Former Interior secretary calls out Obama on the environment

Bruce Babbit knows all about the difficulty of confronting entrenched anti-environmental interests, but Obama’s capitulation seems to go beyond “bad negotiating”.  The White House has made a conscious decision to sell-out America’s environmental heritage to placate the House of Representatives.  Babbit has had enough:

Former Interior secretary calls out Obama on the environmentL.A. Times

It’s rare for a political figure of Babbitt’s stature to publicly reproach a sitting president of his own party. But Obama has faced blunt criticism from old allies on a range of issues after compromising with Republicans who control the House.

Babbitt is giving voice to disappointment among many environmental advocates. Since the midterm elections, the administration has delayed or weakened several regulations bitterly opposed by congressional Republicans and business lobbyists, and given credence to the GOP contention that regulations — especially environmental ones — stifle growth.

More recently, Babbitt said, the administration has acquiesced to riders that conservatives placed on the interim budget, including one that took the gray wolf off the endangered species list in several states and another that gutted a program meant to reduce overfishing.

Bruce Babbit went on to give the following speech to the National Press Club about this very issue today:

Congress has declared war on the environmentThe Hill, 6/8/11

It is now more than ten years since I left public office. I am returning to the public stage today because I believe that this Congress, in its assaults on our environment, has embarked on the most radical course in our history. Congress, led by the House of Representatives, has declared war on our land, water and natural resources. And it is time for those of us who support our conservation tradition to raise our voices on behalf of the American people.

[Text of the whole speech …]
One can readily, albeit cynically, understand why the Obama Administration caves on the environment every time.  From a strictly narrow perspective devoid of any principle other than maintenance of political power, it makes sense.

Bedrock environmental laws that were politically untouchable under even the Bush Administration’s anti-environmental reign emboldened by a Republican majority in Congress are being actively assaulted right now .  The legislative delisting of wolves took place because national Democrats sought to throw a western Democrat a political bone to maintain his seat in the Senate, presumably with the hopes of bolstering chances at maintaining a Democratic majority.  The EPA is under assault, Western industry groups are circling the wagons to cut public interest environmental advocates out of Equal Access to Justice, a prospect which would have the effect of radically curtailing citizen enforcement of most environmental law, the extinction crisis continues,  even Obama’s tepid attempt at throwing environmentalists some crumbs with the ‘Wild lands’ order has been revoked after western politicos cut its funding … etc. etc. etc.

Unfortunately, the reality is that there’s no real political consequence.  Take for example Senator Jon Tester’s recent rider overturning a federal court to delist wolves in Idaho and Montana.  Merely weeks after this precedent-setting assault of the Endangered Species Act *sponsored by a western Democrat, the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund sent out an e-mail notification of a fundraising event that the group held on Jon Tester’s behalf yesterday:

Please join

League of Conservation Voters Action Fund and
Thomas Barron ~ Kimo Campbell ~
Tylynn Gordon ~ Rampa R. Hormel ~ Gene Karpinski ~
Theresa Keaveny ~ Michael Kieschnick ~ Bill Meadows ~
Scott A. Nathan ~ Larry Rockefeller ~ Kathleen Welch
(host committee in formation)

For a reception in support of

Hon. Martin Heinrich (NM)
Hon. Jon Tester (MT)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

5:30 – 6:30 p.m.

Union Station
Columbus Court
Washington, DC

Hosts: $1,000 (per person)
Guests: $100+


Join The League of Conservation Voters and Bill Meadows, the President of The Wilderness Society, in financially rewarding Jon Tester for his environmental credentials !?!  Right …  In case you missed that on the attachment, the contact information for this event is Jennifer Milley at LCV AF/202.454.4568 or

Ughh … Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about playing this politics game, but perhaps it’s time to realize that nothing will change until greens mount some primary challenges and start building for the future by weighing in on the local races heavily.



, ,



  1. malencid Avatar

    Obama has set environmental standards back to the 1990’s Republican party. They, in turn, just ratchet down to a lower level of standards. If and when Obama takes thier mantle, the environment will be in an even steeper death sprial than we have today.

  2. Daniel Berg Avatar
    Daniel Berg

    I’m glad Babbit decided to call out the tin man.

  3. CodyCoyote Avatar

    Obama : bad on environment and natural/unnatural resources.

    GOP : much much worse…on everything.

    We have no good choices here. Time for a Green Party USA , if it is built with modules from progressive populism and even a little socialism for a single payer public option health system.

    Obama might’ve made a good President if he’d been handed a clean slate and no baggage , minus a war or two. With the exception of Colorado and SalaCzar, he doesn’t even know the American West exists till you reach downtown L.A. from Chicago on a nonstop flyover.

    1. Dude, the bagman Avatar
      Dude, the bagman

      I won’t vote for him again. I didn’t really hold out the same type of “hope” some of his true believers preached, but I’ve still been quite disappointed. Honestly, although I think McCain/Palin would have been worse (warmongering and drill, baby, drill), I’m not sure we’re really that much better off long-term than we would have been (other than perhaps stacking the Supreme Court with even more conservatives).

      Is it better to let some explicitly pro-corporate-profit-at-the-expense-of-everything-else maniac into office, or someone who talks out both sides of his mouth and whose inaction belies whatever dogshit he promises? Both seem to lead to the same result, albeit at a different pace.

      It’d be great if the electorate would realize this and maybe move toward a coalition-type government.

    2. JimT Avatar

      Agreed. We need to find a way to emulate the Tea Party success in capturing a major party with our own agenda. I am not sure he knows there is a wild America west of Chicago, and that is troubling in a lot of ways.

