A letter sent to more than 160,000 Utah residents earlier this month indirectly links New York Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey to "hostile foreign nations" for Hinchey's support of the Red Rock Wilderness Act, a bill to designate 9.4 million acres of public land in Utah as wilderness.

The letter, sent by Utah state Reps. Aaron Tilton and Mike Noel, both Republicans, said Hinchey's proposed legislation would "cost Utah hundreds of millions of dollars" and lead to America becoming "more dependent on energy from hostile foreign nations."

As proposed, HR 1919, which was introduced last year, would prohibit motorized activities such as off-road vehicle use and oil and natural gas drilling and mining in areas that include portions of the Uinta Basin, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and other federal lands in Utah where energy or other development pressures exist. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is the lead sponsor of the Senate companion bill S 1170. Both bills are pending in Congress.

A bill to designate the Red Rock area as wilderness actually was introduced in 1989 by the late Rep. Wayne Owens (D-Utah), according to Hinchey. More than 240 environmental groups, including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), support the measures, and the bills have 171 co-sponsors in Congress.

However, Tilton and Noel said the legislation, if passed, would "raise the cost of energy and drive monthly bills higher -- hurting low-income families the most." Hinchey "doesn't trust Utahans to do the right thing on lands in our state." They called SUWA "an extremist political group" that is "fueled by millions of dollars from out-of-state extremists and Hollywood elites."

The bill would "WEAKEN America," the state representatives stated. "How? Because it will hamstring our ability to produce American energy right here in Utah. That leads America to become more dependent on energy from hostile foreign nations -- some of whom fund terrorist organizations that are right now targeting our American men and women in uniform."

Tilton and Noel urged Utah residents to sign an online petition at www.stoputahlandgrab.org. The website goes further in slamming Hinchey, linking him with photographs of Osama bin Laden, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"These terror leaders also want America to continue its foreign oil dependence," reads a caption accompanying the photos.

SUWA lawyer Steve Bloch said the message "clearly is intended to incite, and using this extreme language that is part of the reason AAE [Americans for American Energy] has been panned by so many state and local governments and even members of industry across the West. To equate SUWA's work and the efforts of over 160 members of Congress to terrorism is simply beyond the pale."

The website apparently was conceived by Colorado-based AAE, a domestic energy advocacy group formed last year (see NGI, Oct. 22, 2007). AAE CEO Greg Schnacke is the former executive director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Schnacke defended AAE's work. "I don't think it crosses that line or any line that's inappropriate," Schnacke said in a statement about the website. "What the campaign highlights is the growing disconnect in this country between politicians that are trying to enact policies that are in our view very hurtful to the U.S. economy by hamstringing our ability to produce energy at home."

When domestic oil and natural gas production declines, Schnacke noted that the United States has to "import more, and some of that money does go to governments in unfriendly countries, and some of that money does flow through to terrorist organizations and that is a fact of life."

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