I had the great pleasure of meeting Robert Redford a few years ago when he came to D.C. to headline a press event I organized on Capitol Hill, urging Congress not to pass legislation that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. As part of that event, NRDC presented over 200,000 petitions to President Bush, signed by people opposed to drilling in the refuge. The petition read, in part:
"WHEREAS, the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is our nation's most important birthing ground for polar bears, caribou, and other Arctic wildlife, and is the very last piece of northern Alaska that is off-limits to the oil giants...I THEREFORE PETITION YOU to obey the will of the majority of Americans who want to keep this one pristine corner of the Arctic wild and free."
I had enlarged a petition to about four feet tall and mounted it on an easel in proximity to the podium. At the conclusion of his speech, Redford signed the petition with a sharpie while the press corps snapped photos for stories that appeared the next day. That prop now hangs on my office wall -- probably the biggest Robert Redford autograph you'll ever see!
Following the press conference, Redford didn't exit to a waiting limo to be whisked to the airport for a chartered flight back to L.A. He spent the rest of the day walking the halls of Congress, lobbying various House and Senate members to protect the Arctic Refuge. When the vote came soon after, the bill to drill the refuge went down in glorious defeat. And since then the Arctic has remained off-limits to exploitation by Big Oil.
While Redford's star power certainly wasn't the only reason for this monumental environmental victory, he clearly helped the cause by bringing so much media attention to the issue and by using his influence to personally persuade legislators.
As a committed environment advocate (and long-time NRDC trustee), Robert Redford continues to not just talk the talk but also to walk the walk. Just yesterday, he lent his voice once again, joining members of Congress (via live video feed) at a press conference in D.C. to blast the Bush administration's 'midnight regulation' to auction off Utah wilderness to oil and gas companies.
Amazingly, the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to sell more than 110,000 acres of land near breathtakingly iconic western vistas -- including Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon -- for drilling. This lease sale, which is set for tomorrow, includes wild lands containing the nation's greatest density of ancient rock art and other cultural resources, along with unique natural features found nowhere else on earth.
These national treasures now on the auction block were made available to industry through hastily approved resource management plans that will have serious ramifications for 3 million acres of protected public lands. If the lease sale goes through, the highest bidders would earn the right to turn vast tracts of pristine wilderness into industrial wastelands. Once drilled and destroyed, Utah's Redrock wilderness can never be restored.
As Redford said during yesterday's press conference:
"You can't put a price on silence or solitude. Future generations deserve to experience the wildness and beauty of these lands, and to leave them as a legacy to generations that follow."
See what else he said to at the press event.
NRDC, along with a coalition of environmental and business groups, will file suit to halt this early Christmas gift to the energy industry. Since we have the best litigators on the planet, I'm pretty confident we'll beat back the Bush administration in the courts. In the court of public opinion, where media coverage can make a difference in elevating awareness on important issues, we're also fortunate to have the best champion for America's wildlands: Robert Redford.
Like Redford, you can help by making your voice heard. Click here to let the Bush administration that America's wildlands are not for sale!