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Environmentalists send their wish list to Obama

Twenty-eight green groups compile 359 pages of suggestions, hoping for a green revival post-Bush.

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EPA officials say Superfund has not been crippled. Significant cleanup is occurring and the agency remains “committed to the principle of ‘polluter pays’ and holding private parties responsible for cleanup costs,” says Latisha Petteway, an EPA spokeswoman, via e-mail.

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EPA collected $1.9 billion from companies to pay for cleanups this past fiscal year, and the program is “making significant progress in all aspects of site cleanup, exceeding its goals,” Ms. Petteway writes.

Regarding TRI reporting requirements, she writes, “No facilities were relieved of reporting responsibilities under the rule and no chemicals were removed from the list for which reporting is required.”
Pulling back on the full-blown exploration for oil and gas on public lands with wilderness characteristics is another critical goal of environmentalists. Many of these lands are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is charged with balancing uses among outdoor activities and development.

In Utah, for example, some 276,000 acres of public lands will be leased at a Dec. 19 auction for oil and gas exploration. Among them are tens of thousands of acres of some of the nation’s wildest lands, including parcels near the rugged Desolation Canyon and White River areas. In Colorado, already-leased land atop the Roan Plateau, a biologically significant area largely unaffected by nearby development, could see new oil and gas development any day.

“All the lands on the Roan have been leased, but not yet drilled,” says Steve Smith, assistant regional director for the Wilderness Society, who recalls some truly silent nights camping atop the plateau.

“But so long as there’s no physical damage, there’s still an opportunity to keep this wild land wild. But as soon as the drilling rigs get in, there’s no return.”

But the Roan is hardly pristine; it has miles of roads, says a BLM spokesman in Colorado. Meanwhile, in Utah, where the National Park Service initially protested it had not been given time to comment on leasing key parcels, the BLM denies that leases are now being accelerated to get the land leased before Obama takes office.

“We have a mandate to offer leases on a quarterly basis in response to industry demand,” says Terry Catlin, energy team leader in BLM’s Utah region office.

In the end, 24 of the 93 “parcels of concern” (84,000 of the 139,000 acres) cited by the Park Service were removed from the lease auction, according to a report by “Land Letter,” an environment newsletter.

To green advocates, the bottom line is that an across-the-board reevaluation and shift in federal activities and priorities is desperately needed to save the environment. Obama may be listening.

“We’ve already had feedback from the Obama transition team saying the report we did was extremely helpful to them,” Mr. Barry says.