Our nation’s bedrock environmental law–the National Environmental Policy Act–is under attack by corporate polluters and their cronies in the Trump Administration, threatening our right to a healthy environment in the United States.
Fortunately, we have a chance to fight back against this brazen assault and defend our health and communities.
Most people have no clue what the National Environmental Policy Act is, but virtually everyone knows what it does.
Passed 50 years ago, the law ensures federal agencies analyze and fully disclose the environmental impacts of their activities. More importantly, it gives the public the right to be involved and to influence federal actions that may affect their environment.
Described as “our basic national charter for protection of the environment,” the National Environmental Policy Act has been a critical check on the activities of our federal government.
Often called NEPA (that’s pronounced “nee-puh”), the law enshrined the goal of environmental protection in the United States and enforced the need to involve the public in federal decisions. And since its passage, NEPA has worked tremendously.
It’s given communities a voice and sway when new highways are proposed through neighborhoods. It’s empowered local and state governments to stand up to federal agencies. It’s provided Tribes the tools needed to defend sacred lands. And it’s enabled watchdogs across the country to make a difference for people and the planet.
The law has truly been a ray of sunshine and for Americans.
For WildEarth Guardians, NEPA is absolutely key to protecting and restoring wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health in the American West.
For over 30 years, we’ve relied on the law to confront proposals by federal agencies to log old growth forests, dam rivers, decimate wildlife, destroy the climate, and desecrate sacred lands. We’ve relied on the law to mobilize support for safeguarding endangered species, protecting wilderness, and saving lands and waters throughout the American West.
Just last month, we filed suit in federal court to block the sale of nearly two million acres of public lands for fracking in five western states over the federal government’s failure to comply with NEPA. The case confronts the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s refusal to account for the climate impacts of authorizing more fossil fuel production and more greenhouse gas emissions.
For WildEarth Guardians, as well as countless other environmental, health, community, justice, Indigenous, and other advocates, NEPA is the backbone of our accountability efforts. It’s given us all the tools needed to stand up to private, often well-financed efforts to exploit our environment at the expense of our health and well-being.
Sadly, because groups like WildEarth Guardians have successfully used NEPA to defend our environment, it’s come under fire by polluters who view the law as an impediment to their ability to exploit communities and public resources.
Claiming the law is inefficient, cumbersome, and ineffective, corporate interests have for many years called for its gutting. Now, with Trump and his pro-polluter cadre in the White House, these interests are launching an unprecedented strike on our nation’s basic charter for environmental protection.
In a draft released on January 10, the White House Council on Environmental Quality published a proposed set of regulations that, if adopted, would effectively roll back and destroy NEPA as we know it (watch our recent Facebook Live check-in to learn more about these rollbacks).
The rules would completely rewrite regulations originally promulgated in 1982 and in doing so, completely upend our ability to hold our federal government accountable to protecting our environment. It’s not surprising that lobbyists for the nation’s polluters have described the rules as “exactly” what they recommended to the Trump administration.
Among the sweeping changes, the Trump administration’s proposal would:
- Strike language describing NEPA as “our nation’s basic charter for environmental protection” and instead describe the law as procedural and only requiring federal agencies to minimally disclose the environmental impacts of their actions;
- Severely restrict opportunities for public involvement in federal agency actions affecting the environment;
- In many situations, exempt federal agencies from having to complete environmental reviews;
- Let agencies shortcut environmental reviews and to reject science and public comments;
- Undermine transparency by allowing agencies to withhold environmental information from the public;
- Make it more difficult for watchdogs to enforce NEPA before administrative appeals boards or federal courts; and
- Prohibit federal agencies from analyzing and disclosing cumulative environmental impacts, or the impacts of their actions when added to the impacts of other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable activities.
That last proposed change is particularly distressing. The duty for the federal government to address the cumulative impacts of its actions is a critical and powerful means of ensuring agencies don’t worsen environmental problems, like climate change.
By eliminating the duty to account for cumulative impacts, the proposed changes would completely erase the federal government’s responsibility to protect our environment.
In keeping with the anti-public spirit of the proposal, the Council on Environmental Quality has also provided only 60 days for people to provide comments on the draft regulations and scheduled only two public hearings–one in Denver and one in Washington, D.C.–where only a little more than 100 people will be allowed to comment.
There’s no doubt that if approved, the proposed rules would effectively shut the American public out of the operations of the federal government, leaving our environment, our communities, our health, and our families more vulnerable than ever.
In response to Trump’s attack on NEPA, a massive coalition of advocates across the country are gearing up to fight back.
The resistance is kicking off in Denver, Colorado this Tuesday, February 11. That day, the Trump administration is holding its first of two public hearings on the proposed rollbacks.
While many will be speaking at the formal hearing, the Council on Environmental Quality provided only 112 speaking slots that were filled in less than five minutes due to extremely high demand. That’s why most people will be speaking and rallying across the street as part of the “Peoples Hearing to Protect NEPA,” an all-day action meant to uplift and empower the voices that were excluded by the Trump administration.
Groups are also pushing back in other critical ways. Last month, WildEarth Guardians joined hundreds of other groups in demanding the Trump administration extend the public comment period for the proposed rollbacks and calling for more public hearings.
