ENVIRONMENT POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES
The Environment Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with the use of natural resources, climate change, energy emissions, pollution, and the protection of endangered species. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, and the Interior Department.
Latest Environment Posts
By Jacob Morton
On January 5, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a new rule requiring that any scientific evidence that is to be considered by the agency when crafting new environmental regulation, such as limiting the use of certain chemicals or determining levels of allowable pollution, must make all relevant data publicly available (including study participants’ personal medical records) to be considered credible.
By Shannon Q. Elliott
On Monday November 9th, 2020 Amy Comey Barrett heard her first case as a justice to the Supreme Court of the United States. (SCOTUS) The conservative justice, a former Notre Dame Law School graduate, filled the seat which belonged to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Brief # 106
Fixation on Fixtures; The Showerhead Rollbacks
Shannon Q Elliott
January 18, 2021
President Trump has rolled back the Department of Energy’s (DOE) standards for consumer appliances. It was concluded that the performance exhibited by showerheads, washers, and dryers is a burden on the American consumer. In December, our sitting president told the press; “People are flushing toilets 10-15 times, water is dripping out of faucets, and water is plentiful in the United States.” As a result of this statement, the administration aggressively pursued the current rule and revised it without conclusive evidence that the rule needed to be amended.
The initial rule set by Congress in the 1990s allowed showerheads a flow rate of 2.5 gallons of water per minute. It was determined that the definition of the term showerhead was to be interpreted as “the part of the shower that water flows out of”. As newer showerhead models entered the market with multiple nozzles, the Obama administration narrowed the definition. If four nozzles were now part of a showerhead design, 2.5 gallons per minute is what the four nozzles were able to collectively dispense. The quick math will show that under Obama’s redefinition, .62 gallons of water could be dispensed per nozzle on the showerhead, per minute.
When the term showerhead was reworked in December of 2020 to appease Trump, multiple jets, and various models of showerhead systems will now be counted individually. The four nozzles mentioned above are able to spit out 2.5 gallons per minute each, collectively using 10 gallons of water per minute.
Contrary to Trump’s belief that “water is plentiful” in the United States, The Waterproject.org reports that water scarcity is an emerging reality. Southwestern states are unable to replenish their water supply, and the shortage will soon affect other regions. Macroeconomics tells us that a larger population equates to more demand. If the water supply continues to dwindle, because the government fails to regulate usage responsibly, the United States may find itself among the countries that ration water.
Other countries struggle to find clean water sources for survival. Trump is dissecting legislation that shows no indication or need for revision. According to David Friedman, Assistant Secretary; DOE under Obama, there was no justification to revise the current rule. This is just another presidential vexation to an Obama era rule, being dissected. As a result, the new administration will have to revisit it, using their time, and taxpayer dollars to protect the water supply, and piece back together legislation that served the country until the last hours of Trump’s presidency.
Leblanc, P. (2020, December 15). Trump administration finalizes rollback of showerhead standards. https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/15/politics/showerhead-standards-trump/index.html
Sprunt, B. (2020, December 17). Trump Bemoaned Water Pressure. Now His Administration Has Eased Standards.: https://www.npr.org/2020/12/17/947251937/trump-bemoaned-water-pressure-now-his-administration-has-eased-standards
Appliance Standards Awareness Project . (2020). https://appliance-standards.org/
Natural Resources Defense Counsel . (2020). https://www.nrdc.org/.
The Water Project . (2020). https://thewaterproject.org/.
Brief # 105
Trump’s EPA Seeks to Hide Science with New “Transparency” Rule
By Jacob Morton, 1/11/2021
On January 5, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a new rule requiring that any scientific evidence that is to be considered by the agency when crafting new environmental regulation, such as limiting the use of certain chemicals or determining levels of allowable pollution, must make all relevant data publicly available (including study participants’ personal medical records) to be considered credible. The rule specifically targets “dose-response” studies that aim to show the effects of exposure to certain toxins and pollutants on human health.
For instance, in the 1990s, a Harvard study, called the Six Cities study, “drew on anonymized, confidential health data from thousands of people to better establish links between air pollution and higher mortality.” The study was “instrumental in crafting health and environmental rules” and “led to new limits on air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.” The EPA’s new rule would require that same Harvard study to officially release all its subjects’ personal and confidential medical information, otherwise risk being categorized as weak or not credible, and potentially lead to rollbacks of its associated environmental policies.
The new rule, known as the Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information Rule, claims not to require the release of Personal Identifiable Information (PII) or Confidential Business Information (CBI). The EPA’s official news release announcing the new rule states that “when proposing a significant regulatory action, the Agency is required to clearly identify and make publicly available the science informing the rule.” However, the rule also states that, “Under certain criteria outlined in the rule, the Administrator can grant case-by-case exemptions to the requirements of this rule.”
Attempts to discredit influential, peer-reviewed science that runs counter to industry interests, in the name of “transparency,” is not new. Early in the Trump administration, former Texas congressman Lamar Smith unsuccessfully attempted to push the “Secret Science Reform Act” through congress, and the idea has floated around the EPA ever since. The New York Times has even traced the idea back to the Tobacco Industry’s attempts to discredit studies warning of harm from second-hand smoke.
While a rule to require complete transparency of any study used as pivotal scientific evidence seems practical, it becomes problematic when a study uses patients’ confidential medical records. Many believe that by requiring the release of patients’ personal medical information used in these studies, the EPA will no longer be required to consider the evidence presented by studies containing the clearest indications of public harm, because those studies will not legally be able to release their subjects’ medical records. Environmentalists and public health experts fear this will lead to weaker protections or a decision not to regulate at all.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, praised the new rule for its angle on transparency, saying, “We’re going to take all this information and shine light on it, … It’s sunshine, it’s transparency.” Meanwhile, medical experts say the new rule, “essentially blocks the use of population studies in which subjects offer medical histories, lifestyle information and other personal data only on the condition of privacy. Such studies have served as the scientific underpinnings of some of the most important clean air and water regulations of the past half century.”
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Ranking Member for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, writes of the rule, “You can’t expect people to believe in science if data is kept secret. It’s impossible. Transparency, public access to underlying data, rigorous review are all key to building trust.” However, critics of the rule say it threatens patient confidentiality and privacy of individuals in public health studies. Richard Revesz, an expert in pollution law at the New York University School of Law says the kinds of studies being targeted are those which would “present the most direct and persuasive evidence of pollution’s adverse health effects” (“dose-response” studies). He says, “Ignoring them will lead to uninformed and insufficiently stringent standards, causing avoidable deaths and illnesses.”
Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has criticized the new rule, saying, “We’re going to put at risk the health of a whole lot of people and maybe even lead to their deaths.” Carper’s staff have pointed to several studies that could be deemed ineligible for use by the EPA, including a March 2020 study that describes “how various coronaviruses react on surfaces with chemical agents,” and a 2003 study observing “a statistical correlation between SARS fatalities in China and higher air pollution.”
The Trump administration has already used the policy to deny findings from several epidemiological studies including one from Columbia University, that shows exposure to the pesticide chlorpyrifos (widely used on corn, soybeans, almonds, grapes, and golf courses) can stunt brain development in infants and young children. Had this new rule previously been in place, the E.P.A. under the Obama administration could not have made the case to regulate mercury pollution from power plants “because it could not have shown that the heavy metal impairs brain development” without releasing confidential medical records. Despite the administration’s enthusiasm for the new rule, Trump administration officials have been unable to provide any examples of policies that they say, “were wrongly enacted based on studies that did not make underlying data available.”
Dr. Mary Rice, pulmonary and critical care physician, and chairwoman of the environmental health policy committee at the American Thoracic Society says, “Right now we’re in the grips of a serious public health crisis due to a deadly respiratory virus, and there’s evidence showing that air pollution exposure increases the risk of worse outcomes.” Rice says of the new rule, “We would want E.P.A. going forward to make decisions about air quality using all available evidence, not just putting arbitrary limits on what it will consider.”
