Obama's 2009 Conservation Record

I generally try not to steal shamelessly from other sources, but it is hard to create a better summary than this one created by the Conservation Maven about Obama’s successes and shortcomings regarding the environment.  It is great to see Obama’s support rebounding after the Health Care victory, but I think we often miss the small steps he has been making along the way to bring our country back into balance after 8 years of GWB.

Grading Obama on conservation: a review of 2009 policy accomplishments

Jan 6, 2010

When Obama and the Democrats won big in 2008, the conservation movement emerged from the dark ages of the Bush Era with high hopes for a policy renaissance. Now that 2009 has passed, we consult with 6 leading conservation groups about their view of the past year. Each organization gave us input on what they saw as 2009 policy achievements and shortcomings. We conclude that 2009 has been a huge comeback year, but more progress is needed.

Our sources:
Center for Biological Diversity
– Advocacy organization that works through science, law, and creative media to ensure a future for all species hovering on the brink of extinction.
Land Trust Alliance
– National conservation organization representing 1,700+ land trusts across U.S.
Society for Conservation Biology
– International professional organization representing 10,000 members worldwide involved in the study and conservation of biodiversity.
The Wildlife Society – International scientific and educational association representing 9,100 members including wildlife professionals, students, and educators.
The Natural Resources Defense Council – International advocacy organization working to protect wildlife and wild places and to ensure a healthy environment.
The Wilderness Society – Advocacy organization dedicated towards protecting America’s wilderness.

2009 Conservation Policy Achievements

1. EPA finds that 6 key greenhouse gasses threaten the welfare of current and future generations

In December, the EPA finally implemented the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA setting the stage for taking substantial action to address global warming. The EPA issued a finding that current and projected concentrations of six key greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)—in the atmosphere threaten the health and welfare of current and future generations.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Society for Conservation Biology

2. The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009

Possibly the most important wilderness preservation bill in a generation permanently protects more than 2 million acres of wilderness on public lands in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia. The bill also makes permanent the National Landscape Conservation System which comprises 26 million acres of lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

Source: The Wilderness Society

3. 2010 Federal budget – big increases for conservation programs and agencies

The 2010 budget gives a 16.8% increase in funding (or $4.8 billion more) for the Department of Interior and US Fish and Wildlife Service boosting the resources for extremely underfunded conservation agencies. The Congress also fully funded the USDA’s Farmland Protection Program and the Grasslands Reserve Program and increased funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund by 82%.

Source: Land Trust Alliance, The Wilderness Society

4. Roadless rule for national forests restored

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack approved litigation decisions that will help to restore and defend the nationwide Roadless Rule which protects large roadless areas within National Forests. Obama issued an interim decision stopping local forest supervisors from approving future development on roadless forests without Vilsack’s approval.

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society

5.  Departments repeal Bush-era Endangered Species Act self-consultation rule

Congress authorized the Department of Interior and the Commerce Department to repeal the Bush Era rule making it optional for federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether an action is likely to adversely affect listed species.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Society for Conservation Biology, The Wildlife Society

6. Recovery Act investment in ecosystems and green economy

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, approved by Congress in early 2009, provides $50 billion for cleaner U.S. energy, greater energy efficiency, and domestic sources of renewable energy. The bill also provides several billion dollars towards numerous conservation programs (land management agencies, ecosystem restoration, watershed protection, research, etc).

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council, Society for Conservation Biology, The Wilderness Society

7.  Executive order setting sustainability goals for federal agencies

President Obama issued an executive order in October setting sustainability goals for federal agencies. The order requires them to set a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target; increase energy efficiency; reduce fleet petroleum consumption; conserve water; reduce waste; support sustainable communities; and leverage federal purchasing power to promote environmentally responsible products and technologies.

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council, Society for Conservation Biology

8. Department of Interior launches strategy to fight climate change

Secretary Salazar signed an order launching a department-wide strategy to fight the impacts of climate change on our nation’s fish, wildlife, water, land and cultural and natural resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a proposed strategic plan to guide the agency in protecting fish and wildlife on public lands.

Source: The Wilderness Society, The Wildlife Society

9. Bureau of Land Management halts oil and gas drilling

A BLM report investigated 77 oil & gas leases in Utah and resulted in recommendations to slow the leasing permitting decision process, reduce the number of parcels, and more carefully consider how environmental quality will be affected by extraction on each future proposed site.

Source: The Wilderness Society, The Wildlife Society, Society for Conservation Biology

10. Increased protections for spotted owls

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced their intention to revise the 2008 Spotted Owl Recovery Plan, while the Department of Interior withdrew the flawed Western Oregon Plan Revisions, which would have intensified logging in Western Oregon and potentially threaten efforts to conserve the endangered northern spotted owl, as well as the 2008 spotted owl critical habitat revision.

Source: The Wildlife Society, Society for Conservation Biology

11. The Chesapeake Bay Executive Order

In May, President Obama issued an executive order committing federal agencies to work together to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.  It is the first-ever presidential directive on the Bay and has created momentum for cleanup at the state level and in Congress.

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council

12. Presidential Memorandum calling for national oceans policy

President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum in June 2009 calling for the development of a national oceans policy that ensures the protection, maintenance, and restoration of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and the creation of a marine spatial planning framework to help implement that policy. He also established an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force.

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council

13. Numerous measures addressing air pollution

Indirectly related to conservation, the Obama administration has implemented a number of measures to curb air polluation from vehicles, boats, and industrial sources. Obama announced the first-ever joint fuel economy/greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and trucks.  In June, the EPA also granted California its long awaited waiver, which allows the state to implement its Clean Car standards. The EPA agreed to adopt rules reducing toxic air pollution from the nation’s coal- and oil-burning power plants by November 2011. The EPA also adopted rules to reduce smog and soot emissions from large ships by 2015.

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council

2009 Conservation Policy Shortcomings

1. Not applying the Endangered Species Act to protect polar bears and the Arctic ecosystem

In May, the Obama administration decided to retain a wildlife rule issued at the end of the Bush administration that says the government cannot invoke the Endangered Species Act to restrict emissions of greenhouse gases threatening the polar bear and its habitat. Numerous groups are challenging the Bush/Obama polar bear rule in court.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity

2. Slowness on listing imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act

With 249 species on the Fish and Wildlife Service candidate list, the Obama administration has listed only two species since it took office despite more money from Congress to expedite the listing process.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity

3. House passes weak climate bill

In late June, the House passed a climate bill that has compromised important provisions of the Clean Air Act and given away fossil fuel drilling rights to assure passage. Worse, the greenhouse pollutant reduction standards are a fraction of what scientists are telling us needs to be done: while the House bill seeks 17% cuts from 2005 levels by 2020, the scientific standard is at least 45% cuts from 2005 levels by 2020.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity, Society for Conservation Biology

4. Mountain top mining projects continue

The Obama administration approved 42 mountain top mining projects last spring. On the positive side, the EPA has blocked some mountain top mining projects due to water quality concerns.

5. Expiration of tax incentives for donations of conservation easements

Congress let the enhanced tax incentive for donations of conservation easements expire on December 31, 2009. The good news is that 265 representatives have cosponsored a bill (HR 1831) to make the enhanced tax incentive for donations of conservation easements permanent.  The incentive has enabled land trusts to increase the acreage they protected by allowing landowners to get tax benefits for donating development rights to protect their lands from future development.

Source: Land Trust Alliance

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