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McCain blocking USDA nominees over Arizona snow

By Ed O'Keefe

Sen. John McCain has a message for the Agriculture Department: "Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow (in Arizona)!"

The former Republican presidential candidate said he will block the confirmation of USDA nominees until the U.S. Forest Service allows an Arizona ski resort to make artificial snow with treated wastewater.

John McCain

McCain's decision means at least two USDA nominees remain in limbo awaiting Senate confirmation, according to The Post's Head Count. President Obama has not nominated anyone to fill three other political positions at USDA.

McCain and Grand Canyon State colleague Jon Kyl (R) first wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in June asking why the Forest Service had not approved the Arizona Snowbowl's request to use snowmaking equipment on its peaks in the Coconino National Forest.

The agency has the legal right to approve the request following years of litigation by several Native American tribes that had fought to block the use of snowmaking equipment on mountains they consider sacred. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the tribes' case in June. Snowbowl officials have said they will not move ahead until they get final clearance from Washington, and they're still waiting.

"The Department continues to delay this project despite repeated requests to move forward from Arizona Snowbowl, myself, and fellow members of the Arizona Congressional delegation," McCain wrote last week in another letter to Vilsack.

"I find the department's conduct in this matter to be most troubling and disingenuous," McCain wrote. "It is wholly inappropriate that without any legitimate explanation the Department can claim the right to delay an approved Forest Service action upheld by the Supreme Court. Quite frankly, every public land user and Forest Service permittee should be deeply troubled by the Administration's actions."

"Please be assured that I will maintain my hold all USDA nominees over this matter," McCain said.

The Forest Service "is moving forward on a portion of the Snowbowl permit improvement request," according to a USDA spokesman. The portion focuses on the use of snowmaking machines at the resort's beginner ski area, known as the "magic carpets."

The department has delayed further approving the project as Snowbowl officials and representatives for the Native American tribes attempt to sort out "outstanding concerns for the more controversial aspects of the Snowbowl improvement request," the spokesman said.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 23, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Congress  
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Hmmm, dumping treated waste water on a sacred mountain is an afront to our brothers and sisters.

Posted by: nstein1 | November 23, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Nothing like tying up government so that one resort in one state can have a few extra bucks this year.

Posted by: sarahabc | November 23, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

If McCain(R) is for it then there must be something wrong with it.

Posted by: IowaGlenn | November 23, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

McCain may never be president, but from now on he'll be the first one we think of when we hear the phrase "treated wastewater". What an authentic American hero....

Posted by: gmcduluth | November 23, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Since John Kyl thinks 'Waste Water" for snow making is something that is served as a delicious treat in high-end restaurants in the Southwest...He got the recommendation from his pal Cornyn from texas who should now !!

Posted by: rbaldwin2 | November 23, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

If McCain(R) is for it then there must be something wrong with it.

Posted by: IowaGlenn | November 23, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

I too am a (R) and I think the people have a right to be cautious.
There should be complete disclosure about the ecological impact.

If it is just runoff water, that is one thing.
If it is reclaimed from effluent waste that is another.

Posted by: rexreddy | November 23, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

The Central Arizona Project, better known in the west as The Goldwater Ditch, delivers a chemical concoction to Tucson that the Feds call WATER & Tucson residents are forced to mix this liquid sewage with ground water in order to have enough drinking water for the Tucson Valley. IF the Ditchwater was sprayed onto Flagstaff's mountain it would denude the hillside in a matter of days yet it is "pure" enough for Tucson to drink. Treated water is a far better choice to Ski on that Ditchwater is to drink. Does anyone realize that treated wastewater was a Republican administration proposal from day one AND that only NOW are they running from their own plan in an effort to make the "D" administration of Obama look bad?

Posted by: misterfids | November 23, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I don't know the specifics of the project. But, these kinds of interbasin transfers of water can have profound ecological effects by changing the timing and intensity of the delivery of water to affected basins. In the arid west, we often think that more water is good. That is not necessarily the case for xeric ecosystems. In addition, I suspect there could be legitimate legal challenges by those who are having their downstream water rights affected because "their" water has been transferred to new basin.

Posted by: ecoexpert | November 23, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Way to be in the ski resort's pocket, Senator McCain.