An anonymous senior transition official for the incoming Biden administration says the new rule is simply another attempt by Trump to “make it more difficult for the next administration to rebuild the government to do its job.” President-elect Joseph R. Biden has not yet commented on the new rule, but activists expect he will suspend and repeal it. Even if the rule remains in effect, President-elect Biden’s pick for EPA Administrator, Michael S. Regan, may still be able to exempt studies, on a case-by-case basis, from the rule. Advocacy groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists have begun to discuss taking legal action.
Environmental Defense Fund
- One of the world’s largest environmental organizations and a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Preserving the natural systems on which all life depends. https://www.edf.org/
Union of Concerned Scientists
- The Union of Concerned Scientists is a national nonprofit organization founded more than 50 years ago by scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Union uses rigorous, independent science to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. https://www.ucsusa.org/
Learn More Sources Cited
Friedman, L. (2020, September 23). E.P.A. Rejects Its Own Findings That a Pesticide Harms Children’s Brains. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/23/climate/epa-pesticide-chlorpyrifos-children.html
Friedman, L. (2021, January 04). A Plan Made to Shield Big Tobacco From Facts Is Now E.P.A. Policy. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/04/climate/trump-epa-science.html?auth=login-email&login=email
Johnson, S. K. (2019, November 13). EPA still moving to limit science used to support regulations. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/11/epa-still-moving-to-limit-science-used-to-support-regulations/
Knickmeyer, E. (2021, January 05). A final EPA rollback under Trump curbs use of health studies – The Boston Globe. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/01/04/nation/final-epa-rollback-under-trump-curbs-use-health-studies/
Price, A. (2021, January 7). Trump EPA’s Controversial “Secret Science” Policy Faces Pushback from Scientists. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/articles/entry/trump-epas-controversial-secret-science-policy-faces-pushback-from-scientists
Timmer, J. (2021, January 05). In a parting gift, EPA finalizes rules to limit its use of science. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/01/in-a-parting-gift-epa-finalizes-rules-to-limit-its-use-of-science/
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2021, January 05). EPA Finalizes Rule Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-finalizes-rule-strengthening-transparency-pivotal-science-underlying-significant
Brief # 104 Environment
The Trump Administration’s Last Push to Open Land to Energy and Mining Companies
By Jacob Morton
January 4, 2021
As the Trump administration’s single term nears its end, top agency officials are attempting a last-minute push to approve a flush of large-scale energy and mining projects for companies hoping to secure contracts to extract various natural resources.
In Arizona, the U.S. Forest Service announced a new release date for the final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Resolution Copper Mine project in the Tonto National Forest, east of Superior, Arizona. The original release date was set for some time in 2021 or 2022. The Forest Service has moved that date to the end of this year, December 31, 2020. Conservationists and tribal communities have opposed the 2,422-acre mining project for years, citing the destruction of the Oak Flat Campground above the ore deposit and harm to its Emory Oak trees, sacred to the neighboring San Carlos Apache Tribe. Apache communities still harvest acorns from the Emory Oaks.
In Utah, the Bureau of Land Management has attempted to approve a helium mining project in the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness of southwest Utah. In 2018, Congress passed the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (the Dingell Act), “an enormous package of conservation-focused bills,” to protect the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness from any new energy developments. Despite the move by Congress to protect Labyrinth Canyon, the Bureau of Land Management moved quickly to issue a lease of a 1,410-acre parcel within the soon to be wilderness area to the Twin Bridges mining company. Because the lease was issued in December 2018, before the President officially signed the Dingell Act into law on March 12, 2019, Twin Bridges has maintained the right to develop the lease if the proposed project is approved by the BLM.
The 55,000-acre Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness area “borders the Green River and includes the iconic Bowknot Bend—a deep, red rock river canyon where the river turns 180 degrees and forms a deep, colorful U in the landscape.” Final approval for the helium fracking project was expected to be approved just before Christmas on December 23. However, federal district court Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia pushed back the approval date until at least January 6, 2021. Local communities and tribes in the Labyrinth Canyon region have fought for permanent protection of the wilderness area for at least 20 years.
In Nevada, the Interior Department has fast-tracked the permitting process for a new 5,500 acre open-pit lithium mine on federal lands. If approved, the mine planned by Canada-based mining company Lithium Americas, would be one of the world’s largest lithium mines. The project was first listed in July 2020 and final approval for the project is expected in early January 2021, meaning construction could start very soon.
In Virginia and West Virginia, the Forest Service and BLM are reviewing the environmental impact statement with expectations to approve construction and operation of “a buried 42-inch natural gas pipeline across approximately 3.5 miles of the Jefferson National Forest.” Drawing from the same Marcellus and Utica oil shale as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), proposed by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC., would extend in total 303.5 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina. A 3.5-mile section of the pipeline would cut across the Jefferson National Forest and burrow beneath the Appalachian Trail. If completed, the pipeline could deliver up to two million dekatherms of natural gas energy per day to the South.
In South Dakota, the Environmental Protection Agency has given its final approval for the construction of a new uranium mine called the Dewey-Burdock project. The mine would extend over 12,613 acres near the Black Hills National Forest region in western South Dakota. Azarga Uranium Corporation, The Canada-based organization backing the project, plans to inject the chemical Lixiviant “into more than 1,461 wells, sending the chemical into the underground water supply. The chemical would cause uranium trapped in sandstone below the surface to leach into the aquifer, contaminating the water but allowing the uranium to be captured, extracted and transformed into so-called yellow cake that can be used to fuel nuclear power plants.” The mine could produce up to one million pounds of uranium a year, much more than all current uranium mines in the country combined, however, the country’s uranium mines are already sitting at excess capacity.
The list of proposed projects goes on. With less than a month until the end of President Trump’s single term, the push by his administration to approve energy and mining projects has only accelerated.
Donald Trump and top appointed officials such as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have long sought to increase domestic production of fossil energy and key minerals such as copper, uranium, and lithium. Commerce Secretary Ross was a steel industry investor before serving under the Trump administration. Ross has pushed for approval of the Resolution Copper Mine in Arizona, meeting with Rio Tinto Mineral Corporation, the mine’s parent company, at least three times this past year. Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency was an energy lobbyist before joining the Trump administration, lobbying for an electricity utility, a uranium producer, and a coal magnate. David Bernhardt, Secretary of the Department of Interior (DOI), was a former oil and mining lobbyist.
These latest projects all reflect a larger push by the Trump administration’s Interior Department and the Forest Service to increase the country’s domestic mineral and energy production. Supporters of the projects and agency officials, such as Richard Packer, a spokesperson for the DOI, says, “Our science-based decisions are legally compliant and based on an extensive process involving input from career subject matter experts and the public.” Packer adds that the DOI “continues to balance safe and responsible natural resource development with conservation of important surface resources.”
Statements from private industry involved in the latest projects largely mirror that of David Wallace, an executive at Twin Bridges, the mining company hoping to frack for helium in Utah. Wallace says, “We also love these lands and are committed to our project enhancing, and not detracting from them.” He also points out, “the project could ultimately generate hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of royalty and tax payments to federal, state and local governments.”
Environmentalists, conservation organizations, and tribal communities are skeptical. In South Dakota, the site of the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine is located adjacent to the Oglala Lakota Nation’s 2.8-million-acre reservation. The Sioux tribe claims the land the mine would be built on was illegally taken by the United States and has sued to block the project. Kyle White, a Lakota Tribe member, and the former director of its natural resources regulatory agency, says, “The voice of Indigenous people needs to be heard — and federal Indian policy has made us invisible and dehumanized us.”
