Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495
Center for Biological Diversity Report Card Gives Obama Administration a “C” on Endangered Species, Climate, Energy, Public Lands and Oceans During First Year in Office
WASHINGTON DC—The Center for Biological Diversity today gave the Obama administration a grade of “C” for its handling of endangered species, climate, energy, public lands and oceans during its first year in office. While the Obama administration has not shown the ideological opposition to environmental protection of the previous administration and has taken a number of positive steps, the administration has fallen far short of delivering the promised “change” in overall environmental policies. Among the positives are issuing a finding under the Clean Air Act that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare and reinstating protection for millions of acres of roadless lands, while negatives include reducing protections for wolves and other endangered species and pursuing offshore oil development in polar bear habitat off Alaska.
“The Obama administration has begun to steer the ship in the right direction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “But has failed to provide the strong leadership to get us on the course we need to be to address the pressing problems of species extinction and global warming.”
On endangered species, the Center gave the administration a solid C, as for every positive action there seemed to be a negative action of equal scope. For example, the Obama administration rescinded regulations passed in the final days of the Bush administration that would have gutted enforcement of key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, but retained a rule weakening protection for the polar bear. The Obama administration also moved forward with a Bush initiative to remove protections for the gray wolf, and has only listed two new species as endangered, which is the fewest protected in the first year of any administration since the Reagan administration.
“The Obama administration has not prioritized protection of the nation’s endangered species, meriting their grade of a C,” said Greenwald. “After the dark days of the Bush administration, wholesale reform of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species program was needed and this has simply not occurred.”
On climate and energy, the Center gave the administration a C-. The administration has taken some very important positive steps, including issuing a seminal finding under the Clean Air Act that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, which sets the stage for greenhouse reductions under several of the Clean Air Act’s successful pollution reduction programs. The administration also included millions of dollars of tax credits and subsidies for improving energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in the stimulus bill. However, the administration failed to advance the greenhouse emissions reduction targets that scientists believe are necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming either in the legislation being considered by Congress or at the international climate talks in Copenhagen last December. The administration has also continued to grant permits and leases for fossil fuel exploration and extraction, including mountain top removal in Appalachia, off-shore oil drilling off of Alaska, and expansion of coal mining in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.
“We need bold, swift action to avert the climate crisis,” said Greenwald. “To date, the Obama administration has not delivered the leadership we need.”
The administration has done somewhat better on management of the nation’s public lands, where it received a B+ based on reinstatement of a Clinton era rule protecting millions of acres of roadless lands and withdrawal of the Bush era Western Oregon Plan Revision (“WOPR”), which would have allowed logging of tens of thousands of acres of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. At the same time the administration allowed logging of roadless areas in Alaska to proceed.
On oceans, the administration received a B- based on its acknowledgment that ocean acidification is a serious threat and initiation of a process for determining how to address the problem. However, the administration has also allowed oil drilling off Alaska and has weakened protection for endangered sea turtles from long-line fisheries near Hawaii.
“The administration has taken positive steps to address a number of severe environmental problems,” said Greenwald. “We hope in the next few years, however, that the administration will lead us towards the real change for which the American public voted.”