AMERICAN HERITAGE RIVERS SAMPLE LETTER
The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500
Re: American Heritage Rivers
Dear Mr. President:
Thank you for your decision to cancel the American Heritage
Rivers program, which has been headquartered in the President's
Council on Environmental Quality.
Opposition to this boondoggle is based on many expert observations,
Congressional testimony, and local experience. I'd like to point
out some of the key reasons why it is very important that you
do not continue this program.
l. The American Heritage Rivers Initiative was declared
by Executive Order after years of defeat in Congress.
In 1997, President Clinton unilaterally declared this program,
which was one of Vice President Al Gore's pet projects, by Executive
Order at the behest of American Rivers and other powerful environmental
preservation groups, after grassroots local activists from all
over the country worked together in both the Democratic and Republican
Congresses for over three years to defeat the passage of the
generic American, or National, Heritage Areas program. When the
American Heritage Areas program was going nowhere, Pres. Clinton
simply declared it by fiat, with a slightly revised name.
2. Federal control over zoning.
President Clinton's program differed in certain details from
the major bills that grassroots activists defeated in the Congress,
but basically it was a vehicle for the federal government to
control local land-use. The federal government should stay out
3. Overlapping agencies, surreptitious employees, and unaudited
One of the most irresponsible aspects of Clinton's American Heritage
Rivers program is that it is impossible to tell how much it costs
or where its employees were. When the American Heritage Rivers
Initiative got into full swing, it had not only federally appointed
"Navigators" for each of the rivers, but also "Community
Contacts" hand-selected from state agencies and major national
and regional interest groups, as well as federally employed "Co-Facilitators."
Federal employees with much additional staff became based in
many different federal departments, including the EPA, Department
of Transportation, Coast Guard, USDA Forest Service, USDA Watersheds
and Wetlands Division of Natural Resources and Conservation Service,
Department of Defense - Corps of Engineers, Housing and Urban
Development, Department of Commerce, and Fish and Wildlife Service.
Nearly untraceable part-time or temporary employees took junkets
from DC to Hawaii and other locations to hard-sell the program.
In addition, an American Heritage Rivers federal "Interagency
Committee" is composed of members of thirteen agencies,
from Department of Justice to the EPA.
4. Dictatorial selection of American Heritage Rivers over
The Rivers were supposedly selected as a result of local support,
but the process was basically secretive, and, if discovered,
dictatorial, unless local citizens were able to organize across
multiple counties or multiple states to raise a big stink. Meetings
and hearings were commonly concealed from the public, and when
the public found, the agendas were exclusionary. Using grassroots
organizing tactics, hard-working activists defeated a few rivers,
such as the Wabash American Heritage River, but other selections
prevailed over local opposition, including the nomination for
the Hudson American Heritage River, which was unilaterally "submitted"
by Governor George Pataki, by keeping top secret the fact that
the designation would include the full river length. The might
of the federal government and powerful state governments was
used to roll past local participation.
5. American Heritage Rivers designation is already trampling
on local economies.
One of the first negative impacts of American Heritage River
designation was felt at the Hanalei American Heritage River in
Hawaii, where local tour boats were harshly curtailed after a
vacation visit by then-Vice President Gore to this area, a favorite
vacation spot for him. The New River American Heritage River
is currently engaged in controversy because of the aggressive
tactics of the National Park Service against local landowners.
6. The American Heritage River program exceeds executive
powers to implement without an Act of Congress.
This important legal point is why so many years were spent attempting
to get the program through Congress.
7. Proponents portray the American Heritage Rivers program
to the general public as a tourism, historic, and federal aid
program, often de-emphasizing the environmental aspects. However,
the program is very nebulously defined in the implementing documents.
This represents irresponsible governance. The program actually
appears to be a keystone of watershed land-use enforcement.
The American Heritage Rivers program has so many fingers
and participants, that its full potential impact is impossible
to indicate in this letter. Although the program has no direct
enforcement powers, the machinery set in place would make federal
meddling in local affairs and the negative impact of overzealous
federal regulators on private property owners much more intrusive.
One example of machinery that began to be set up under the program
was an extremely ambitious EPA system of student monitoring of
water bodies that appeared to be for the purpose of facilitating
and popularizing enforcement. It was also apparent that watershed
monitoring, called "State of the River Reports," was
to heavily rely on computerized GIS (geographic information systems),
which are digitalized maps. It appears that these computerized
map overlays were to be used to efficiently select areas for
implementation of combined federal/state enforcement, as well
as to help frame additional restrictive land-use legislation.
In the opinion of many experts, the Clinton-Gore American
Heritage Rivers program was conceived an extremely grandiose
scheme to extend federal power and tie landowners in more knots
when they want to use their property. All of the overtly
declared federal aid functions could be implemented through numerous
existing programs without the federal designation of regional
The American Heritage Rivers program stands for some of the
worst traits of the now-discredited Clinton Administration. These
characteristics were rejected when you were elected to office.
I look to you to reject doublespeak, federal meddling in local
affairs, and federal squelching of individual rights.