SAN FRANCISCO, 7 JANUARY 2009
Dear EarthTalk: How can the new Obama administration and/or
Congress undo the many anti-environmental actions the Bush
administration undertook over the last eight years, including
the obstruction of Bill Clinton's landmark "roadless rule"
Ann Lyman, Lake Tahoe, CA
The Bush administration has certainly been no friend to the
environment. Besides working for eight years to overturn the
Clinton administration's "Roadless Rule" that prevented road
building (and the logging that usually follows) on 58.5 million
acres of national forests, the Bush White House has opened up
45 million additional acres of public land across the American
West to oil and gas drilling during its tenure.
Right now Bush is pushing to open up thousands more acres in
sensitive areas around three national parks in Utah to more oil
and gas extraction. According to The New York Times ,
these new oil and gas "leases" (the government leases drilling
rights on public land to private companies) would be auctioned
off on December 19, 2008, the last
day the White House may carry out such transactions before
Obama transition team insiders have already hinted that they
will work to overturn the Utah oil and gas leases once they are
in power. Obama's trump card might be the fact that Bush failed
to give his own National Park Service (NPS) sufficient
opportunity to comment on the proposed leases before forcing
them through. Green leaders hope that Obama can at least re-set
the decision-making process to give the NPS and other
interested parties time to voice their concerns before the oil
rigs and gas pipelines move in. Green leaders also hope that,
beyond stopping the Utah leases, Obama will curtail the number
of leases sold altogether, in part by forcing extraction firms
to develop sites they already have rights to before leasing
more acreage. Oil companies have already leased 68 million
acres of lands they have yet to access.
On the Roadless Rule, itself an 11th-hour executive order by
Bill Clinton that has been mired in the courts since Bush tried
to overturn it in 2001, Obama promised during the campaign that
he would work with Congress to codify it as the law of the
land. Luckily for greens, the back-and-forth on the issue over
the past eight years has meant that only seven miles of new
roads - yielding access to just 500 acres of timber - have been
cut on lands slated for protection under the Roadless Rule
during Bush's tenure.
Obama also has his work cut out on a number of other
environmental initiatives ignored or opposed by the Bush White
House. Chief among them is taking action on global warming. If
one can believe the campaign rhetoric, Obama will work to get
the U.S. on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent
by 2050 through a number of initiatives. Jason Grumet, the
Obama campaign's lead energy and environment advisor, has
indicated that the president-elect plans to move quickly on
getting climate change legislation through in 2009 and working
to make the U.S. a leader on mitigating global warming.
Another way Obama can win green friends is to undo a Bush
proposal, slated to take effect in December, to cut wildlife
experts out of decisions affecting plants and animals protected
under the Endangered Species Act. Bush has faced sharp
criticism for disregarding or ignoring the input of scientists
on many issues. Obama seems likely to want to re-assert the
importance of science in policy decision-making.
CONTACTS: Barack Obama on the Issues, www.barackobama.com/issues;
U.S. Forest Service Roadless Rule Information, www.roadless.fs.fed.us.
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