Manataka American Indian Council








Les Lobaugh: The Navajo Lawyer

Who Helped Save Our Environment
©by Doug George-Kanentiio

Les Lobaugh is, according to Mary Louise Uhlig of the Environmental Protection Agency, the most "influential, important and anonymous Native lawyer in America".

At the event to mark National American Indian Heritage Month at the EPA held in Washington, DC in November,2011. Lobaugh was the featured speaker. His presentation followed a performance by Joanne Shenandoah whose music celebrated the the great influence Native people have had on environmental issues.

Ms. Uhlig told the assembly of EPA workers that Mr. Lobaugh drafted the Endangered Species Act, followed by the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act which in turn led to the formation of the EPA; all of which took place during the Nixon administration.
Literally millions of animals, plants and fishes can attribute their survival as specific species to the protection given to them by the federal statutes initiated by Mr. Lobaugh.

Ms. Uhlig noted in her preface to Lobaugh's speech that he began his historic work while a student at the Georgetown School of Law over 40 years ago. He was an intern with US Senator Alan Cranston when the California legislator took notice of Lobaugh's concern over the imminent extinction of the bald eagle. He challenged the young Navajo man to do something about the issue rather than simply give in to despair.

Lobaugh came up with the idea of giving federal protection to all endangered species through federal legislation which Cranston guided through Congress before it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon.

After the enactment of the federal protection laws Lobaugh continued his environmental work as an attorney for several major law firms. He was cited as "Outstanding Corporate Counsel" by the Los Angeles County where he now serves as counsel with the firm Browstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck.

In his remarks following the introduction Mr. Lobaugh spoke with passion about the natural world. He cited Christopher Columbus as an example of the great differences between the Europeans and the Native people with regards to the earth.

While aboriginals viewed the earth as a living organism upon which sustainability was a key principle Columbus saw the land from a purely economic perspective Lobaugh said. The European explorers carried with them not only a conflicting philosophy about nature they also brought diseases which killed millions of Natives and made the colonization of the Americans possible Lobaugh observed.
Lobaugh noted that the "attitude of conquest and subjugation extracted a heavy price" which began to change a generation ago a change began in what he said was a "reevaluation of our relationship to the environment" which in turn has brought the US closer to the native ideals of sustainability.

But, he warned, there was cause for concern, noting that there are many who now want to retreat from the environmental standards set by law. He said that there are politicians and developers now claiming that environmental protection rules are an "attack upon our basic freedoms" which may well lead to a return to "conquest, subjugation and exploitation". Some, he warned, have gone so far as to demand the dismantling of the EPA.

Lobaugh summarized his speech by calling for enhanced, not reduced, environmental protection laws. He said there was a need to include an amendment to the US Constitution mandating greater care of the natural world.

Without this, Lobaugh warned, America faces certain ecological disaster. The audience responded to the speech with a standing ovation.



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