Environmental Groups Wait to See Definitive Action From Obama

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The abrupt resignation Saturday of White House "green jobs" adviser Van Jones has focused new attention on one of the Obama administration's top priorities: the environment.

While Jones was criticized as a left-wing zealot, the Obama team's record so far on the environment has been far from radical.

The White House's main effort has been to undo several Bush-era policies on climate control, air pollution and the regulation of roadless forests. Those actions, combined with court decisions that have struck down other rules, have given President Obama a relatively blank canvas on which to redraw U.S. environmental policy. But the administration has been cautious, leaving key issues in limbo and questions unanswered about the way it would balance environmentalism and the economy.

"The Bush administration's eight-year assault on the environment has built up a ton of demand, and that has led to tremendous opportunity -- that has yet to be seized," said Marty Hayden, a vice president at the environmental group Earthjustice.

This week, the Obama administration will have to do more, as it faces a deadline to flesh out a promise on the Chesapeake Bay.

In May, Obama ordered an overhaul for the faltering cleanup of the estuary, which remains heavily polluted 25 years after federal and state governments first pledged to save it. On Wednesday, federal agencies will announce the first drafts of their plans to do so.

Environmentalists say it will be a crucial test: How will the Environmental Protection Agency deal with pollution from farms, septic tanks and suburban lawn fertilizer? All send downstream pollution that causes "dead zones" in the Chesapeake.

But to clamp down on them -- imposing new pollution rules on farms, or vetoing new suburbs -- would mean kicking political beehives.

"What the bay has got to hear, what the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has got to hear, is that the EPA is ready to take definitive, direct action," said William C. Baker, president of the nonprofit foundation. "They've got to show us right away that they're willing to do something different."

On the campaign trail, Obama made more than 50 environmental promises, according to the watchdog site Politifact.com, as big as capping U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and as small as providing new habitat for the Osceola turkey.

Obama's administration has pleased environmental groups by spending economic stimulus money on loans for clean-energy companies and by promising to cut greenhouse gases from automobiles.

It has also sought to reverse Bush administration changes to the 2001 rule protecting "roadless" forest areas and reconsidered rules limiting pollution from cement plants.

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