We have the best Congress money can buy.

Posted by: DupontJay | November 23, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Who owns the ski resort? Would it possibly be a member of the Keating family?

Posted by: abusean1 | November 23, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Democracy at work! One washed-up politician can screw up a federal agency just because said agency does not jump quickly enough to please the washed-up politician. Wonder how much money the washed-up politician is getting from the ski resort/ski industry in Arizona.

Posted by: polako1 | November 23, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

One thing I have to admit is that President Bush always treated Congress the way they deserve to be treated, with 100% contempt. If W were still President as soon a Congress blew town for Thanksgiving he would have cleared his backlog with recess appointments. When Congress got back and started howling W would be away blissfully mountain biking at Camp David and never give it another thought.

Posted by: markswisshelm | November 23, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

One thing I have to admit is that President Bush always treated Congress the way they deserve to be treated, with 100% contempt. If W were still President as soon a Congress blew town for Thanksgiving he would have cleared his backlog with recess appointments. When Congress got back and started howling W would be away blissfully mountain biking at Camp David and never give it another thought.

Posted by: markswisshelm | November 23, 2009 12:49 PM


"never give it another thought" -- brilliant! But then that's how he regarded all Constitutional principles when they got in the way of what HE wanted.

And you're OK with this because ????

Posted by: phoenixresearch | November 23, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Are we talking sewage type water and treated with what? This stuff will melt eventually and go into the ground water. Don't see the advantage to using it especially as I would assume that this resort is on a well. How many chemicals do you want in the drinking water?

Posted by: treadlefish | November 23, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Ever the maverick, that Senator McCain. Eric Borowsky, owner of the Arizona Snowbowl, did have his day in court. His son, Todd, hasn't been as successful in repealing the lap dance ban that hurt business at his Skin Cabaret. Will Senator McCain be able to help here, too? We know now where McCain stands on snow jobs, but what's his position on lap dancing?

Posted by: j_martens | November 23, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

One Senator can obstruct the workings of a US Department by demanding his personal favor (for a close friend or heavy contributor, no doubt). Another Senator can extort hundreds of millions of dollars in exchange for a procedural vote. And on and on and on.

Our system of government is broken. The crooks and opportunists have found so many ways to subvert it that it can now never be fixed. It is time for a new Constitution, with iron-clad rules to compel our elected representatives to serve US, not THEMSELVES.

Posted by: nan_lynn | November 23, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Oh my god, maybe the Bushevicks were right about McCain.

Posted by: whocares666 | November 23, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Wear a yellow ski suit. That was the "snow" stains won't show!

Posted by: TOMHERE | November 23, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Treated waste water is probably OK, but the real question is whether and how to honor Native American traditions and wishes. The white guys want to desecrate a sacred mountain. Is that OK? We stole it and massacred them fair and square, right? The current Supreme Court does not have anyone's confidence as an interpreter or guardian of Constitutional rights. Roberts, Alito, Scalia and Thomas are wingnuts.

Posted by: frodot | November 23, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

If you lived in AZ you'd know, the issue isn't if it's wastewater or pure moutain spring water being pumped. The Native Americans are the issue here. They consider these mountains sacred, they own the land in question, and that they do not want fake snow on their mountain due to what could be termed "religious beliefs."

That's the issue, entirely and 100%. McCain knows this, Kyle knows this, and the disengenuous behavior is on behalf of these 2 politicians. Shame on you McCain and Kyle. Just how many times can we run over Native Americans and not give a damn?

Posted by: ScottChallenger | November 23, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

"Disingenuous is what I am, Sam," said McCain. "I am a politician and a crappy one at that."

Posted by: mortified469 | November 23, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

GOP - always for corporate profits over people.

Posted by: angie12106 | November 23, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Your argument for your case has to be pretty weak to make you resort to bludgeoning the opponent with this kind of extraneous activity. Reminds one of kids who take their ball and go home when they can't be the captain of a team.

Posted by: sauerkraut | November 23, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Let me get this straight, Senator McCain a former chair of the Native American affairs committee is insisting that a federal agency violate the Native American Relious Freedom Act, just because our jaded Supreme Court says they CAN!?! It seems an agency without a head performs better than a senator with an empty one.