Meanwhile, in Arizona, camped out in protest at the site for the proposed Resolution Copper Mine, San Carlos Apache Tribal Leader, Wendsler Nosie Sr. says, “This is a disaster. As far as I am concerned, this is an invasion by a foreign power. We cannot afford to lose our identity and our history. Imagine if the biblical Mount Sinai became a location for mining and it caved in and disappeared. You would not stand by and watch.”
Resolution Copper Company’s own website admits the surface of the mine site will sink 700 – 1,000 feet over 40 years of mining. According to Federal reports, “The project would create 3,700 jobs and supply as much as one billion pounds of copper per year, a quarter of the current annual demand in the United States.” The San Carlos Apache Tribe commissioned its own impact study for the proposed mine and submitted it to the Forest Service when the agency’s original draft environmental impact statement for the mine was released. According to the tribe’s study, the total number of local jobs created by the mine would be only 10% of the total mining jobs in the four counties the Forest Service surveyed, and only 0.5% of the total number of jobs in those counties. The study also showed a substantial loss in revenues to Pinal County’s tourism industry.
In Virginia, Laura Belleville, Vice President of Conservation & Trail Programs for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, says of the proposed natural gas pipeline, “The Mountain Valley Pipeline [would] carry fracked natural gas for over 300 miles through the Virginia and West Virginia countryside, crossing over dozens of water sources, through protected areas and breaching the [Appalachian Trail] corridor. The pipeline would run parallel to the Trail for over 90 miles and carve ugly gashes in the landscape that could be seen from 20 miles away.”
In Nevada, The BLM’s environmental assessment for Lithium America’s proposed lithium mine admits, “the project will cause harm, including to the habitat of a threatened bird species known as sage grouse.” The birds’ sagebrush habitat could take several decades to recover and for “pre-disturbance sagebrush vegetation community characteristics to return.” Local ranchers and residents also fear surface disturbances from the mine upland of them will cause local springs to dry up both within and outside of the Project area, as well as result in “increased surface flows” in other areas “contributing sediment and debris into riparian areas and wetlands.”
In most cases, when private industry and agency officials have been pressed whether these projects are being rushed for approval before President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s inauguration date, request for comment is denied. However, project manager for Resolution Copper Company, Andrew Lye says of the proposed Arizona mine, “It is not being fast-tracked and Resolution Copper has not sought to apply for programs that are available to expedite projects.”
Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, thinks otherwise. Serraglio points out that shortening the timeline for the Final environmental impact statement for the proposed copper mine seems premature because the Draft environmental impact statement was not even complete, omitting key details such as, “the site where the tailings will be stored and where the company would locate the pipeline and the power lines to make that work.” Serraglio notes that “the same type of pressure and influence have been applied at the highest levels of the Trump administration for other such projects.” He says, “It seems clear they want to get it out while Trump is still president. It’s not clear whether they’ll be able to do that or not or whether they can do it legally.”
Natural Resources Defense Council
- NRDC works to safeguard the earth, its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. nrdc.org
Appalachian Mountain Advocates
- A non-profit public interest law and policy organization dedicated to fighting for clean water and a clean energy future. They work to advocate for a sustainable energy economy, fighting further investment in fossil fuels and forcing polluters to pay the costs of cleaning up the messes they have already made. appalmad.org
Environmental Defense Fund
- For more than 50 years we have been pioneers, using science and different perspectives to make the environment safer and healthier for us all. Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org)
Sources Cited (Learn More)
Axelrod, J. (2020, December 23). Judge Halts Action on Utah Helium Drilling. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.nrdc.org/experts/josh-axelrod/judge-halts-permitting-utah-helium-mining
Krol, D. (2020, December 11). Did feds fast-track Resolution Copper mine project in Trump’s last days? Foes say ‘yes’. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2020/12/11/resolution-copper-may-fast-track-trumps-final-days/5981085002/
Lipton, E. (2020, December 19). In Last Rush, Trump Grants Mining and Energy Firms Access to Public Lands. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/19/us/politics/in-last-rush-trump-grants-mining-and-energy-firms-access-to-public-lands.html
Mountain Valley Pipeline Project. (2020). Overview. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.mountainvalleypipeline.info/
Resolution Copper. (2020). Subsidence. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.resolutioncopper.com/subsidence.html
United States, US Department of Interior, US Bureau of Land Management. (2020, December 4). Retrieved January 1, 2021, from https://int.nyt.com/data/documenttools/thacker-pass-feis-chapters1-6-508/f5d9956ac05f6601/full.pdf#page=78
USDA Forest Service. (2019, August). Draft Environmental Impact Statement: Resolution Copper Project and Land Exchange. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.resolutionmineeis.us/sites/default/files/deis/resolution-deis-vol-1.pdf
USDI Bureau of Land Management, & US Forest Service. (2020, December). Mountain Valley Pipeline and Equitrans Expansion Project: Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd863227.pdf
Brief # 100; Environment Policy
Trump, Pressured to Reject Mining Permit in Alaska, Races to Sell Drilling Leases in the Arctic
By Jacob Morton
Since the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump has had his eye on Alaska, hoping to expand extraction of its rich mineral and fossil fuel deposits. While in office, Trump has overturned Obama era limitations on mining activities in the Bristol Bay Region of Alaska and has pushed for increased oil and gas drilling in the Arctic refuge on Alaska’s northeastern coastal plain. In the summer of 2019, despite overwhelming public opposition and allegations of flawed scientific analysis, the Trump administration revived the notorious Pebble Mine project in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
The Pebble Mine Partnership and its mother company Northern Dynasty Minerals have worked for the past thirteen years to secure the necessary permits to extract minerals from one of the world’s largest gold and copper deposits. If mined, the deposit could produce “70 million tons of gold, molybdenum and copper ore a year.” The extraction, however, would leave a pit 600 meters deep in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed. The project’s opponents have argued for years that the mine would threaten the “world-class” sockeye salmon fishery of Bristol Bay and put “more than $1 billion of revenue and over 10,000 jobs at risk.”
In 2014, the Obama administration had blocked any advancement of the Pebble Mine project, citing its concerns of Clean Water Act violations and the impact on the sockeye salmon industry, including a 2013 Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (BBWA) which confirmed that the Pebble Mine could not be operated without impacting the Bristol Bay and harming its salmon population. In 2015, concerns for the welfare of the Bristol Bay Watershed were so strong that the EPA issued a Proposed Determination to permanently limit all mining activities in the region. Polls at the time showed that 89.5% of the country was in support of establishing strong protections for Bristol Bay.
As previously reported by US Resist News, the Trump administration has since thrown out the Obama era Proposed Determination, ignored claims of a faulty and skewed Environmental Impact Assessment, and has resumed permit processing for the Pebble Mine project despite opposition from environmental groups, First Nation tribal leaders, and members of his own political party. Similarly and as previously reported, while controversy erupted over Bristol Bay and the Pebble Mine project, Donald Trump and a republican controlled congress passed a plan to begin leasing tracts of land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge along Alaska’s northeastern coastal plain for oil and gas drilling. Until then, this refuge had been protected for nearly six decades.
As 2020 comes to a close, we have all by now learned to expect the unexpected. And with a lame duck president, infamous for breaking norms and ignoring established protocols, recent developments over the past two weeks have proven no exception. In a surprising turn of events, on November 26 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) rejected a Clean Water Act permit required for the development of the Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay. Upon making its decision, the USACE released a statement explaining that the project’s proposed waste management plan for the displaced rock and other waste materials, “does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines” and that “the proposed project is contrary to the public interest.” Given that President Elect Joe Biden continues to oppose the mine, this decision by the Army Corps effectively kills any near-future plans for continuing the project.
Meanwhile, the outgoing Trump administration has moved its attention northward, making clear its intentions to solidify the sales of multiple drilling leases in the Arctic refuge before leaving office. On December 3, Trump’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that the sale of lease agreements will take place on January 6. Typically, before a sale date is officially announced by the BLM, a window of anywhere from 1 to 2 months is reserved for private industry to outline which exact tracts of land they propose to drill in, and for the BLM to review these plans. The agency and the Trump administration cut this window down to 16 days before making the announcement. A traditional timeframe would have produced a sale date just before or just after Joe Biden’s Inauguration day on January 20.
