Thursday, May 26, 2016

Meet the advisers driving Obama's monuments agenda

With the flick of a pen, President Obama could secure permanent protections for millions more acres of the West. The Antiquities Act gives the president nearly limitless power to designate national monuments banning future mineral development, logging or road building on federal lands. While Obama used the act sparingly in his first term, he's now using it with gusto. He's protected roughly 4 million acres of land, putting him within reach of President Clinton's mark of 5.7 million acres preserved -- second only to President Carter's 56 million acres. Obama could protect much more in his final eight months in office. More than 6.5 million acres are in play, including ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in southeast Utah, old-growth ponderosa pine forests around the Grand Canyon and Mojave Desert lands surrounding Cliven Bundy's southern Nevada ranch. In deciding what to protect, Obama likely will turn to a small group of trusted advisers. There are obvious players such as Obama's senior adviser Brian Deese and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who are both close enough to the Oval Office to bend the president's ear. But much of the monuments legwork is delegated to high-level staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Interior. The president's national monuments team includes Christy Goldfuss, managing director at CEQ, and her associate director Michael Degnan, who spent a decade at conservation nonprofits advocating for public lands. At Interior, Jewell's Deputy Chief of Staff Nikki Buffa is playing a key role vetting lands for permanent protections. And at the Bureau of Land Management, Laurie Sedlmayr-Cumming, a part-time adviser to Director Neil Kornze, has an important behind-the-scenes part in Obama's monuments agenda. Bruce Babbitt, Clinton's Interior secretary, said Antiquities Act decisions depend in large part on who is in key offices. John Podesta, Obama's previous top environmental adviser, "was a monuments guy" and took personal ownership of the issue, Babbitt said. Monuments leadership is now more diffuse, he said. Conservationists feel they have a dream team at CEQ with Goldfuss, a former National Park Service official and public lands advocate for the Center for American Progress (a project of Podesta's), and Degnan, who maintains close ties to green groups. "The team that's there now is very strong," said Athan Manuel, director of land conservation at Sierra Club and Degnan's former boss...more

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