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Environmental Groups Wait to See Definitive Action From Obama

"There's a certain thing about the continuity of government," which these moves do not respect, said Jeffrey Holmstead, an EPA official under President George W. Bush who is now with the lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani. He said the new administration's moves are "fundamentally inconsistent with the rule of law."

When Obama administration officials talk about the strategy they will use to write new policies, they do not talk details. Nancy Sutley, who chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the administration's legacy would be: "We made smart decisions based on science, based on the law, based on open and transparent processes."

One of the examples of translating these ideas into new policy has been on mountaintop coal mining, also called mountaintop removal. In March, the administration said it would reexamine dozens of pending permits for this type of mine, in which Appalachian peaks are blasted off to reach coal underneath.

Environmentalists, who said the Bush administration was too lenient with the mines, rejoiced. But weeks later, the federal government reported that 42 of the 48 permits it had examined were within the limits of environmental laws.

"We got cold-cocked," said Rob Perks of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He and other environmentalists are expecting another announcement this week, about the fate of dozens more permits. "That is really a bellwether. What happens with these . . . permits is what's going to tell if the administration is going to really change."

An even more complicated test awaits this fall, on the subject Jones had focused on: climate change and energy.

The administration, following a campaign promise, is pushing for a bill that would limit U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, using a system of tradable pollution credits.

Battle lines are being drawn, and activists on both sides say the administration will have to make choices.

In the climate debate, said Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association, "you will be able to see how they view the relative importance of both. And you cannot have both."

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