Though the rejection of the Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay was certainly unexpected, its support among republicans had grown more and more mixed. Typically, republicans and Alaska politicians tend to support the expansion of domestic mineral production, but perhaps the threat to the sockeye salmon industry, as well as world renowned sportfishing and hunting grounds posed too great a concern. According to Politico, “President Donald Trump faced a public pressure campaign from Republicans, including mega-donor Andy Sabin, Bass Pro Shops CEO Johnny Morris, Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson and his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to block the project.” Alaska senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) both joined the opposition after secretly recorded tapes were released this summer “featuring the then-CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, Tom Collier, boasting about how he would influence Alaskan politicians to ultimately support the project,” and that the company was planning a mine much larger than they had requested a permit for.
Alaskan congressman Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) disagrees with the rejection. He believes the issue is one of state’s rights and says he is “disappointed that the federal government gets to decide before Alaskans do.” Young argues, “Now there must be a consideration of how the federal government will compensate the State for the loss of economic potential. The proposed mine has always been subject to political intrigue and the whims of outsiders who simply do not understand our state.” John Shively, CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership said the company is “dismayed” at the rejection and has vowed to appeal the decision. Shively argues that the company has worked hard to meet the requirements of the Army Corps, and says, “It is very disconcerting to see political influence in this process at the eleventh hour.”
Opponents of the project, however, are relieved by the decision after over a decade of uncertainty. Nanci Morris Lyon, owner of Bear Trail Lodge in King Salmon, Bristol Bay says, “It is an incredible relief. I felt like sitting down and just crying for a while.” For many Bristol Bay locals, “the prospect of the mine has held the whole region hostage for years. Lodge owners like [Lyon] didn’t know if they could invest in their businesses.” Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate natural resources committee, says he is “pleased” by the decision. Manchin said in a statement, “I understand the important role mining plays in our economy, but the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the project did not come near close enough to assuring me this world-class sockeye salmon fishery, which generates $1.5 billion each year and supports 14,000 jobs, would be protected.” The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The United Tribes of Bristol Bay, representing 15 area tribal governments, have said they would seek permanent protections for the area.
Northward, however, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, drilling leases are being prepared for sale. The American Petroleum Institute praised the Trump administration’s push to expand drilling in the area, claiming “it would provide jobs and add to Alaska’s revenue, which has been suffering as oil production on the North Slope has declined over the years.” Many Alaskan politicians also support opening the refuge to drilling. Environmental groups feel differently. According to Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, “This is a shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give one last handout to the fossil fuel industry on his way out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate.”
Despite the support however, it is unclear what level of interest oil companies have for the area. The cost of drilling in the Arctic is much greater than in other states such as Texas, and for many companies, the risk to their reputation may not be worth the hassle. According to the New York Times, “Most experts say it would be at least a decade or longer before any oil or gas was extracted from the refuge. By then, the drive to reduce worldwide fossil fuel use may mean there is little or no market for the oil.” Many major banks have already said they will not lend money to companies for drilling in the refuge.
For companies that do choose to explore the area, it is uncertain how much oil they will find. The most recent exploratory well was drilled in the ‘80’s, with “disappointing” results. In 2017, the Trump administration claimed a potential of $1.8 billion in revenue for the government over a decade of drilling. However, recent independent analyses, “Based on similar sales in Alaska over the past several decades,” have found “potential revenue over the next decade would likely be in the range of tens of millions of dollars,” significantly lower than the original estimate. Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, says, “We will need [Joe Biden] to use all the tools at his disposal to stop the industrialization of this iconic national treasure.”
Alaska Wilderness League
- The Alaska Wilderness League (AWL) is a nonprofit organization that works to protect Alaska’s most significant wild lands from oil and gas drilling and from other industrial threats. The Alaska Wilderness League galvanizes support to secure vital policies that protect and defend America’s last great wild public lands and waters. https://www.alaskawild.org/
National Resources Defense Council
- Works to safeguard the earth – its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. Combining the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild. https://www.nrdc.org/
United Tribes of Bristol Bay
- United Tribes of Bristol Bay (UTBB) is a tribal consortium working to protect the traditional Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq ways of life in Bristol Bay that depend on the sustainable harvest of our watershed’s renewable resources, most notably Bristol Bay’s wild salmon. http://www.utbb.org/
Adragna, A., & Snider, A. (2020, November 26). Trump administration rejects massive Alaska mining project. Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://www.politico.com/news/2020/11/25/trump-administration-alaska-mining-project-440626
Fountain, H. (2020, December 03). Sale of Arctic Refuge Oil and Gas Leases Is Set for Early January. Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/03/climate/arctic-refuge-lease-sales.html?utm_campaign=Hot+News
Lewis, J., & Rosen, Y. (2020, November 25). U.S. rejects permit for Alaska’s Pebble mine, company vows appeal. Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-alaska-pebblemine-idUSKBN2852XM
Ruskin, L. (2020, November 25). Trump Administration Rejects Pebble Mine Project in Alaska. Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/2020/11/25/939002676/trump-administration-rejects-pebble-mine-project-in-alaska
Young, D. (2020, November 25). Congressman Don Young Issues Statement Following U.S. Army Corps Decision to Deny Permit to Pebble Mine. Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://donyoung.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=401842
Written by: Shannon Q. Elliott
Thursday, November 19, 2020
On Monday November 9th, 2020 Amy Comey Barrett heard her first case as a justice to the Supreme Court of the United States. (SCOTUS) The conservative justice, a former Notre Dame Law School graduate, filled the seat which belonged to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. One of the first cases Barret will hear is The U.S. Forest Service v. The Sierra Club, a case in which the Sierra Club initially brought action against the Forest Service in 2014. USFS refused to release documents showing their proposed changes to cooling water intake systems. Barrett, a strict constitutionalist is expected to narrow in on how the statute was written, specifically dissecting the language to determine her ruling. Her conservative views could aggressively tip the scales changing environmental laws throughout the states.
The central argument surrounding the case is whether or not the Freedom of Information Act, specifically exemption 5 (FOIA) should protect internal government documents from public interference. To qualify for exemption 5 the court will have to satisfy two conditions, 1.) Is the source a government agency, and 2.) it must fall within the limits of privilege against discovery. It is important to bear in mind that the FOIA governs the release of information to the public generated by the federal government, however, overuse of exemption 5 undermines the FOIA. Overuse shields the public from information that is only privy to government agencies, working documents, unofficial emails, opinions, and pre-decisional documents that are still being negotiated are examples of privileged information. Sierra Club contests that the documents supporting the change to cooling structures do not qualify for the exemption. They are persistent the public has a right to understand how and why the regulation was changed. Their concerns are the injuries sustained to aquatic life, the release of chemicals, large animals being caught in intake screens; and how these changes will adversely affect the environment, and public health.
Though the central argument will be dissected and interpreted to the best of the court’s ability, environmentalists are waiting with baited breath, to see how a Barrett ruling for The U.S. Forrest Service will affect environmental protections that are awaiting judicial review at the SCOTUS.
Barrett is a Trump-appointed judge. This suggests a theory that Barrett has allegiance to the administration and may rule in favor of many of the environmental rollbacks of the past four years. It’s not a definite, however her lack of environmental cases, and being quoted as “not holding firm views over contentious matters of public debate,” are worrisome to those who have done the calculations, and predictions that support conclusive evidence that the environment is on the brink of failure.
