Skip to main content

The Obama Dawning

This blog posting by Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen appeared this week in Celsias.

For all Americans who care about our environment, which is most of us, a hopeful dawn broke with the election of Barack Obama.

During the last eight years the administration did everything it could to privatize the great natural areas in America, to privatize the commons all Americans share. We all know the story. Our rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, wildlife, fisheries, and minerals were all for sale to the highest bidder.

The administration slammed the gates hard and ignored the gathering crisis created by an atmosphere heating with greenhouse gases. They ignored the melting polar region and instead encouraged oil and gas developers to race in. They actively assisted dewatering the west which sent our fisheries into a tailspin along with the coastal communities which have relied on these renewable resource for ages. They tried as hard as they could to reopen the last of the once great western forests to clearcut logging.

But we fought back and we won more than we lost.

Over the last eight years as technology advanced all around us, mysteriously America fell behind other developed countries in harvesting our own domestic wind, solar and geothermal energy supplies. While other comparably advanced nations raced ahead in sticking propellers into the sky or spreading solar cells over surfaces baked by the sun, in America, oil and its dirtier cousin coal, continue to reign supreme. This is about to change.

While Bush/Cheney held sway, America's technology edge was allowed to founder. As new technology emerged that uses a fraction of the energy to accomplish the same work as the hardware it replaces, the Bush/Cheney team actively impeded its deployment. They fought requirements for home furnaces that would save the country $14 billion even though this technology can be had at any Home Depot store today. They fought requirements to swap out old, leaky energy transformers commonly found on many power poles in America for newer tighter ones that would save Americans at least $3 billion. This is about to change.

Over the last eight years those in the White House won a few rounds in their zeal to monetize and privatize our public natural resources. But they also lost more than a few due to the fierce resistance they encountered from those Americans unwilling to sell out their natural heritage.

From the shores of Maine, North Carolina and Florida to the great prairies of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming, to the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest (even Alaska), regular Americans fought back, unwilling to see these treasured natural landscapes converted to the moonscapes of the Bush/Cheney White House.

We used a not-so-secret weapon.

It turns out America is blessed with the strongest environmental laws of any nation on earth and a citizenry empowered to enforce them. Earthjustice went to the mat to help average Americans stand up for the places they love and the environment we all share. We won more than our share. There are some serious nicks and scars on the land, but in many places some might not notice the difference if they'd missed the last eight years. However they probably would notice the difference if they looked at the Rocky Mountain west, which is now covered with oil and gas wells, and in the Arctic.

We largely succeeded in saving the Pacific Northwest forests. We kept a large number of wildlife species from dwindling towards extinction. After some initial losses, we made gains in rebuilding some of the west coast's salmon populations. We made concrete gains in cleaning up the polluted air streaming from all manner of American industry and we made similar gains in stopping some of the worst water pollution in the country, all over the active resistance of the Bush/Cheney White House. We worked with average Americans, and against all odds succeeded in keeping the Bush/Cheney machine from bulldozing roads into almost 50 million acres of our most pristine national forests.

Even though Barack Obama is now our president-elect, we have no doubt his administration will come under siege by those powers that sat at the right hand of the vice president and had their way with America's natural resources. They will fight any and all attempts to reduce their access and their bottom line. They will fight the nation's move into a new clean renewable energy economy. They will fight our attempts to restore balance and health to landscapes drained, bulldozed, buried, paved, cut, mined or worse.

We at Earthjustice look forward to partnering with the new administration to address this inevitability. We have lawyers, too. They do one thing and they do it well: safeguard America's natural treasures and defend the air we breathe and the natural waters that form the lifeblood of this great land. They've been working overtime to reverse the pollution that is changing our climate and to encourage deployment of new technologies that promise to save Americans billions of dollars worth energy.

We're heartened that we now have a chance to see some real stewardship of America's natural gifts once again from the highest office in the land.

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.