Red light, green light

  • Pat Bagely, Cagle Cartoons

  • Sources: U.S. department of labor, state agencies, various newspaper articles. Figures current as of jan. 1.

 

Despite the midwinter economic-recession blues plaguing much of the West, environmentalists have reason to feel good. After eight years of being frustrated by President George W. Bush, suddenly they're getting traction. Signs include:

On Jan. 20, just hours into his term, President Barack Obama froze all the Bush deregulation efforts that had not been finalized by the bureaucratic process. Thus, Obama's administration will have time to review that batch of gutted regulations, and many -- including those governing endangered species and oil shale development -- will likely be restored to full strength.

Then on Jan. 26, Obama made big moves on climate change and oil conservation. He effectively ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to open the door for California, Arizona, New Mexico and nine other states to go ahead with plans to limit global-warming emissions from vehicles. And he ordered the Transportation Department to enforce a law requiring automakers to increase their fleets' fuel efficiency. Both moves reversed Bush policies and will likely produce meaningful results in just a few years.

"The days of Washington (D.C.) dragging its heels are over," Obama vowed.

A day after that, Obama's secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar, said he'll revive the authority of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists to shape federal projects that could affect endangered species. And on Feb. 4, Salazar canceled 77 controversial oil and gas leases near national parks in Utah. (The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other green groups gave Salazar time to make his move by pressing a lawsuit that froze leases that were offered to companies in December.)

Congress -- controlled by greenish Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California -- also acted as Bush exited. The Senate passed a huge public-lands "omnibus" package that would ratify many wilderness and other land-protection deals negotiated locally in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, California and New Mexico. The House passed Obama's $819 billion economic stimulus plan, which calls for spending more than $90 billion on clean-energy development, energy-efficiency improvements, environmental cleanup, wildfire prevention and clean water projects. (Both those actions still need approval by the opposite chamber as well as by Obama.)

Green groups in Montana -- including the Montana Environmental Information Center -- defeated one of the West's worst coal-power-plant proposals. Rural electric co-ops wanted to build the Highwood Generating Station near the historic site where the Lewis and Clark expedition portaged around dangerous falls on the Missouri River. Green lawyers have helped neighbors -- concerned about air pollution as well as desecration of the site -- battle the proposal for the last five years. On Feb. 2, the utilities announced, they'll build a smaller, natural-gas-powered plant instead.

Also in January, lawyers for WildEarth Guardians notched up a victory against increased drilling in the Santa Fe National Forest. And the Snake River Alliance in Idaho faced down an unusual slander lawsuit filed by a nuclear-plant developer, Alternative Energy Holdings Inc. (The environmental group's director, Andrea Shipley, had called the company's officials "scammers." A judge ruled on Jan. 16 that the insult was a form of opinion protected by the First Amendment.)

Democratic Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter even sent an enviro lawyer's spouse to fill the Senate seat that Salazar vacated: Michael Bennet is married to Susan Daggett, a longtime lawyer for environmental groups, according to NewWest.net. Bennet's background lies mainly in education, but he'll likely help turn the Senate a bit greener.

The news is never all good. Winter inversions trapped thick air pollution over Salt Lake City and Boise during January. Another federally protected wolf was illegally shot to death in Arizona. The latest climate-change study found that even if we reduce worldwide emissions to preindustrial levels, the excess carbon dioxide already in circulation will cause climate-change trends to continue; the impacts -- drought, wildfires and melting glaciers -- will still be felt 1,000 years from now.

And a national Pew Research Center poll, released Jan. 22, found that only 41 percent of the public now rates "protecting the environment" as a "top priority," down from 56 percent last year. The economy and jobs have become the top priorities for more than 80 percent of Americans.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Native plant seeds for the Western US. Trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and regional mixes. Call or email for free price list. 719-942-3935. [email protected] or visit...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking two full time community organizers to join our team. Positions can be based in Garfield County, Montrose...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Join our team as the Association's Executive Director. Working closely with the Board of Directors, take ANWS to the next level of professionalism by managing...
  • FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa is hiring a Development Director who will have the overall responsibilities of leading our fundraising programs and reports directly to our...
  • WATER RIGHTS/ADJUDICATION BUREAU CHIEF
    Job Overview: Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that Montana's land and water resources provide benefits for present and future...
  • CLIMATE CHANGE COORDINATOR
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is seeking a Climate Change Coordinator to play a lead role in shaping our programs to make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...