Several Republican senators Wednesday launched a new Western Caucus to advocate relaxing government's grasp of resources and lands in the wide-open swaths in the West. The move harks back to 1970s effort by Western officials to turn back federal lands to state and local governments.
"As one of the senators who helped initiate and carry the battle on the original Sage Brush Rebellion back in the Carter years, we're there again," Sen. Orrin Hatch said at a news conference at the Capitol. "We have to fight very, very hard to make sure that the West is being treated fairly."
Hatch joined Utah colleague Bob Bennett, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso and Idaho Sen. Jim Risch to tout a new measure they're introducing that would open the outer continental shelf and the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge to oil and gas exploration. The measure would also offer tax incentives for building energy infrastructure, open federal lands for oil shale development and promote recycling of spent nuclear fuel to encourage new nuclear power plants.
While Hatch brought up the Sage Brush Rebellion, other senators didn't share his enthusiasm for the reference. Bennett said he'd take a "pass" when asked whether he agreed it was a rebellion, and no other senators mentioned it.
But the new group said they strongly advocate for the less-populated West, where the federal government owns or manages large tracts of land, including more than 60 percent of Utah.
"We believe in Western values, values of rugged individualism, of self-reliance and economic freedom," said Barrasso. "We oppose the federal intrusion in the everyday lives of the people of our great country. The government should get out of the way of prosperity and liberty."
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said the caucus would help boost the impact of Western senators on legislation.
"The Western point of view needs to be represented," Kyl said. "It's amazing to me that even in the 21st century our friends from the East or even the Midwest have a lot of misconceptions about the West."
The Senate caucus mirrors one formed in the House in 1994 by then-Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah. That caucus now has 35 members and is chaired by Rep. Rob Bishop, who won Hansen's seat after he retired.
The original Sage Brush Rebellion, as it was called, never amounted to much. Legislation introduced by Hatch and others to fight back against government control of lands in the West failed and even President Ronald Reagan, initially an advocate when governor of California, didn't give much support to the effort.