we’re paying attention. By participating in this public process we can exert all our moral influence, but by ignoring a public process we arrive at Plato’s curse: “The penalty for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up governed by your inferiors.”
This brings us back to my opening choice about listening to my better self or my cynical self. The Mountain Accord is a public process that can be an end in itself where developers and consultants craft a deal that masquerades as consensus, or a starting point where a groundswell of public engagement takes the blueprint and rewrites it into a progressive plan for this community’s transportation, environment, recreation and economy.
Jeffrey Mathes McCarthy is Director of the University of Utah’s Environmental Humanities graduate program.
Mountain Accord Executive Committee:
Salt Lake, Summit and Wasatch
Counties; Salt Lake City, Park City, Town
of Alta; Utah Dept. of Transportation,
Utah Governor’s Office; U.S. Forest
Service; Salt Lake Chamber of
Commerce; Save Our Canyons; Outdoor
Industry Association; Ski Utah