Environment News Service
Dirty Devil proposed wilderness in southern Utah (Photo © Ray Bloxham courtesy SUWA)
WASHINGTON, DC, - President-elect Barack Obama and his transition team are already reviewing all of President Bush's executive orders, considering which will be allowed to stand and which will be overturned, the head of his transition team, John Podesta said on Sunday. Obama's decisions could invalidate environmentally damaging orders issued by the current president.
"As a candidate, Senator Obama said that he wanted all the Bush executive orders reviewed, and decide which ones should be kept, and which ones should be repealed, and which ones should be amended," said Podesta, who served as White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton.
"Across the board, whether it's national security, the economy, the senior leadership that will manage health care, energy and the environment, I think he intends to move very quickly," Podesta told Chris Wallace on Fox News.
"They want to have oil and gas drilling in some of the most sensitive, fragile lands in Utah that they're going to try to do right as they - walking out the door. I think that's a mistake," Podesta said.
On election day, the Bush administration announced that it will open up about 360,000 acres of Utah public lands to oil and gas drilling in its December lease sale.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management did not publish details of the 241 proposed oil and gas parcels, but some are believed to be near national parks and monuments such as Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah.
Preliminary site lists show the leases for sale in December would include large areas considered worthy of wilderness status.
BLM Utah State Director Selma Sierra said Thursday that the parcels "have been set aside for a number of years pending completion of resource management plans for six field offices." Five of those plans were signed by the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Stephen Allred last week in Washington, triggering the leasing decisions contained in the plans.
"These decisions represent far more stringent environmental protections than existed in old plans or that have ever been imposed by any BLM Utah plan. In other words, these new environmental restrictions provide many layers of safeguards to prevent environmental damage to sensitive natural resources. So lands previously set aside are now available for leasing, but with stricter-than-ever controls," said Sierra.
But environmentalists are opposed to any further oil and gas development in the Red Rock country of southern Utah.
Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which has fought to keep oil and gas development out of wilderness areas, views the Obama presidency as "the best opportunity for wilderness protection in SUWA's 25 year history."
"We will encourage the new Secretary of Interior and staff at the Bureau of Land Management to protect southern Utah's wilderness, including such places as Labyrinth Canyon, the Dirty Devil, the San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa," said Groene.
Groene wants review of what he terms, "disastrous last minute Bush administration decisions for legal violations, including the six awful land use plans the administration just approved, which open millions of acres of redrock wilderness to oil and gas leasing and ORVs."
He wants the Obama administration to give "meaningful protection to the redrock, by re-instating the process, born under President Clinton and killed by the Bush administration, that gives Wilderness Study Area protection to lands identified by the BLM as having wilderness character."
His wish list includes reform of the BLM, which Groene says "manages more of our most spectacular western public lands than any other agency and which folded like a house of cards in a tornado to anti-wilderness interests under pressure from Bush appointees."
Podesta said a president can do a great deal using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action. "I think we'll see the president do that to try to restore a sense that the country is working on behalf of the common good," he said.
Environmental advocates are looking to the incoming administration with hope. Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said November 4, 'The election of Barack Obama represents a new day for environmentalists. His election brings an end to eight years of unrelenting assaults on the environment."
"Our staff and members are ready to work with President-elect Obama and the new Congress to advance his 'New Energy for America Plan,' which includes creating five million clean technology jobs, putting a million hybrid cars on the road, and capping carbon emissions," said Beinecke.
Podesta was one of several members of the Obama's top leaders who appeared on Sunday TV talk shows across the broadcast band.
Today President-elect Obama and Michelle Obama are meeting with President George W. and Laura Bush at the White House.