Totality of the circumstances, is a judicial test that refers to a method where analysis is based on all the available information rather then the bright lights rule. The rule allows courts to focus on all aspects of the case, rather than any one factor. Whereas environmental litigation is a new to the bench, and the statutes are broadly written, reaching for this tool may provide clarity when entering an opinion. Narrowing in on language and definitions, of statutes that are not clear, could be considered irresponsible on part of the justices because of the extremities of public debate over climate change, intrusion of habitats, disregard for waste water, and so on. All of these matters tie into public health; lung cancer, respiratory issues, asthma, and malaria are identified by the World Health Organization as causation byway of environmental exposure.
An appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States is for the nominee’s lifetime. Let’s hope that the justices currently sitting on the bench are able to realize how destructive Trumps rollbacks are and focus on balancing competing interests.
- Amy Coney Barrett Takes Up First Supreme Court Case. (2020, Novmber ). https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielcassady/2020/11/02/amy-coney-barrett-takes-up-first-supreme-court-case/?sh=27a3f9544037
- By Calling Climate Change ‘Controversial,’ Barrett Created Controversy. (2020, October ). NYTimes.com : https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/15/climate/amy-coney-barrett-climate-change.html
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club, 19-547 (Supreme Court of The United States 2020 October ).
By Jacob Morton
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has announced it will no longer provide federal protections to the gray wolf and will remove the species from the Endangered Species List. The announcement came just days before the presidential election on November 3, fueling the flames of what has been a controversial debate for decades in states considered key battlegrounds for the 2020 election.
The gray wolf has received protections from the federal government since the 1960’s after being nearly eradicated from the contiguous United States under government-sponsored poisoning and trapping campaigns. In 1978, the gray wolf was added to the Endangered Species List, with only 1,000 gray wolves remaining in the lower 48 states. Protected under the Endangered Species Act for over four decades, gray wolf populations have seen a tremendous recovery, with more than 6,000 gray wolves now living below the Canadian border.
Attempts have been made on numerous occasions to delist the gray wolf, including by the Obama administration in 2011. Federal protection of the gray wolf has been a controversial issue since it began. The debate tends to pit environmentalists against hunters, ranchers and farmers who see the gray wolf as a threat to their livelihoods. Ranchers have struggled to protect their herds from wolf attacks, and hunters complain of having to compete with wolves for deer and elk.
The Trump administration’s proposal will go into effect 60 days after being posted to the Federal Register on November 3. Once removed from the Endangered Species List, the protection and management of gray wolves will fall under state and tribal control. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to monitor wolf populations for five years “to ensure the continued success of the species.” U.S. Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt says, “After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” and as determined by the agency, “this species is neither a threatened nor endangered species based on the specific factors Congress has laid out in the law.”
Republican Congressman of Utah, Bob Bishop, praised the decision by the federal government to hand over management to the states, saying, “The gray wolf is one of the most successful species recoveries in history, despite the mounds of federal red tape and abusive litigation preventing this long-overdue delisting.” Bishop says, “It’s unfortunate it took this long for the federal government to turn management back to the states, when in fact state management and expertise is what got us to where we are today.” Former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe also agrees gray wolf populations have recovered and the agency should “move on” and redirect energies to other wildlife in need.
The announcement from the Department of Interior points to the growing gray wolf populations across the Western Great Lakes region in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, as well as expanded ranges “into western Oregon, western Washington, northern California and most recently in northwest Colorado.” The agency’s press release makes a point to note that “No administration in history has recovered more imperiled species in their first term than the Trump Administration,” with 13 species removed from the Endangered Species List since 2017. Environmentalists and conservation organizations argue that delisting a species is only worth praising if done appropriately.
EarthJustice attorney Kristen Boyles, argues that despite the remarkable recovery so far, delisting gray wolves now is premature. Boyles says, “This is no ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment for wolf recovery. Wolves are only starting to get a toehold in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and wolves need federal protection to explore habitat in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast.” Biologists say the recovery is still fragile in many states and gray wolf populations have not fully recovered throughout their historical habitat. Prior to the mid-20th century, gray wolves existed across most of North America.
Joanna Lambert, a professor of animal ecology at the University of Colorado Boulder says the bulk of the recovered gray wolf population has been seen in the western Great Lakes region and the Northern Rockies, “But outside these clusters, wolves haven’t established viable populations.” Lambert argues, “Although parts of Colorado, Utah and California could be ideal wolf habitat, there are hardly any packs in these states. It’s unclear whether gray wolves will be able to expand their range without the federal protections they’ve had for nearly 50 years.” Several biologists and former government officials claim the administration’s proposal lacks scientific justification and that “the agency’s conclusions were based on factual omissions and errors.” Critics point out that “the proposal barely considered the effects of climate change” and its impact on gray wolf habitat and prey.
Many environmentalists see the delisting proposal as an attempt by the Trump administration to appeal to rural voters in the election battleground states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. Ranchers, farmers, and hunters in these states have largely advocated for leaving the management of gray wolves in the hands of state and tribal governments. Many believe their livelihoods are at stake and feel state regulation provides greater flexibility for managing the relationship between wolves and humans. Ashleigh Calaway of Pittsville, Wisconsin lost 13 of her family’s sheep to wolves in July 2019. Calaway says that giving control back to the states would allow for “state-sponsored hunts” to keep local wolf populations at a managed level and “lower the risk to sheep and cattle.” Miles Kuschel, a third-generation rancher in north-central Minnesota, says he has watched the wolves’ territory expand over the past few decades to surround his land. Kuschel argues that under state management, “farmers and ranchers have the ability to protect their livelihoods and livestock.”
Adrian Treves, professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin recalls that when federal protections had been lifted years prior in the western Great Lakes region, gray wolf populations declined significantly, citing exhaustive hunting seasons and poachers “emboldened by the absence of federal enforcement.” Treves says, “The science is 100 percent clear that there will be a spike in mortality.” Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity says her organization plans to sue. “The courts recognize, even if the feds don’t, that the Endangered Species Act requires real wolf recovery, including in the southern Rockies and other places with ideal wolf habitat.” She argues that with this proposal, “the Fish and Wildlife Service has just adopted the broadest, most destructive delisting rule yet.”
Maureen Hackett, founder of Minnesota-based Howling for Wolves, is sensitive to the divisions this long-standing debate has created, recognizing it as a complex issue. A survey sent out by the University of Minnesota revealed that Minnesota residents “largely agree that maintaining a wolf population in Minnesota is important, and that they should occupy about the same amount of habitat.” However, opinions diverged over the proposal of a wolf hunting season as an appropriate solution for a sustainable human-wolf relationship. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, representing 11 Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan opposes the delisting of gray wolves as well as strongly opposes a wolf hunting season. A spokesperson for the Commission says, “Wolves are seen as relatives to the Anishinaabe and we don’t believe in hunting our relatives.”
Many Fish and Wildlife Service scientists believe wolf populations can continue to expand without Federal protection, but support from the states would be crucial. Hackett argues, “We need a non-lethal wolf plan and continued funding for prevention methods for farmers and ranchers to ensure an intact and healthy wolf population, because the wolf is vital for our ecology and the legacy of future Minnesotans.”
- Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organization. https://earthjustice.org/
Center for Biological Diversity
- Working to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/
The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission
- GLIFWC provides natural resource management expertise, conservation enforcement, legal and policy analysis, and public information services in support of the exercise of treaty rights during well-regulated, off-reservation seasons throughout the treaty ceded territories. http://www.glifwc.org/
Learn More References
Associated Press. (2020, October 29). Trump officials end gray wolf protections across most of U.S. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/10/29/trump-officials-end-gray-wolf-protections-across-most-of-us
Brown, M., Flesher, J., & Mone, J. (2020, November 13). Trump officials end gray wolf protections across most of US. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/correction-gray-wolves-endangered-story-74192466
Interior Press. (2020, October 30). Trump Administration Returns Management and Protection of Gray Wolves to States and Tribes Following Successful Recovery Efforts. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/trump-administration-returns-management-and-protection-gray-wolves-states-and-tribes
Kraker, D. (2020, October 30). Gray wolves lose federal protection; state will manage instead. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/10/30/gray-wolves-lose-federal-protection-state-will-manage-instead
Phillips, A. M. (2020, October 29). Trump administration drops gray wolf from endangered species list. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-10-29/trump-administration-drops-gray-wolf-from-endangered-list-ending-all-federal-protection
Rott, N. (2020, October 29). Gray Wolves to Be Removed from Endangered Species List. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/2020/10/29/929095979/gray-wolves-to-be-removed-from-endangered-species-list
By Todd Broadman
The Tongass forest, referred to as “America’s Amazon,” was designated a National Forest by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. The Tongass is one of the largest, relatively intact temperate rainforests in the world. U.S. Forest Service, charged with managing its vast 16.7 million acres, developed a travel plan and new policy for the area in 1990 with passage of the Tongass Timber Reform Act. Since then, the Clinton Administration issued Roadless Rule, prohibiting new road construction on previously undeveloped national forest lands across the country; that included 9.2 million acres of the Tongass. That put an end to larger scale logging.
Recently though, the Trump administration removed Roadless Rule protections from the Tongass National Forest. In combination with the Forest Service’s reclassification of certain old-growth parcels – 168,000 acres – as “suitable timberlands,” a major swath of the forest is open again to clear-cut logging. The underlying rationale follows a predictable pattern: the need for economic growth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, issued a recent notification concerning the Tongass: “changes can be made without major adverse impacts to the recreation, tourism, and fishing industries, while providing benefits to the timber and mining industries, increasing opportunities for community infrastructure, and eliminating unnecessary regulations.” The Forest Service is charged with approving all above-ground operations and construction in national forests.
The timber industry is among the most prominent lobbyists behind the removal of protections. “The forest products industry has been imperiled for some time,” claims Tessa Axelson of the Alaska Forest Association, and went on to assert that, “There’s a handful of small operators that are working on the Tongass, harvesting timber. In order to continue to survive, those businesses are dependent on a predictable supply of timber.” The industry has the ear of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, who desires a full exemption from the Roadless Rule to open the Tongass up to recreation and renewable energy, “while ensuring good stewardship of our lands and waters.”
Along with Murkowski, Alaska Governor, Mike Dunleavy, strongly backs the Trump administration’s “job and opportunity creating” move. The governor has a large constituency – the state has experienced declining oil revenues and employment since development of the Prudhoe Bay oil field began in the summer of 1969. According to Dunleavy, “Trump has given responsible resource development a fair shake.”
Dunleavy has carried out massive cuts to the Alaska state budget, and though opposed by many, has been supported in the move by his core conservative constituency in favor of slimming down big government. Although Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay is the largest such oil complex in the country, overall oil industry employment numbers in Alaska are small and have shrunk markedly since the end of the oil pipeline boom in 1978. Since 2000, the industry has employed under 5000 workers, versus retail, for example, that employs ten times that amount. Recently, oil industry layoffs have been constant due to reduced travel due to COVID-19 and the global drop in oil prices.
The Tongass National Forest is an ecosystem of glacier-carved fjords, thick green forests of old-growth hemlock, spruce and cedar; spongey carpets of muskeg, and expansive fields of rock and glaciers. The wild salmon and associated fish industry depend upon an intact landscape. In spite of this, the timber industry cites the high economic value of old growth timber. Clear-cutting would have long-term impacts and opponents claim that government subsidies to the timber industry cost taxpayers far more money than is generated.
Environmentalists call the Tongass “our silent partner” due to its absorption of carbon; they point to its healthy and wild salmon runs. The area contains 14,873 miles of anadromous rivers and streams. The fishing industry says that removing protections would threaten the more than $2 billion per year commercial fishing and tourism industry in the area. According to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Alaska’s seafood industry accounts for nearly $6 billion in direct output as well as $8 billion in “multiplier effects generated as industry income circulates throughout the U.S. economy.”
President Donald Trump, when he stood amid the burned down homes of Paradise, California, nearly two years ago, indirectly blamed lack of forest resource development on the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history. “You’ve got to take care of the floors, you know? The floors of the forest, very important.” He followed that by ordering the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior to make federal lands less susceptible to catastrophic wildfires through the removal of dead trees, underbrush and other potentially flammable materials. He gave the Secretary of the Interior the final decision on granting oil and gas leases on National Forest lands and that of course includes Tongass National Forest.
Native tribes have not, as expected, been a significant part of the Administration’s decision. Joel Jackson, president of the Organized Village of Kake on Kuprean said that “They just completely ignored our input and input of the other five tribes, so I felt very disrespected.” In total, a half-dozen tribes withdrew their cooperation with the Forest Service. The Native community strongly opposes the opening up of their lands to logging. They still rely upon the Tongass for their way of life. Richard Chalyee Eesh Peterson, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, said “Our health and well-being, identity and worldview are intricately woven into the fabric that is our homeland.”
In response to claims of potential environmental damage, the USDA claims that carbon released from logging will be insignificant. Dominick DellaSala, a scientist with the Earth Island Institute, counters that “There’s no science that supports their analysis.” His own analysis concludes that the carbon dioxide emissions from logging the 160,000 acres of old-growth forest would create the equivalent of adding about 10 million cars to the road.
There is a bill before Congress – the Roadless Area Conservation Act (HR 2491) – that, if passed, would make the Roadless Rule permanent. At stake are the remaining 58.5 million acres of undeveloped forests throughout the country. Two states though – Alaska and Utah – have recently filed petitions seeking exemptions to the rule and open up a combined 13 million acres. The Administration supports these and other exemptions.
Author’s note: As I write this brief, election results are nearing completion and it is likely that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will win; if so, reinstating protections to the Tongass and other public lands is expected.
- https://www.outdooralliance.org/ is the only organization in the U.S. that unites the voices of outdoor enthusiasts to conserve public lands and ensure those lands are managed in a way that embraces the human-powered experience.
- https://www.earthisland.org/ supports environmental action projects and helps foster the next generation of environmental leaders in order to achieve solutions to the crises threatening the survival of life on Earth.
- https://alaskaconservation.org/ is the only public foundation solely dedicated to conservation in Alaska.
Brief # 100 The Environment
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Refuses to Protect Wolverines Under the Endangered Species Act
By Jacob Morton
October 27, 2020
The wolverine is a rather elusive character. Only about 300 of these iconic mammals exist in the United States’ lower 48 states. With a broad head, short round ears and long snout, wolverines resemble a miniature bear with a bushy tail. Each animal covers a wide range, traversing mountainous terrain, trotting across snowpack with large snowshoe-like paws. Wolverines feed primarily on scavenged carrion and can use their strong jaws to pry open frozen carcasses, providing a food source for other scavengers once they have had their fill.
Wolverines were nearly eradicated from the contiguous United States in the early 1900’s, victim to “fur trapping, predator poisoning and lack of prey due to sheep farming” and overgrazing. Over 90% of their potential habitat in the U.S. lies on Federal lands and wilderness areas. Efforts to protect wolverines by placing them on the Endangered Species List, have existed since 1994, but continually face denial by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Previous protection attempts have been denied by the FWS, because “conservation groups could not provide empirical data on how wolverines’ range had changed over time because of humans.”
However, in 2013, under the Obama administration, the FWS acknowledged evidence suggesting climate change as an existential threat to wolverine populations due to decreasing snowpack throughout their range in the lower 48. The FWS proposed a rule to federally protect them as “threatened,” under the Endangered Species Act. Female wolverines rely on a substantial snowpack between February and April, seeking out “the deepest snow available to make their dens in snow tunnels or under snow-covered rocks or logs.” The FWS described the wolverine population in the lower 48 as distinct from its neighboring population north of the Canadian border, and thus deserving of protection.
