Finally, Redford "Squares Away" on the 99 Percent

Lincoln Brown
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Posted: Jan 27, 2012 12:01 AM

Let me state on the record that I think it is great that Robert Redford made a pile of money in the movie business, built a resort in the Utah mountains and can afford host the winter tradition of the Sundance Film Festival when Hollywood’s best and brightest stars descend each year on Utah’s trendiest ski town Park City to see the latest indie films. Redford earned his cash fair and square and can do with it what he wants as far as I’m concerned. And also for the record, I really liked him in “Butch Cassidy And the Sundance Kid” and “All The Presidents Men”.

And I like Park City. The people are nice, there are interesting stores, cool art galleries, and great restaurants. But it is expensive. My wife and I only go there for a weekend on special occasions, such as our anniversary for which we set money aside. 

So let me add that despite living about 90 minutes from Park City, I certainly can’t afford to attend the Festival. Many Utahns can’t. it’s a pricey proposition and most of us in the Beehive State don’t have the kind of scratch it takes to rub elbows with the tinsel town elite. I don’t know if it is 99 percent of us that can’t afford to go, but most of us can’t swing it. We have time clocks to punch, loads to haul, jobs to do, children to feed, and bills to pay. So as tempting as it might be to savor the crisp mountain air in one of the hottest towns in the west with the folks who grace the pages of Variety, it just isn’t a reality for the majority of us.

Sundance isn’t a reality for most of us here.

The article on Fox News quotes Mr. Redford as saying "We show stories of what people in America are really dealing with, and really living with, against a consequence of having a government that’s let them down," Redford said. "People can come and say, ‘God, at least we’re seeing how people are really living in America, and what they’re up against.’ We square away on the 99 percent."

Well, okay, I think it is fantastic that Sundance wants to show the stories of what people in America are really facing. But what would be equally, if not more fantastic is if Mr. Redford would come and hear the stories of the Uintah Basin.

It’s a story I’ve told before on these pages: During the last energy boom in Utah, jobs in the Uintah Basin rose from 5,500 in 2001 to 9,000 in 2008. In the fall of 2009, the Department of the Interior rescinded 77 energy leases in Utah and Colorado. during 2009, 3,121 jobs disappeared. 70 percent of those job losses occurred in the construction and mining industries. By July of 2009, one thousand people in the Uintah Basin were collecting unemployment benefits. People not only lost jobs, they lost homes, they lost businesses, they lost their self sufficiency and their faith in a government that had “let them down”

There’s a story from that year. In fact there is a ream of stories from that year. Here are a few:

 “In the last year I have seen my friends lose their houses due to mortgage foreclosure. I have seen people struggling to feed their children making decisions between buying groceries or paying bills.”

"My husband used to get 40 hours a week and now (he) is lucky to get more than 20 hours a week which isn’t enough to pay the bills much less buy food for our children.”

“I work at a restaurant locally owned for 35 years. I went from working 30 hours a week to 13, but even worse, we are risk of shutting our doors.”

 “My husband does not work in the oil field however; his work is highly impacted by the growth and development of our city. The sales tax revenues continue to plummet since this whole public lands mess began. He did not receive a cost of living raise this year. We had been counting on that raise to help with the money for treating our 3 year old autistic son….If the leaders could come to our beautiful town now, I hope they would see the empty homes and weeping wives and children after they learn their husband and father’s job would no longer exist."

These are real stories, from real people. Real 99 percenters. They don’t drink coffee at Starbucks. Many drive trucks, not imported cars. They prefer steak to European haute cuisine, and many of them shop at Wal-Mart.

But they are just as much members of the Human Family as anyone at Sundance this year. And those people would like to be able to buy a home, send a kid to college; they may even want to earn enough money to go to the Sundance Film Festival one year.

And they love the land they live on. They work, hike, bike, hunt and recreate on it. They would no sooner see it ruined than they would set fire to their own homes. I’d daresay they love that land more and know it better than the people from other parts of the country trying to keep everyone off of it. The industry is starting to recover here, but I still wonder why these people had to undergo their trials in the first place.

And natural gas is clean, and it is cheap. It heats homes, cooks food and can fuel vehicles. And it does it at a price that is affordable to Americans from one end of the continent to the other. And yes, in order to get at it, you have to punch a hole in the ground, and put in a well. But I fail to see how a temporary gas well on land that by law must be reclaimed, erected by companies who are working every day to lessen their impact on the environment and try to find ways to improve wildlife habitat are somehow worse than a permanent resort. Yes Sundance provides a service and employs people, but so does the natural gas industry on a much greater scale. I know fracking is being demonized, but space does not permit me to discuss that here. That’s another column for another time.

I know it is “in” to be green, and Mr. Redford has never been a fan of the natural gas industry, or the process needed to get to the energy. But there is more to the story than many would let on. “Energy companies are destroying the land and air” is a great, and seductive battle cry. But it is not an accurate battle cry, and there is much to the story that has not been told.

Again, it is an American success story that Mr. Redford was able to do so well, build a resort and start a film festival. More success to him, I say. But there are 99 percenters out there who would also like to be American success stories, too.

It’s admirable that he wants to tell the stories of the 99 percenters. But I would like (and no I’m not being snarky here) for him to come to the Uintah Basin, and learn the rest of the story behind the 77 Leases, the natural gas industry, and the 99 percenters who want to start businesses, hire people and earn a living in that industry and those ancillary businesses that come with it. It may not be the story he is expecting, or even wants to hear. He may have to clear away some propaganda and preconceived ideas, and it may not be the politically correct story he would like to tell, but it is a story worth telling.

And yes, the President is talking about expanding the natural gas industry but that’s tomorrow’s column.