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The Wild

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.

Earthjustice press secretary Raviya Ismail was at today’s (Jan. 12) U.S. Supreme Court hearing on whether the Clean Water Act allows Coeur Alaska’s Kensington Mine to fill Lower Slate Lake in Alaska with mining waste – killing all aquatic life. Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo argued to protect the lake. The high court decision, expected by June, could determine whether waterways throughout the nation may be likewise filled and killed. Here is Raviya’s report:

This morning, the US. Supreme Court heard arguments from Earthjustice about why the Clean Water Act should not be interpreted to allow mining companies to dump mine wastes into our nation's streams, rivers and lakes. A mining company attorney told the court that an Alaskan lake would be better off in the long run after a mining company dumped its tailings into it, killing all the fish and most other life. Justice David Souter described that logic as "Orwellian." We will be blogging after the arguments are concluded. Read the entire transcript of today's Supreme Court hearing on the Clean Water Act.

On this coming Monday - while the media are riveted by the upcoming inauguration - the fate of our nation’s waters will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court will hear arguments in an Earthjustice case that has implications for rivers, lakes, and streams across the country.

The case concerns a gold mine north of Juneau, Alaska. The Army Corps of Engineers granted a permit for the mine to Coeur Alaska. One provision of the permit allows Coeur to deposit its mine tailings into Lower Slate Lake after raising the level of the lake by building a long earthen dam.

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.

As faithful readers will recall, we’ve been reporting on the saga of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule for a very long time. Put in place at the end of the Clinton administration and immediately hamstrung by Bush operatives, the rule, which bans most roadbuilding and logging on roadless areas of the national forests, has bounced around a dozen courthouses, with Earthjustice lawyers defending the measure from attacks by states and the timber industry as the new government talked out of four sides of its mouth.

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