Before he left office, Pres. Bill Clinton issued the "roadless rule" executive order in an attempt to protect 58.5 million acres of national forest land from commercial logging. Pres. George W. Bush spent much of his eight years tying it up in the courts (while also opening up millions of acres of public land to other forms of commercial exploitation like oil and gas exploration). Sen. Barack Obama promised during his campaign that he would work with Congress to codify the "roadless rule" as the law of the land. Image:
Dear EarthTalk: How can the new Obama administration and/or Congress undo the many antienvironmental actions the Bush administration undertook over the last eight years, including the obstruction of Bill Clinton’s landmark “roadless rule” legislation?
-- Ann Lyman, Lake Tahoe, CA
The Bush administration has certainly been no friend to the environment. Besides working for eight years to overturn the Clinton administration’s “Roadless Rule” that prevented road building (and the logging that usually follows) on 58.5 million acres of national forests, the Bush White House has opened up 45 million additional acres of public land across the American West to oil and gas drilling during its tenure.
Right now Bush is pushing to open up thousands more acres in sensitive areas around three national parks in Utah to more oil and gas extraction. According to The New York Times, these new oil and gas “leases” (the government leases drilling rights on public land to private companies) will be auctioned off on December 19, 2008, the last day the White House may carry out such transactions before leaving office.
Obama transition team insiders have already hinted that they will work to overturn the Utah oil and gas leases once they are in power. Obama’s trump card might be the fact that Bush failed to give his own National Park Service (NPS) sufficient opportunity to comment on the proposed leases before forcing them through. Green leaders hope that Obama can at least re-set the decision-making process to give the NPS and other interested parties time to voice their concerns before the oil rigs and gas pipelines move in. Green leaders also hope that, beyond stopping the Utah leases, Obama will curtail the number of leases sold altogether, in part by forcing extraction firms to develop sites they already have rights to before leasing more acreage. Oil companies have already leased 68 million acres of lands they have yet to access.
On the Roadless Rule, itself an 11th-hour executive order by Bill Clinton that has been mired in the courts since Bush tried to overturn it in 2001, Obama promised during the campaign that he would work with Congress to codify it as the law of the land. Luckily for greens, the back-and-forth on the issue over the past eight years has meant that only seven miles of new roads—yielding access to just 500 acres of timber—have been cut on lands slated for protection under the Roadless Rule during Bush’s tenure.
Obama also has his work cut out on a number of other environmental initiatives ignored or opposed by the Bush White House. Chief among them is taking action on global warming. If one can believe the campaign rhetoric, Obama will work to get the U.S. on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 through a number of initiatives. Jason Grumet, the Obama campaign’s lead energy and environment advisor, has indicated that the president-elect plans to move quickly on getting climate change legislation through in 2009 and working to make the U.S. a leader on mitigating global warming.
Another way Obama can win green friends is to undo a Bush proposal, slated to take effect in December, to cut wildlife experts out of decisions affecting plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act. Bush has faced sharp criticism for disregarding or ignoring the input of scientists on many issues. Obama seems likely to want to re-assert the importance of science in policy decision-making.