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Stopping the Exit Wounds

Maybe it's a good thing that Bush has kept Earthjustice so busy these last eight years, fending off unrelenting assaults on the environment. The experience is proving invaluable as we face, in these final weeks of the administration, a frantic effort to roll back some of the nation's most significant protections. We also are encountering a barrage of last-minute attempts to convert America's wild, public treasures into private, commercial commodities.

Any day now, we expect Bush's Fish and Wildlife Service to once again remove endangered species protections from the northern gray wolf—protections we secured this year after Bush first de-listed the wolf.

Just yesterday, we sued to prevent the Bureau of Land Management from rushing through a lease sale of public lands in Utah for private exploitation. The BLM plans to allow oil and gas derricks onto nearly 110,000 acres that until now have been largely unmarked save for the hoofprints of antelope and the etchings of ancient people. This is part of a much larger plan by the administration to turn over millions of public Western acres for private development.

Also this week, we went to court to challenge the administration's attempted weakening of the Endangered Species Act. For eight years, the Fish and Wildlife Service has made species decisions based on politics, not science. As a parting gift, Bush wants to permanently remove the scientists from evaluating many government projects and decisions. The result—opinion and politics would replace science, and drilling rigs would replace polar bears.

A politically influenced opinion is why Earthjustice will be at the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 12, arguing in defense of America's waterways. The issue at hand is a permit granted by the Bush administration to a mining company, allowing it to destroy a tiny Alaska lake with effluent. More is at stake than this little lake, however. Waterways across America could be turned into mining dumps if the high court agrees.

We are also challenging one of the administration's most recent acts of environmental betrayal: removal of stream buffer protections in order to allow more mountaintop removal mining. As a result, mining giants are now allowed to accelerate the burial of Appalachia's streams and valleys, where they've already destroyed more than 1,200 miles of waterways.

Fortunately, we aren't alone in seeing how the Clean Water Act, under Bush, has been vandalized.

A Congressional report this week questioned whether many of our waterways are really being protected from pollution, and it revealed a cover-up by the Environmental Protection Agency—arguably the most politically tainted agency of them all.

And speaking of water and the EPA, we are poised to challenge its refusal to set drinking water limits for perchlorate, a rocket fuel ingredient that has infiltrated water systems in 26 states, endangering the health of young children while causing developmental impairment in fetuses. A victory for the defense establishment and its contractors, this is a case study of Bush's determination to favor powerful interests over the weak and defenseless.

Of course, the EPA isn't alone among federal agencies failing to protect the environment, or for that matter attacking it.

Only a few weeks ago, we sued the National Park Service over new regulations that significantly increase the number of snowmobiles allowed per day in Yellowstone National Park. We filed the suit just hours after the regulation was officially published.

By year's end, the administration is also set to dismantle the Northwest Forest Plan through what is called the Western Oregon Plan Revision ("WOPR" pronounced "whopper"). The dismantling would already have occurred if we hadn't forced the BLM to allow public protests.

As the midnight regulations keep coming, we are ready to challenge:

  • The Idaho-specific roadless rule, which weakens roadless protection across millions of acres.
  • A rule that would significantly weaken national effort to force the federal government to carefully consider environmental impacts of fishery management decisions.
  • A new regulation and amendments to BLM plans that promote subsidized oil shale development on BLM lands in the Rockies, one of the worst things we can do for the climate.
  • Plans for the Arizona Strip and Missouri Breaks National Monuments that allow excessive ORV use and fail to afford sufficient protection to these remarkable landscapes.

But, while every day seems to bring news of another Bush administration rollback, there is some good news. Last week, the EPA announced that it is abandoning two proposed regulations that would have weakened air pollution standards for power plants. The first proposal would have made it easier to build new coal-fired power plants and factories near national parks. The second would have changed how power plant emissions are measured and would have let some of the country's dirtiest plants emit more air pollution and delay upgrading pollution control systems.

The most important good news, of course, is that on January 20 Bush will no longer be able to inflict exit wounds on our nation's laws, lands, people and species, although the effects of what he has done will last deep into the Obama administration and perhaps beyond.

We can think of no better way to set the stage for this new administration, as it prepares to reverse what has been the worst environmental assault in our country's history, than by continuing our legal counter efforts. Each of our new lawsuits gives Obama and his impressive environmental team an opportunity to act quickly and decisively to reverse course.