On Tuesday January 20 a crowd of nearly 1.8 million people assembled on the Washington Mall for the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. Because I live on Capitol Hill my home was chock full of relatives in the days before the inauguration. On the night before the inauguration we had ten people staying with us, including relatives from as far away as Nigeria who had come to witness the transfer of power to President Obama.
On the morning of the inauguration my family went to the Mall, but I headed to Baltimore to appear on NPR’s local public radio station (WYPR) for an interview about the Bush administration’s midnight regulations. I had discussed this issue on the program Maryland Morning with Sheila Kast in November and was invited back to provide an update. In my November interview I had warned that the Bush administration action that would be most difficult to undo would be the leasing of public land for oil drilling near national parks in Utah. I had not anticipated the unique strategy of University of Utah student Tim DeChristopher who appeared at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction on December 19. De Christopher, who had come to the auction as a protester, outbid prospective drillers for 12 parcels totaling 22,000 acres in order to be able to protect the land. After protesting outside the place where the auction was taking place, he wandered inside and was offered a bidding paddle after only showing his driver’s license. After word spread that DeChristopher might be prosecuted for bidding on leases he could not afford, he subsequently raised $45,000 in donations to help pay for the leases. See his website at: http://www.bidder70.org. As I noted during the interview, the issue may become moot because the leases the BLM tried to award were blocked by a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., shortly before they would have been consummated. The judge issued a preliminary injunction in response to a lawsuit claiming that inadequate environmental reviews had been conducted prior to the auction.
In addition to discussing last minute regulations the Bush administration issued, I talked about the approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) of a liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal and pipeline in Maryland despite the opposition of virtually all state and local officials. I noted this decision would be harder to undo given FERC’s status as an independent regulatory agency and the 4-1 commission vote. My interview can be heard online at: http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wypr/local-wypr-796008.mp3
On Thursday the Pew Research Center for People and the Press released new poll results finding that the environment had fallen to 16th among a list of the public’s “top priorities” for 2009. As economic concerns surged to the forefront, only 41 percent cited it this year, compared to 56 percent last year. The survey results can be viewed online at: http://people-press.org/report/485/economy-top-policy-priority. Yet it was refreshing that President Obama’s Inaugural Address made several direct references to environmental concerns. Obama noted that “each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.” He pledged to “restore science to its rightful place” and promised to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” Global warming also was referenced as he pledged to “work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.”
In words that echoed President Kennedy’s Inaugural promise to aid developing countries, Obama told the world: “To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”