Despite the position taken by the agency in 2013, the FWS withdrew its proposal the following year, rejecting previous studies and insisting that “Even under conditions of future reduced snowpack, sufficient habitat will likely remain.” Following this reversal, Judge Dana L. Christensen of Federal District Court in Montana ordered the FWS to reevaluate their decision. Judge Christensen and the District Court determined that, “immense political pressure that was brought to bear on this issue, particularly by a handful of Western states,” was the reason for the reversal. He called the agency’s rejection of previous studies “arbitrary and capricious,” even pointing to written documents within the agency that “expose the likely motives — freedom from perceived federal oversight, maintaining the public’s right to trap — behind the states’ efforts against listing the wolverine.”
On October 8, 2020, per Judge Christensen’s order to reevaluate its refusal to protect wolverines, the FWS under the Trump administration announced its final decision that wolverine populations in the United States do not require federal protection. The agency wrote, “The best available science show that the factors affecting wolverine populations are not as significant as believed in 2013. … Accordingly, the Service has withdrawn its listing proposal.”
In a press release, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service wrote, “New research and analysis show that wolverine populations in the American Northwest remain stable, and individuals are moving across the Canadian border in both directions and returning to former territories. The species, therefore, does not meet the definition of threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).” Noreen Walsh, Colorado’s Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director said, “In the time since our original proposal, the science on wolverines has been greatly advanced thanks to the work of state wildlife agencies and researchers in the U.S. and around the world.”
Despite the agency’s own 2013 determination that wolverines south of the Canadian border represent a distinct population from those northward, todays FWS claims “New information from genetic and observational studies shows that wolverines in the lower 48 are connected to populations in Canada and Alaska, these populations interact on some level, and migration and breeding is possible between groups.” Thus, “Wolverines in the lower 48 states do not qualify as a distinct population segment and they are instead an extension of the population of wolverines found further north.” Leader of the agency’s Montana project, Jodi Bush, claims the decision was based on new science and “was not a political decision.” Bush says, “If wolverines need snow, we think that there’s going to be enough snow out there for them.”
Environmentalists and conservation groups are skeptical of the agency’s credibility. Jeff Copeland, wolverine expert and director at The Wolverine Foundation says, “My primary concern is that [FWS’s] decision was not based on good science. Either it represents a gross misinterpretation of the science or a purposeful misrepresentation of the science in order to produce a preconceived result.” Copeland notes that wolverines avoid areas used by snowmobilers and backcountry skiers, but climate change has reduced the degree of separation and has forced wolverines to find new habitat. However, as Copeland points out, “This is an animal with extremely specific habitat requirements. It lives in a very narrow environmental niche that can be easily impacted by climate change. There is no reason to believe that it is adaptable to other climate situations.”
Brad Smith, director of the North Idaho chapter of the Idaho Conservation League, said of the agency’s decision, “It’s a continued pattern of wanting to stick their heads in the sand about climate change and not do anything about the impacts that greenhouse gas emissions will have on species. With the current administration, there’s been a rollback of many protections for the environment and for listed or proposed species.” Opinions are mixed however, over how best to manage wolverine populations and habitat. Bob Inman, the carnivore and fur bearer coordinator for the state of Montana, feels that leaving regulation decisions up to local governments might actually “persuade landowners to grant easements for wolverine corridors, connecting one mountain peak’s wolverine population with another.” Inman says, “People get the perception that ‘the feds are coming to take my land.’ That’s not the way to be successful. The way to be successful is to convince people that they would be part of something important.”
Conservationists however, such as Copeland, feel that relying on local regulation may not be enough. Copeland explains that, “Some of the places I worked in the ’90s, where I was able to readily capture wolverines, they’re gone now. These little sub-populations could blink out and be gone without us even knowing.” Eric Odell, species conservation program manager at Colorado Parks and Wildlife argues that with federal protections, “We might be able to increase the [wolverine] population by a third, because there is so much suitable, unoccupied habitat.” But, because of financial and regulatory obstacles resulting from the federal government’s decision, “Now we’re back to square one.” If wolverines had been approved for protection under the Endangered Species Act, “the FWS would have to draft a recovery plan that applies across the species’ entire US range and designates certain areas as critical wolverine habitat.”
Jodi Bush says the Western States Wolverine Conservation Project will continue to fight to protect wolverines at the state level. Andrea Zaccardi of the Center for Biological Diversity says, “We’ve been fighting to get wolverines the federal protection they deserve for decades. And we’re going to keep fighting.” Jonathan Proctor of Defenders of Wildlife says, “With this decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service has abandoned its moral and legal obligation to protect these animals. But we will not abandon our efforts.”
The fight is a contentious one, and as explained by New York Times reporter, Catrin Einhorn, the debate is about more than just wolverines. In this country, there are “deep-seated cultural and political beliefs about how best to protect animals, how much power the federal government should wield over states and even how humans should interact with nature in the first place.” As EarthJustice lawyer, Timothy Preso puts it, “There is a group of people in the Northern Rockies that traps and snowmobiles and wears Carhartt, and another group that wears Patagonia and wants to see a wolverine track in the snow. A lot of these issues are characterized by the tension between those people.” Finding ways to ease those tensions and establish authentic dialogue may prove a necessary step to creating sustainable solutions for the many complex issues facing our country.
The Wolverine Foundation
- A non-profit organization comprised of wildlife scientists with a common interest in the wolverine. The Wolverine Foundation, Inc. (TWF) was formed in 1996 to promote interest in the wolverine’s status and ecological role in the world wildlife community. http://wolverinefoundation.org/
Defenders of Wildlife
- Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife is the premier U.S.-based national conservation organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of imperiled species and their habitats in North America. https://defenders.org/
- Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organization. https://earthjustice.org/
Learn More References
Einhorn, C. (2020, October 08). Wolverines Don’t Require Protection, U.S. Officials Rule. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/08/climate/wolverines-no-federal-protection.html
Supertrooper. (2020, October 12). ‘Heads in the sand’: Conservationists condemn US failure to protect wolverines. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/12/wolverines-endangered-species-act-us-fish-wildlife
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2020). Wolverine: US Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/es/wolverine.php
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Mountain-Prairie Region. (2020, October 8). Science Shows Wolverines in the Contiguous U.S. Are Healthy. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/pressrel/2020/10082020-Science-Shows-Wolverines-in-the-Contiguous-US-Are-Healthy.php
By: Shannon Q. Elliott
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
According to the Trump Administration they have been successful in “cutting the red tape” of Obama era environmental policies and protections. While boasting about the strides they have taken to promote economic growth, create jobs, and give industries more flexibility, they fail to recognize that these particular policies are contributing to environmental degradation. The deterioration of the environment will have adverse effects on the “strong economy” as new policies threaten habitats, clean water, fresh air and wildlife, it’s just a matter or time before the economy suffers a catastrophic crash.
Two policies that are being deconstructed under the Trump agenda, are protections for air and water. The Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE) and The Navigable Waters Protection Rule, (NWPR) have been amended in an effort to allow industries and businesses to operate without government interference. ACE replaced the Clean Power Plan (CPP) which set a target for coal industries to adjust their emissions and comply beginning in 2018, with strict compliance by 2025. Coal plants are responsible for 43% of mercury emissions, and 30% of toxic water pollution; CPP would have removed 1.4 billion pounds of toxic pollution, which would have given the environment a chance to rebound. ACE allows more flexibility with their carbon emissions, requiring compliance by 2030. ACE is only applicable to the coal industry, and by extending the deadline for compliance, ACE allows toxic pollution to gain more momentum.
The Navigable Waters Protection Rule reduced the number of federally protected waterways. This leaves smaller bodies of water, including streams, wetlands, and habitats vulnerable to pollutants. The rule was rewritten to provide clarity over waterway jurisdiction. Under NWPR, the states retain jurisdiction over smaller bodies of water, leaving the larger waterways regulated by federally. The President contends that the NWPR will allow states to manage their resources in a way that is supportive of farmers and ranchers. By redistributing water protections, this creates a disproportioned system, cleanliness of drinking water will vary by state, an influx of pollution will intrude on rivers and streams, and flood risk increases.
