I think we’re all still riding the high of the Obama election and holding our breath until he gets into office (and at least for the first 100 days after that). In the midst of this rollercoaster of emotions, it’s easy to want to forget about ol’ Bushy and his scary environmentally destructive policies. The bad news is he’s still in power and still doing damage.
He’s set to push through some 11th hour rulings that don’t bode well for the planet. Some of the biggest dirty dealings involve mountaintop removal coal mining, handing out wilderness areas to the oil and gas companies for drilling, and eased emissions limits for coal and chemical plants. It’s scary stuff.
On November 4th, while most of the American public’s attention focused elsewhere, the current administration was working on another gift to Big Oil. Bush’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a plan to lease huge swaths of public land—over 6.4 million acres—to oil and gas drilling companies. Much of the area is in pristine Eastern Utah wilderness adjacent to or near national monuments and parks, like Arches and Canyonlands, as well as vibrant towns like Moab.
The auction on the tracts starts on December 19. “Once you get rid of wilderness, you can’t get it back,” notes Bobby McEnaney of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). It’s not just the lands that are at risk; many fear that drilling will damage air quality. The BLM has since, in response to massive criticism, removed some controversial areas from the plan, but the vast majority remains on the block.
“The BLM didn’t just try to slip the audacious Utah lease maneuver past the American people on an historic election day,” railed actor and activist Robert Redford. “It actually hid the ball from its sister agency, the National Park Service (NPS), and then rejected the Service’s request for more time to review the scheme.” Michael Snyder, a regional director at the NPS, which is normally given three months to respond to such leases, said, “This is the first time where we have not had sufficient opportunity to comment.” The NRDC’s McEnaney bluntly sized up the maneuver: “They’re destroying the whole process that is designed to protect these lands.”