Posted by: ares_home | November 23, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

It seems that the candidate that ran for president screaming about tacking on PORK and home town favors, to bills seems to have his hand in the Arizona cookie jar. Where is his self-righteous indignation now

Posted by: StevG | November 23, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

I urge all readers who agree that the Coconino should NOT be wasting our tax dollars violating the Native American Religious Freedom Act...please contact them at their website or the USDA,,,and say so. Let Mccain eat his own yellow snow.

Posted by: ares_home | November 23, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Currently all water is hauled up the mountain in trucks (no kidding, no well). The pipeline to be constructed (some 14 miles with about a 3000' elevation gain) would haul a fairly high grade of treated effluent. Trace pharmaceuticals are a real concern to some but were not a part of the lawsuit. Some studies show, for example, a gender ratio shift in amphibians that live where the treated effluent is currently discharged. Our medicines (birth control pills, etc) persist in low levels in the treated effluent. No other ski area makes snow entirely with treated effluent.

Feels like the local area is forcing it down our throats for years now and seems as if they present things as if all local skiers are in favor. Many certainly are but many are not. Snowmaking would aid in opening the beginner areas for Christmas in some bad years perhaps. That is where the money is and why they are pushing this. Fair enough. But the ski area operates under permit on public land (Forest Service) and there are considerations beyond skiers and the ski area.

Posted by: localskier | November 23, 2009 9:32 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Strange reading here. Senator Kyl is one of my favorite people, and McCain is one of my least liked Republicans, But neither of those likes/dislikes are the point here.

Having read the comments you folks have left Im seriously wondering why EVERY comment did not address the View of the Native Americans. This is not about Politics, its about what is sacred to these people, and if it is, then stay the H--- away from it...It matters little what the Supreme Court says, Altho they sometimes get things right, they missed on this one. WE all know, its forbidden to mix state and religion so once more, get out of THEIR RELIGION, and leave those mountains alone to the people who live there.

Rather than make fake snow, lets go down town Phoenix and make a fake mountain and blow any kind of water you want on it, It cant smell any worse.

Posted by: HawkCW4 | November 24, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

The water is treated, but it still contains harmful bacteria and containments that shouldn’t be there. The Native Americans hold these mountains sacred for a reason. The water trickles down the mountain and supports all the life that exists below it. Scientists do not know what the effects of putting treated waste water on a mountain are and what this will do to the inhabitance below. I don’t know if John McCain is a skier or a snowboarder but if he was he was he would understand that the treated waste water can also get into your mouth when participating in these activities. I’m sure this comes down to someone making money anyway and it is a shame to see this country go down the toilet literally.

Posted by: Loudernet | November 24, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe the thought was even considered of putting treated waste water on MY homeland on a SACRED mountain. The fact that the Native Tribes are being ignored by the government on an issue relating to land is no surprise since it's been going for ages now. When the nuclear testing took place in New Mexico, the government "tried" treating the affects but my home is basically still contaminated and a large portion of my family is gone due to it. After "treatment", the government decided to build URANIUM mines where nearly every male on my father's side of family DIED of uranium poisoning with its affects still visible on the HILLS and MOUNTAINS where the mines were built. This so-called "treated WASTE water" is no different since it will be absorbed into the soil or trickle down the mountains where Navajos will use it for drinking or irrigation, yet again, creating another health "concern" if the government is willing to accept proper responsibility for its affects.

Posted by: ttsos908 | November 26, 2009 3:38 AM | Report abuse

Shame on McCain, shame on Kyl, and a BIG shame on Rep Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) who represents the Navajo Nation and ran on a tribal platform. I hope the Tribes kick her out of office in 2010.

Read the cases Senators. The Supreme Court did decide anything, they simply refused to hear the case. And the lower court didnt say the Forest Service HAD to issue these permits. They simply said they could.

Is it any wonder that the Obama Administration would chose to not issue a Bush Administration permit?

The Arizona Tribes should apply for a permit to put wastewater on the churches in Phoenix, that might help put it in perspective for Senator McCain (former Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee... how quickly they fall).

Posted by: dcdcdc2 | November 28, 2009 7:40 PM | Report abuse

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