If Gov. Gary Herbert had chosen a card-toting member of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance as his top energy adviser, there would have been an outcry from the energy industry and his conservative colleagues. So why choose someone at the other end of the environment/energy debate and invite criticism from conservationists?
Sadly, the answer to that is easy: The power in Utah is concentrated in development-friendly Republicans, including Herbert. And they don't care who knows it.
Herbert has named Cody Stewart his energy adviser. Stewart's supporters, who share Herbert's pro-development philosophy, say Stewart is knowledgeable and a "consensus builder."
But so far we can only judge Stewart's probable approach to energy development in Utah by his record, and that shows a breathtaking bias toward more widespread drilling and mining, with little apparent regard for the environment.
Stewart, a long-time lobbyist for energy companies, was director of the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of Republican Congress members pushing for more access to federal lands for drilling. He was also director of government affairs for the Western Business Roundtable, a trade organization for oil, gas, coal, agricultural and other companies that are not known for putting the environment first.
He has worked for several members of Utah's past and current Republican congressional delegations, including Rep. Rob Bishop, who is pushing for resort development in the Wasatch canyons; former Rep. Chris Cannon, who voted to repeal key portions of the Endangered Species Act and to fast-track environmental reviews of timber projects; and former Rep. Jim Hansen, who once famously scoffed at forest protections, saying that "if you've seen one tree, you've seen 'em all."
There's more. Stewart has been a lobbyist for Americans for American Energy, which has as vice chairman Aaron Tilton, a former state lawmaker who wants to divert water from the Green River for a two-unit nuclear power plant in Emery County.
Stewart's appointment, although disturbing in its implications for the land and the environment, is not surprising, given that energy companies are Herbert's biggest campaign contributors, lavishing more than $235,000 on the governor in just the past 16 months, nearly one-sixth of his total.
Herbert's office responded to criticism of the appointment by saying that while he won't sacrifice the environment, "We have a pro-energy-development adviser because we have a pro-energy-development governor." That says it all.