Whilst the world’s focus is on what the new Obama Presidency will do to combat climate change or energy security, old President Bush is making sure he makes the problem as bad as possible. And he is still handing out favours to his friends.
Whereas Obama is talking about $150 billion to be ploughed into renewable technologies, the Bush administration has quietly issued new regulations to please their buddies in the oil industry. The Administration has given the approval to develop oil shale deposits straddling almost two million acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
Critics of oil shale development claim Bush is fast-tracking a programme without public consultation that will devastate the environment whilst emitting vast amounts of greenhouse gases. At the same time the new rules would also waive royalties for oil companies under certain circumstances.
“The Bush administration is maintaining an unlawful position by amending these resource management plans without providing the public with an opportunity to have their decisions administratively appealed,” argues Melissa Thrailkill, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Bush administration has until this Thursday to issue regulations, after that the “Congressional Review Act,” which gives lawmakers a 60-day window to repeal new rules from old Administrations, would mean that the new Obama Adminstration could easily repeal the law.
It is not the first time this month that Bush has helped his old buddies from the oil industry. The Bureau of Land Management has also expanded its oil and gas lease program in eastern Utah to include tens of thousands of acres on or near the boundaries of three national parks.
But this poses other problems for the new Obama administration. Do they initially focus on radical plans on climate and energy, or first do they undo many of Bush’s bad laws and regulations.
Margaret Williams is the Managing Director of World Wildlife Fund’s Kamchatka-Bering Sea Ecoregion Program in Alaska, which is working on an international conservation strategy for this region. She has witnessed first hand the Bush administration’s flawed policies that favour the oil industry.
She argues: “those of us who care deeply about Alaska’s offshore waters — encompassing some of the cleanest and most biologically productive seas on earth — are hopeful that the Obama administration and the new Congress will act decisively to reverse many decisions of the Bush White House, which moved recklessly to drill off Alaska’s coast, with little concern for the environment. Today, few Americans are aware that, during the past eight years, the Bush administration has quietly opened a vast swath of offshore Alaska — an area more than twice the size of New York state — to drilling.”
Williams acknowledges that “While some of the Bush administration’s decisions can be undone with the stroke of Barack Obama’s pen, others cannot. A concerted effort must now be launched — in the Congress, the Interior Department, and in the courts — to rein in the oil and gas leasing, exploration, and development that gathered significant momentum in the U.S. Arctic since 2000.”
So whether it be in the wilds of Alaska or in the wilds of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, the Bush Administration has put in place policies that will scar the landscape, possibly forever. It is imperative that the new Obama Administration is not only bold with its new rules and policies but is also bold and radical in getting rid of the worst of the Bush years. One cannot happen without the other.