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by Stephen Leahy

Bush Pushing Through Last Minute Changes to Air Quality Rules

(IPS) -- As the world community meets in Poland this week to find solutions to the climate crisis, the Bush White House is chaining the United States' tiller to prevent a change of course by President-elect Barack Obama by passing new anti-environmental rules and regulations at a furious pace.

Nearly a million hectares of public wildlands in Wyoming and Utah are being opened up to oil shale extraction, the Endangered Species Act is being gutted, as are regulations regarding factory farm operations, the Clean Air Act, and removing mountaintops to dig for coal and more, said a coalition of environmental groups.

"There are many last-minute changes and some are draconian," said Josh Dorner of the Sierra Club, an environmental NGO.

The White House can make such changes arbitrarily without approval or consultation with Congress, the Senate or the public. Known as "midnight regulations," more than 60 were passed in November with the intent of tying the hands of the Obama administration.

Some of these will be difficult to reverse, but many of the worst ones will almost certainly be overturned by Obama, Dorner told IPS.

"The Bush administration [officials] are not as clever as they think they are," he said.

There will be an entirely new atmosphere in the White House in 2009, says a coalition of 29 leading environmental and conservation groups. They met with the Obama transition team last week and presented a 345-page "roadmap for presidential action on economic stimulus, energy, climate change, and other pressing environmental issues."

"The new administration's priorities on energy, the economy, and the environment jibe well with our roadmap," said Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America.

President-elect Obama has said he wants to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them by an additional 80 percent by 2050. Most environmental groups favor tougher targets, originally recommended by 2,000-plus scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which would see the U.S. reduce its emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 by the year 2020.

However, there is broad agreement that the solution to the country's current economic crisis is to rapidly move towards a green economy powered by clean energy, said Frances Beinecke, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"We can solve three problems at once -- the economy, energy security and the environment," Beinecke told IPS.

Five million new jobs can be created with investments in energy efficiency and renewable power generation. Introducing a carbon cap-and-trade system will generate the funds for investments in energy efficiency retrofits of buildings and clean energy sources like wind and solar, she said.

The Obama administration is working on an economic stimulus package that is rumored to exceed $500 billion, and environmentalists expect that there will be a big green component with massive investment in mass transit, improving the country's antiquated energy infrastructure and more, said Beinecke.

"Twenty-five percent of the energy generated in America is lost during transmission," noted Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"Building a smart electrical grid would be far more efficient and less prone to failure," Knobloch said. Moreover, a new gird is needed to maximise the benefits of alternative energy generation. Building a smart grid would create quality jobs that can't be outsourced, he said.

"The best thing the government could do for people is to lower their energy use so they will save money in this economic downturn," said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

"[Otherwise] higher energy costs will return," Schweiger told IPS.

After eight years of neglect and exploitation, the United States' lands and waters -- and especially the Arctic -- are in need of enhanced protection. The coalition has proposed a 450-million-dollar Land and Conservation Fund to protect wilderness, create more parks and enhance recreational opportunities, he said.

"Nature needs help to adjust to climate change," Schweiger stressed.

Restoring and enhancing the health and diversity of natural landscapes and creating corridors for species to move as conditions change are crucial to protect the nation's natural capital. Water conservation and measures to protect the Arctic are urgently needed, he said.

The coalition wants the leasing of oil and gas drilling permits in Arctic waters to be suspended immediately and a new precautionary approach taken for any industrial activity in the region, which is being hit first and hardest by climate change.

"We're confident that a new Obama administration will take us in the right direction," said Dorner of the Sierra Club. "Now is the time for change, and that change is the green economy."

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Albion Monitor   December 5, 2008   (

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