Obama Moves Quickly to Preserve the West

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"The environmentalists have been waiting in the wings for eight years," said Paul Lewis, assistant professor of political science at Arizona State University. "Now, they have a chance to be heard again."

… "The previous administration was really all about extraction of resources from the land," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., who chairs the House Natural Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands. "Now, there's an effort to strike a balance between extraction and protection of the environment. That's a healthy change."

… Arizona could soon find itself in the middle of the Obama administration's new push to make solar power and other renewable-energy development a top priority for public land.

Twenty-four tracts in six states - Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah - are under study by the BLM and the Interior Department to see if they can support large-scale solar installations. The study is expected to be completed by the end of 2010.

Conservationists support the effort in concept but say there could be disputes over where best to develop solar sites that will not harm environmentally sensitive lands.

"We want to encourage the administration and the industry to look at areas that have already been disturbed, such as old mining claims in Arizona," said Jeremy Garncarz, managing director for the Wilderness Society's Wilderness Support Center in Durango, Colo., which works on Arizona conservation efforts. "I think there's an incredible opportunity there to get this right from the get-go."