Spring is in the air in Washington, DC and hope seems to permeate every corner of this storied city. Along with the promise of longer days and warmer weather, there’s hope that the new congress and administration can help us return to a true participatory democracy. As a member of Earthjustice’s legislative team, my biggest hope is that we’re witnessing the dawn of a new era when it comes to environmental policy.
The promise of this new era was on full display in the East Room of the White House last week as President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 into law. This bill — the most significant land-preservation legislation in a decade — protects over two million acres of wilderness and is composed of dozens of wildly popular conservation measures.
Earthjustice has been intimately involved in the protection of key lands covered in the legislation, both in the courts and on Capitol Hill. Mineral King Valley in the Sierra Nevada, which was spared from becoming a ski resort by Earthjustice’s first lawsuit, is now designated wilderness. The Wyoming Range just south of Grand Teton National Park, saved from heavy oil and gas development by Earthjustice litigation, is now permanently protected from future oil and gas leasing.
Getting this landmark legislation on President Obama’s desk wasn’t easy. But on March 25th, just a few days before the momentous East Room signing, the Omnibus Lands Bill cleared the House of Representatives, its last hurdle. On that beautiful spring morning, my colleagues and I thanked our Congressional champions and urged a Yea vote from those members still on the fence as they walked into the chamber to vote.
Shortly thereafter, we gathered around a TV and witnessed the final tally: 285 in favor, 140 opposed. Triumphant cheers and applause rang throughout the room. The bill, parts of which were literally decades in the making, had finally passed. As we emerged from the U.S. Capitol following a celebratory press conference, the grounds were bathed in sun and one couldn’t help but be filled with a sense of hope thinking of the days and years to come …