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public lands

I joined Tuesday's huge crowd in Washington to witness the inauguration of our 44th President. The people who traveled from all over the country had worked to elect Barack Obama and create a community of hope, optimism, and readiness to tackle the challenges, and that spirit pervaded the Mall.

Jan. 20 marked the dawn of a new day in Washington.  We hope it means a clear break from the past eight years of drilling, logging, and ignoring science.  So now all us enviro lawyers can retire or get real jobs because President Obama - enjoy those two words together - is going to take care of everything ... right?

Well ... probably not.  The next four years will likely be as busy as the last four for conservationists.  Here's a sampling of reasons.

Full circle time, in a sense. The establishment of this organization was sparked, in part, by a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club in 1969, challenging a ski resort proposed for a valley in the Sierra Nevada called Mineral King. The club had no objection to skiing per se, but this was to be a humongous affair that would have completely overwhelmed the valley and its wildlife and largely wrecked it for hiking, camping, and backpacking.

We congratulate Ed Lewis, chairman of our Board of Trustees, for being honored with the prestigious Wilburforce Foundation Leadership Award. We all know how well-deserved this award is, recognizing Ed's conservation leadership not only with Earthjustice, but as board chair of TREC, as a key player in land conservation in the Northern Rockies, and as a consultant and advisor to many organizations.

The Wilburforce Foundation protects wildlife and wildlands in Western North America by supporting organizations and leaders advancing conservation solutions. The leadership award is one of a series of grants honoring individuals for exceptional leadership in the conservation movement. Ed—who by the way gave Earthjustice a $5,000 gift that comes with the award—is only the second representative of Earthjustice to win the award. Some years ago, our Vice President of Litigation Patti Goldman also was honored.

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.

Motorists heading to Colorado ski resorts are being confronted with images of the state not found in tourist brochures: Pollution-spewing oil and gas rigs looming over wildlife habitat, ranchland and neighborhoods.

The billboards are part of a campaign by the Colorado Environmental Coalition to tell Coloradans and out-of-state visitors that there's a dark side to the state's vast petroleum industry.

Yes, one knows that the economy and the climate are jobs one through ten, but I can't help but be a tiny bit concerned that the new Obama administration still lacks a Secretary of the Interior, a Secretary of Agriculture, a Secretary of Energy, an Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and a Chairman of the President's Council on Environmental Quality. Plus and all the under secretaries and assistant secretaries and directors and assistant administrators who will eventually be nominated and confirmed to carry out extremely sensitive and important tasks. I have no reason to think that these nominations will not be up to the standard of the nominations we've seen so far, but I hope this doesn't signal a back-burner approach to wildlife and public lands and national parks and national forests, and so forth. A large fraction of our oil and gas, for example, come from the public lands and a smaller but important fraction of our lumber and pulp too. One thing we're going to have to be vigilant about over the next months and years is to ensure that environmental regulations are not sacrificed in the name of economic recovery—and you can be sure that such suggestions will be made. We need strong, bright people to run the environmental agencies, people who have the full support of the president.

So the fate of the Roadless Rule is now in the hands of three judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, at least its immediate fate, following a hearing this week in San Francisco.

The Forest Service, represented by the Justice Department, wants the three judges to overturn a Sept. 2006 decision that found the rule the Bush administration cooked up to replace the original rule illegal.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne didn't like the law that required him to promptly protect public lands around the Grand Canyon from uranium mining.  So he's getting rid of it. Citizens have only a few days to express their opposition.

With less than 100 days left in its life, the current administration has its hands full.  The economy is on its scariest roller-coaster ride in generations. And we're still fighting two wars.  You'd think the administration would be too busy to do anything else.

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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.