It should not come as a surprise that the two aforementioned rules are tied up in litigation. Environmentalist groups, scientists, and States are lobbying to have these rules amended to support a healthy environment. Not only are they rallying for public health, but they are also trying to prevent an economic nosedive.
How does environmental failure affect the economy? When the administration decides to slash conservation protections, their short-term gains cause an irreversible domino effect. ACE is less restrictive than the 2015 CPP, granting the coal industry the ability to operate 5 years longer resulting in more American deaths vs. jobs saved. According to thirdway.org, Trump’s new plan could result in “1400 premature deaths, 430 non-fatal heart attacks, 48,000 cases of exacerbated asthma, 500 cases of acute bronchitis, 42,000 lost workdays, and 60,000 school absence days annually by 2030.” People who become ill will be unable to work, resulting in a mass health crisis and bankruptcy. The climate will continue to warm, while emissions are being pumped into the air, which paves the way for disastrous acts of nature such as wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, and inclement weather events that will pummel parts of the world. When these events take place, there is substantial damage caused to roadways, airports and infrastructure. Climate volatility will drive up the cost of labor, economic goods, and the supply chain. In North America alone, Morgan Stanley reported that from 2017-2020, events associated with climate change cost about $ 415 billion dollars.
What about clean water? Clean water is essential to a thriving society, and under the NWPR, clean water is in jeopardy. Farmers and landowners are thrilled with the new rule that grants them the freedom to use pesticides, without fear of government interjection. In the short-term, the relaxed rule permits them to grow more crops and raise livestock, but ultimately, the contamination and toxins released into the groundwater will put their farms at risk of flood, unstable climates will kill crops, and agricultural sectors will suffer disruptions in supply and demand.
Climate effects agriculture, infrastructure, tourism, global markets, and human productivity, just to name a few. “We will pay for climate breakdown one way or another, so it makes sense to spend the money now to reduce emissions rather than wait until later to pay a lot more for the consequences… It’s a cliché, but it’s true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Joseph Stiglitz Noble Prize Winner; Economist Columbia University.
Analyzing Trump’s “Affordable Clean Energy” rule using the EPA’s own data. https://www.thirdway.org/memo/analyzing-trumps-affordable-clean-energy-rule-using-the-epas-own-data
Trump Administration Cuts Back Federal Protections For Streams And Wetlands. (2020, January). NPR.org
US report warns climate change could create economic chaos. (2020, September). https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/09/business/climate-change-economy-cftc-report/index.html
- Climate Group : https://www.theclimategroup.org/partner/state-california
- The World Bank : https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/climatechange/overview
- Environmental Defense Fund : https://www.edf.org/
The Federal Reserve has made an unprecedented policy change: the Fed is now directly intervening to support corporate credit markets. To do so, it has established two facilities: the Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility (PMCCF) and the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF). The SMCCF has been actively purchasing corporate issued bonds, loans, and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
Overall, the corporate bond market has seen rapid growth since 2008, going from $5 trillion to about $9.6 trillion in 2019. The balance sheets of many larger corporations are debt heavy and the revenues to service that debt have shrunk since the onset of the COVID. In turn, bond ratings have plummeted, many to junk status, and that forces rates higher. The Fed is stepping in to provide much needed liquidity which they propose will keep operations and employment at pre-COVID levels. Over a six-week period, the SMCCF purchased bonds from 500 large companies.
A disproportionate quantity of those bond purchases have been directed at oil and gas conglomerates: about 10% of the Fed’s corporate bond portfolio. In fact, this industry has issued a record amount of new bonds, $129 billion this year alone, according to Bloomberg, most of it issued since the Fed’s purchase program was initiated. 19 of the largest oil and gas companies have been recipients. Outside this industry, a total of $455 billion in corporate debt has been issued.
This includes household giants such as Procter & Gamble who issued $5 billion worth; Coca-Cola added $6.5 billion in bond debt; Apple raised another $8.5 billion while Oracle had a $20 billion debt offering. While the Fed has stated its intervention is intended to stabilize employment, there are no such requirements to prevent layoffs. One analysis showed that a third of companies with the largest bond debt participation have announced sizable worker layoffs.
In June, Fed Chair Jerome Powell testified to Congress that “the intended beneficiaries of all of our programs are workers.”
The petroleum industry has been dramatically impacted by the drop in consumer gasoline demand. The resulting “price collapse” at the pump has left many oil firms unable to service existing debt – much of it used pre-COVID to purchase smaller firms. Bankruptcy looms over many in the industry: 30 percent of the shale sector is “technically insolvent.” Smaller firms financed with private equity are teetering.
As finances for the industry began to unravel, lobbying efforts went into high gear. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas alongside 10 Republican colleagues issued an influential plea to Mnuchin and Powell in the form of an April 22 letter. Citing the recent downgrading of debt to junk bond status, the letter said, “We face a real and present danger of seeing hundreds, if not thousands of oil producers shuttering, an event that will profoundly and negatively impact the industry, its financial partners and consumers for years to come.”
Then there are the “inside lobbyists” like Interior Secretary David Bernhardt who had represented Big Oil for years. We have Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette whose career included senior posts with Ford Motor Co. and who had served on the Board of a Louisiana agency that oversees leasing of state lands to energy companies.
In spite of the new policy and rescue efforts by the Fed, industry layoffs followed suit. “We have to be simpler, more streamlined,” remarked Shell’s chief executive, Ben van Beurden, in response to another round of layoffs. “We need to be a more competitive organization, more nimble and able to respond to customers.” In a similar vein, Marathon Petroleum issued pink slips to 1000 employees which were intended to “strengthen Marathon Petroleum for short-term and long-term success.” Royal Dutch Shell, another bond purchase recipient, plans to trim its headcount by 9,000.
A number of factors have contributed to the financial stress amongst oil corporations. Prior to plummeting demand, Russia and Saudi Arabia were engaged in a price war and this was followed by a brief glut due to the U.S. fracking boom. Many firms, including those non-oil beneficiaries like Boeing corporation, turned down federal CARES Act funding and chose to increase liquidity through bond issuance. Of note, CARES Act funding came with strings attached: executive compensation was restricted.
Furthermore, a recent report revealed that 383 large firms whose bonds were purchased by the Fed paid dividends to their shareholders. Sysco Corporation is a typical example: they laid off a third of its workforce while paying out shareholder dividends. Other bond purchase beneficiaries, like Tyson Foods, were found guilty of labor and environmental violations. The fact that 15% of the Fed’s corporate bond holdings are issued from large banks raises questions similar to the bailout terms during the 2008 financial meltdown.
The administration’s leanings are summed up in this Trump tweet: “We will never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down.”
Vocal critics include Alan Zibel, research director of Public Citizen’s Corporate Presidency Project who points out that “when consumers take on too much credit card debt, they can be forced into bankruptcy and face financial ruin. But when the oil and gas industry accumulate too much debt, it gets a bailout on the backs of taxpayers.” The administration is accused of issuing bailouts for industry friends and loyalists, and to those who are harming rather than helping our environment.
While this bond buying program is favorable to the Fortune 500 – municipalities, small businesses, and individuals are offered more restrictive loans at higher rates. Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former top Fed and Treasury official, wrote that this program effectively protects wealthy bond holders from losses, offering them “all the upside that comes with a junk bond, but none of the risk that, before now, made it, well, junk.”
- https://prospect.org/ devoted to promoting informed discussion on public policy from a progressive perspective.
- https://www.politico.com/ strives to be the dominant source for news on politics and policy in power centers across every continent.
- https://www.bondbuyer.com/ the only independent information resource serving the entire municipal finance community.
- https://som.yale.edu/ to educate leaders for business and society.