Thursday, January 21, 2010

Grading Obama on Conservation

President Barack Obama listens to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar during an Oval Office meeting on the regulation of mountaintop mining, June 9, 2009. / White House Photo

Now that President Obama has been in office for a year, it is possible to get a better sense of his administration's priorities and how much it has accomplished so far. At this point, any evaluation of the administration will be at best incomplete, especially given the absurdly large number of unfilled appointments. The Center for Biological Diversity looks at Obama's record on conservation issues and gives him a C overall.

Here is how he does on endangered species conservation. On the plus side:
  • He undid regulations implemented late in the Bush administration to weaken the Endangered Species Act.
  • His Interior Department increased the critical habitat for several endangered or threatened species such as the Canadian lynx and leatherback sea turtle.
  • His administration has protected only two new species , despite a large backlog of candidate species, the fewest since Reagan.
  • He removed protection from gray wolves.
  • He allowed regulations from late in the Bush administration to weaken ESA protection for polar bears.
  • He is continuing policies left over from the Bush administration for managing Snake River salmon.
The administration does a lot better on public lands protection than other issues, but even on that its record is not stellar. The CBD report covers endangered species, public lands, oceans, climate, and energy. One could probably find other issues that ought to be part of such an evaluation; for example, I do not see anything specifically on air or water pollution or environmental justice issues. Granted these are probably outside the CBD's mission, but they are part of the administration's environmental record. The major public lands act that Obama signed into law also seems to be omitted even though it may be the most significant achievement so far.