“Failure to respond is a form of appeasement that has not worked in the past and it will not work this time.” – Bruce Babbitt
These words at the National Press Club yesterday, directed at the Obama administration’s lackluster public lands accomplishments, remind us of what environmental leadership looks like. SUWA Executive Director Scott Groene and I were fortunate enough to attend Mr. Babbitt’s speech. We found his words inspiring amidst the anti-environmental onslaught of this Congress and after two years of disappointment with the Obama Interior Department.
Bruce Babbitt served as Secretary of Interior for eight years under President Clinton, at a time no less contentious than the current administration’s – yet he got things done. Exhibit A: the designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, a feat he characterized yesterday as a widely acclaimed decision, despite the backlash it engendered at the time.
This goes to the core piece of the former Secretary’s message to Obama – face your adversaries and be proactive, don’t appease and don’t let them control the forum.
Too often, the Obama administration has favored appeasement over taking proactive steps to further a conservation agenda. They’ve defended the Bush administration’s bad decisions and done nothing to protect identified wilderness resources.
Acknowledging the anti-environmental bent of this Congress, Babbitt focused on National Monuments as a crucial tool that Obama can use to forward conservation.
There are numerous landscapes in Utah meriting Monument status. Two made their way to a list of potential designations last year – the San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa. SUWA has also forwarded the idea of protecting the Greater Canyonlands region, and recently we filed a petition with the Interior Secretary asking for closure of certain off-road vehicle routes that impact that area’s resources.
Without action and real leadership on public lands issues, the administration faces a real problem, as Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune pointed out to the L.A. Times: “Unless there’s a change in his policies, he will likely face very damp enthusiasm from young voters and a significant portion of the base that wants him to stand up to polluters.”
As always, we stand ready to work with the Obama administration to accomplish a lasting conservation agenda for Utah and stand up to bullies in Congress who would rather undermine protections or just see nothing happen. But, it takes leadership. Now, it’s Obama’s turn.