WASHINGTON -- Utah's members of Congress say new approaches to solving wilderness battles, supporting the 2002 Winter Games and seeking big money to expand Salt Lake International Airport top their local-issue agenda for the new session.
Also, they plan major efforts to protect and enhance missions at local military bases and to fix problems with compensation programs for downwind cancer victims of atomic testing.While many of Utah's members are tied up in national battles over impeachment and reform of Social Security and taxes, they also say they will push local issues with vigor.
Among the more interesting moves that all members say they expect -- and each support to an extent -- is a new approach to seek an end to the decades-old battle over how much wilderness to set aside in Utah on U.S. Bureau of Land Management areas.
The new approach proposed by Gov. Mike Leavitt is to no longer seek passage of one large wilderness bill to solve all issues at once, but to push smaller packages to protect on an incremental basis some areas that all groups agree should be wilderness.
Members said Leavitt and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt plan a meeting on Friday about that approach to see what support may be expected from the Clinton administration.
"Maybe it's time to see if little steps can move us toward a solution," said Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, who chairs a subcommittee that oversees wilderness.
However, the delegation expects to push again as part of that effort a bill introduced last year by Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, to create a national conservation and heritage area in the San Rafael Swell, which would declare much less formal wilderness than national environmental groups want in the area.
Environmental groups, in fact, hated it so much last year that they blocked a catch-all bill including many popular national park projects just to stop it. The administration also opposed it. But Cannon said he will reintroduce it, and he and Hansen see it as a key part of any incremental approach on wilderness.
Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, who has generally favored more wilderness than other members, said, "Anything is worth a try." But he said he still would like to see pushed a large bill -- maybe for 4 million to 4.5 million acres of wilderness.
"I think we would be dollars and cents ahead economically and environmentally if we could solve this once and for all," he said.
Cook, a member of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation, said another top priority is to include language in a major aviation projects reauthorization bill expected this year to help attract tens of millions of dollars for major expansion of the Salt Lake International Airport.
Similar rewriting of a highway bill last year helped clear the way for hundreds of millions for such Olympics-related projects as light rail construction and rebuilding I-15.
Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, the only Utah member on an appropriations committee, said he also will strongly push funding for such Olympics-related projects as Congress divides it annual spending pie.
Bennett, Cook and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also said obtaining continued federal support for the Olympics is especially important amid the current scandal about possible bribery in obtaining the Olympic bid.
Cook said House Transportation Committee Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., told him he wants to give Olympics projects special attention to ensure to the world that America supports the Games but will give them only what they properly deserve -- and that no special favors are being given.
Meanwhile, Hansen said he gave up his chairmanship of the House ethics committee in large part to give him more time to protect Hill Air Force Base and its missions. "It's tough getting all the missions it has been promised," he said.
Also, he wants to help ensure Dugway Proving Ground "continues to be viable and maybe obtain the new 'terrorist village' they've been talking about there" to make it a center for national training on how to handle terrorist attacks with germ and chemical weapons. Hatch also says such moves are a priority.
Hatch said he will again push to possibly expand and make more fair a program to compensate victims of atomic testing.
He held hearings on that last year after a Deseret News series showed many victims are being denied compensation because they lived a few miles in the wrong direction, had the wrong type of cancer, or had trouble proving they had the right cancer at the right time.