Colorado environmentalists cheer Obama’s presidency |

Colorado environmentalists cheer Obama’s presidency

DENVER, Colorado ” Colorado environmentalists are applauding the inauguration of President Barack Obama, hoping he’ll reverse what they see as the wrongs of his predecessor.

More than 50 members of environmental groups gathered at a downtown Denver restaurant to watch the swearing-in ceremony and inaugural speech on big-screen TVs Tuesday.

They clapped and said “Yeah!” when Obama talked about “restoring science to its rightful place.” There were nods when he said the ways the country uses energy “strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”

Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said she hopes the Obama administration changes what conservationists believe has been a practice of putting development ahead of all other uses of the West’s public lands.

Conservationists accused the Bush administration of listening only to industry voices on energy and environmental policies. They claimed the administration ignored concerns about air and water, wildlife and the West’s scenic open spaces as it pushed for more drilling to boost domestic energy production.

The Bush administration was scrutinized for decisions on climate change and endangered species that critics say were guided by politics rather than science.

“Bush has left a trail of devastation and pollution and scars we can only hope to repair in the next eight years,” Jones said.

Environmentalists are compiling a list of so-called “midnight regulations,” rules and decisions passed in the Bush administration’s final days, that they will work to rescind. High on the list are regulations for commercial oil shale development in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah and rules that environmentalists fear will curtail consideration of development’s effects on endangered and sensitive species.

Pam Kiely of Environment Colorado said she is encouraged by Obama’s appointments, including Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, who was confirmed by the Senate Tuesday to head the Interior Department.

“(Salazar) knows the West and understands the challenges that lie ahead of him,” Kiely said.

In the Senate, Salazar clashed with the Bush administration on oil shale development and natural gas drilling on western Colorado’s Roan Plateau. He has said there are too many questions about oil shale technology and the potential effects of widespread development.

“This inauguration represents a watershed moment for the West,” said Rich McClintock of the Sonoran Institute, a public policy organization. “I think the selection of Sen. Salazar as Interior secretary sends a clear signal that it’s time to look for new energy and economic opportunities and at the stewardship of our natural resources.”

Jones of the Colorado Environmental Coalition said she’s not concerned that expectations and hopes for the new administration are too high.

“I feel too often we don’t allow ourselves a few moments to celebrate ” and hope,” Jones said.

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