  4. wolfsong Avatar

    Statement on the NY Times website on the same thing –

    “House Republicans, including Representative Doc Hastings of Washington, the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, and Rob Bishop of Utah, contend that they are trying to protect the balance of state and federal authority and to make the best use of public lands and waters, whether for mining, logging, oil and gas exploration or recreation.”

    Notice that THEY don’t mention PROTECTING these lands or the wildlife, just using them to fulfill the big boys needs.

    Link to the article:

  5. Brian Ertz Avatar

    The important thing to note is the tendency of national politicians -i.e. Obama, Tester, and even those in the House to placate lower levels of government – regional, state, county, etc.

    Right now, the WRONG people hold lower level political positions from county commissions to state houses.

    I think it’s important that folk that care about the environment start at this lower level – both from a direct lobbying position, but also with respect to identifying and electing – or politically punishing – wildlife friendly candidates that are willing to meet and write requests with their associates at higher levels.

    Politicians need to learn the RIGHT lessons early on in their careers – they need to learn that they will have constituencies of people that will make or break their ascendency and we need to be cultivating young candidates at lower levels both to prepare a crop for higher runs – but also to pass policy at the county, state, and local levels and break the bipartisan line of thinking that would place environmental issues as a political liability.

    We do this by organizing at the lower levels and caucusing at lower levels with state and county parties. at this level, it doesn’t take a whole lot of people who – if willing to show up at party meetings and votes – can really swing positions.

    If/when the parties hold to their avoidance or hostility toward environmental issues – then we need to find and contribute to candidates that are willing to contest them in primaries. At this lower levels – small contributions make a big difference, and the ability to organize relatively smaller groups of people behind these issues makes that much more a difference —

    of course, the message needs to be clear: if we support you at this level, we WILL expect you to introduce pro-wildlife policy at whatever level you hold, we will expect you to kill anti-wildlife policy at whatever level you hold, and we will expect you to use your influence and letter-head to actively advocate up the chain of power with your associates in your party.

    For our part, on my private time – in Idaho – we have begun organizing an environmental caucus for the state – a group of people willing to educate those that hold political position, show up at party gatherings with friends to caucus and vote on wildlife issues, and seek out candidacies for local political positions to run against those that are silent or adversarial in the events that there is a need.

    1. Dude, the bagman Avatar
      Dude, the bagman

      That’s about all we can do in Idaho. None of my votes ever count for anything at more than the county level.

    2. william huard Avatar
      william huard

      Obama could go along way to restoring his credibility on the environment by firing Salazar….. now…….

    3. Daniel Berg Avatar
      Daniel Berg

      The question is: How do you get a younger, competent crop of people interested in politics who are willing to build the momentum necessary to eventually take office?

      I’ve sat around and had those conversations with friends where the question, “Would you ever run for public office?” comes up. I have specifically asked a couple of guys who I’m convinced would be effective in politics and are electible. Of all the friends I’ve even casually asked that question to, none have ever said they would definitely run for any kind of office. A couple said they would help organize for someone if the opportunity came up, but that’s as far as it went.

      There is a perception that I hold, and I know many other younger people hold that you have to sell your soul to be a politician in this day and age; that there is no way around that, no matter how much of yourself you sacrifice in an effort to change things.

      In today’s political atmosphere, there is nothing inspiring to grab onto. How do you get talented individuals who have great career prospects in other areas to forego or shelf those prospects for public office?

      1. Brian Ertz Avatar

        I think that the first step is engendering an ease of participation. I think that involves organizing like-minded individuals and showing them how to access and engage the people that already exist.

        If we can get people to see – at lower levels in the community/county/state-district – that there is a problem – a significant shortfall, then i think a crop of individuals are more likely to step up.

        One of the chief problems are that there are so many advocacy groups out there that pretend to be the solution but aren’t really doing anything to agitate the problems. It’s much easier to send $50 and join a group that claims to be talking to local representatives then it is to get together over drinks and commit to one another to make an appointment and walk in and speak face to face with a state representative, wildlife commission rep or county commissioner.

        we need to be organizing people that are willing to make the appointment and meet face to face – and then keep track of the follow-through.

      2. jdubya Avatar

        As a person who briefly dallied with this, I can say that the most obvious issue is time. It is easy to run for office if you have a trust fund in the bank that allows you to make running for office a full time job. But when you already have the day job, running for congress or even state offices is very very difficult. Look at how many retired civil servants make up local legislatures.

        So many Senators and even Representatives come into the job with a hefty bank account a lots of rich friends. It is hard to effectively compete if you don’t.

  6. Kayla Avatar

    Good For Babbit!!! Now personally I have always like him.
    There are just too many in the political world which
    would give everything away to the Military Industrial

  7. Virginia Avatar

    We have an interesting situation here in Wyoming. where the BLM is in the process of proposing a plan to manage public lands across the Big Horn Basin. The county commissioners from three of the affected counties hired Ecosystems Research Group of Missoula to study and present portions of the BLM’s new plan. Even the BLM representative, along with other interested parties, stated that “the presentation (given by Ecosystems) “lacked balance when stating certain aspects of the agency’s plan,” and “cherry-picked certain facts while ignoring others…particularly when it relates to recreation.”

    Our taxpayer money was used to hire a group to prepare a slanted and biased report in order to influence people’s opinions of the proposed BLM plan. I believe that people are and should be outraged at this disgusting attempt to misinform the public.

    One Big Horn county commissioner called the plan a “war on the west.” I keep wondering how we got to this situation where the loudest, most ignorant voices are the only voices heard.

  8. Mike Avatar

    Good stuff from Babbit. We need a “voice” with connections to start telling the truth about Obama’s miserable record on conservation.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Brian Ertz