Environmentalism, Culture, and Politicsrnby Ed Marston and Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnThe following remarks are excerpted and arranged from arnseries of letters exchanged between Ed Marston, publisherrnof the environmentalist newspaper in Paonia, Colorado, HighrnCountry News, and Chilton Williamson, Jr., of Chronicles, inrnresponse to questions posed by Mr. Williamson during Januaryrnand February 1996.rnDoes a traditional Western culture exist today, and are opponentsrnof environmental “reform” justified in defending their “customrnand culture”?rnEM: A traditional Western culture existed when I moved tornthe West in the mid-1970’s. It consisted of small towns, embeddedrnin the public lands, and seeing themselves as living offrnthe lands: farming, mining, logging, ranching, light tourism. Irnsay “seeing themselves as living off the land” because only arnsmall proportion of the residents of these towns actually workedrnthe land by the 1970’s: insurance agents have always outnumberedrncowboys in the West, and by the middle of the decade,rnretirees outnumbered everyone else in the small-town West.rnNevertheless, the West saw itself and prided itself as being attachedrnto the land, and that’s what attracted mc to the region.rnUnlike in urban areas, people tended to live in the towns theyrnworked in. If a bust forced them to commute, their commuternwas likely to be to Saudi Arabia or to a construction job in somerndistant city, from which they returned, at best, on weekends.rnThe small towns tended to mix the classes as well. I read recentlyrnwhere a real estate developer who had lived in Aspen forrnmany years said that his golf partner used to be the guy whornpicked up his garbage. Today, he told the Aspen Times, thatrnwould no longer be possible.rnIn the late I970’s, the coal companies in the valley I live inrnchanged their management technique. Until then, accountants,rnengineers, personnel people, et al., managed the minernfrom the nearest big city—Denver, in our case—leaving onlyrnthe working people and the mine superintendent in the community.rnWhen the newer mines began locating their whitecollarrnworkforce in the mining towns, bigger and woodier housesrn—”chalets” and the like—^began to sprout in the “suburbs”rnaround Paonia, population 1,400. These newcomers complainedrnof lack of “shopping,” which meant lack of a suburbanrnsociety they could fit into, with golf courses and shopping mallsrnand “nice” places to have lunch and dinner, but they could atrnleast have “nice” homes.rnStill, most of the mine’s workforce was made up of peoplernwho operated heavy equipment or actually shoveled coal. Butrnthat changed drastically in the energy and minerals bust of thernI980’s, when prices plummeted and coal and copper and otherrnproducers had to get incredibly productive. The workforce isrnnow much more highly trained and educated. There are morernpencil-pushers writing the programs that control the hugernequipment, maintaining the spare parts inventory (you cannotrnafford a shutdown), safety experts who spend every workingrnhour plotting to push down the accident rate, planning wayrnin advance what every event in the mine will be. What I sawrnwas an end to the rough ‘n’ ready West. A firm wanted soberrntechnicians who will show up every day to manage a ISO-millionrnoperation, rather than a devil-may-care miner willing tornrisk his life beneath the ground arm wrestling an unpredictablernMother Nature.rnSo to say that environmental rules are pushing on the traditionalrncustom and culture of the West is a misreading of the situation.rnIf blame is to be placed anywhere, it is to be placed onrnthe workings of our economy and its implacable demands forrnefficiency and productivity. And that has meant the replacementrnof a rural workforce and rural values with an urban, orrnrather suburban, workforce and suburban values. Why don’trnthe custom ‘n’ culture folks take out after the modern economyrnand the natural resource companies that personify the economy?rnThe kind interpretation is that they do not see it happening.rnThe unkind interpretation is that they are front menrnand women for the most backward of the natural resourcern22/CHRONiCLESrnrnrn