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
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR AND STAFF ATTORNEY
    Friends of the San Juans' Legal Director and Staff Attorney ("Legal Director") leads our legal advocacy and litigation practice and participates in many other organizational...
  • SPRING-FED PARCELS ON THE UPPER SAC RIVER
    Adjacent parcels above the Upper Sacramento river, near Dunsmuir. The smaller is just under 3 acres, with the larger at just under 15 acres. Multiple...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • POEM+ NEWSLETTER
    Start each month with a poem in your inbox by signing up for Taylor S. Winchell's monthly Poem+ Newsletter. No frills. No news. No politics....