Congressional leaders are also rising up to defend NEPA. In a bipartisan letter last month, U.S. Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, a Democrat, and Representative Francis Rooney of Florida, a Republican, were joined by hundreds of other members of the U.S. House in calling on the Council on Environmental Quality to back down from the proposed rollbacks.
In the meantime, now, more than ever, we need your voice to help derail these terrible rollbacks to NEPA. If you haven’t yet, sign our petition and join thousands of others who are rising up to speak out for our environment and our voice.
Together, we can thwart Trump and his gang of polluters in the White House. Together, we can #ProtectNEPA.
Today, Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Ben Ray Lujan and Deb Haaland of New Mexico, with the support of State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, and Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, introduced the “Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act,” in the U.S. Senate and House, which would create a Chaco Protection Zone around Chaco Canyon.
The legislation would withdraw the oil, gas, coal and other minerals from federal public land within an approximate 10-mile buffer zone around the Park. Importantly, the legislation would allow for the termination of non-producing federal leases within the Protection Zone and prohibit the Secretary of Interior from extending them.
The legislation also acknowledges the broader Chaco cultural landscape across New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah, and recognizes the need for “additional studies…to address health, safety and environmental impacts to communities.”
From my perspective, this legislation is worthy of some major applause.
We are grateful to Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Lujan and Haaland for introducing a Greater Chaco bill that better protects Indigenous communities, sacred lands and the climate. The intersection of climate justice and sacred landscapes calls for bold leadership and that’s what all Americans are getting in this bill.
I want to commend both Senators and Representatives for listening to community concerns over the last year and responding by better protecting Navajo communities and the climate from the threat of fossil fuel extraction. When this bill becomes law it will provide a beachhead of protections for the Greater Chaco region that, we hope, will be the beginning of a regional transitions to more equitable economies.
We still have considerable work to do enact this legislation and defend communities and the climate from the reckless actions of the Trump Administration and yet today we pause to acknowledge the hard work that Senators Udall and Heinrich have engaged in.
We live in increasingly complex and challenging times and we believe our solutions must reflect that complexity. By recognizing the intersectionality of climate justice, community resilience and the need for energy and economic transition in the Greater Chaco region this bill creates a framework to protect the health and well-being of this sacred region and its peoples.
Thank you to Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Haaland and Luján.
Although Interior is asking for public comment until January 28, 2019, the agency is not actually capable of receiving and processing comments due to the government shutdown.
Despite a government shutdown, the U.S. Department of the Interior is proposing changes to its transparency regulations that threaten to make it more difficult for Americans to request and obtain records from the federal government.
In a proposed rule slated to be published tomorrow, Interior is calling for sweeping rule changes in order to, in its words, respond to “the unprecedented surge in FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests and litigation.”
The proposal is a blatant attack on our democratic right to know. The Freedom of Information Act is our nation’s bedrock transparency law and it’s meant to ensure Americans have the ability to know what their government is up to.
WildEarth Guardians uses the Freedom of Information Act extensively as we watchdog the Interior Department and other government agencies. In fact, we post all records we obtain on our website so all Americans have access to information that would otherwise be unavailable.
It’s undeniable there has been a surge in Freedom of Information Act requests and litigation in response to the Trump Administration’s assault on transparency and the public interest. In fact, the number of lawsuits filed under the Freedom of Information Act has hit record highs under Trump.
WildEarth Guardians has been among the most prominent litigators. Our most recent complaint challenged the Interior’s failure to respond to a request for records related to the Department’s report on “Energy Burdens.”
Yet Interior’s claim that this is a problem is belied by the fact that the Department utterly flouts the Freedom of Information Act and actively promotes a culture of secrecy, opaqueness, and unaccountability to the American public.
In our experience in dealing with the Interior Department under the Freedom of Information Act, we’ve found the agency regularly ignores deadlines, consistently finds ways to deny access to government records, purposefully drags its feet in responding to requests for information, and refuses to provide the resources and staffing needed to meet its legal obligations under federal transparency law.
To boot, among federal agencies, Interior is one of the worst in terms of making information available online.
It’s no wonder the Department gets sued. Yet rather than truly address the underlying lack of legal compliance and disrespect for transparency, Interior is instead proposing to change the rules.
Without a doubt, the proposed regulatory changes are an assault on transparency. Among the more insidious changes:
- The proposed rule would allow Interior and its agencies to reject information requests that it deems would require an “unreasonably burdensome” search.
Currently, agencies have to honor all records requests, regardless of the amount of times and resources required to search for records. This reflects the fact that the Freedom of Information Act mandates full transparency and does not allow agencies to selectively censor information simply because they believe it would be “hard” to provide records.
- The proposed rule would allow Interior and its agencies to arbitrarily “impose a monthly limit for processing records” in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.
This proposal would effectively condone footdragging and deny access to government information. The change would allow agencies to impose baseless “quotas” on information requests.
- The proposed rule would impose more hurdles for public interest organizations, including the media and academic institutions, to be granted fee waivers.
The Freedom of Information Act requires agencies provide records at no cost to organizations intending to use information to advance the public interest. Although the law requires fee waivers be granted liberally, Interior’s proposed changes would effectively turn the tables on public interest groups.
The new wording would set higher and nearly unattainable criteria, provide more discretion to deny fee waivers, and allow the Department to second-guess claims that information would serve a public interest.
For example, the proposal would allow Interior to deny fee waivers if it deems a request does not “concern discrete, identifiable agency activities, operations, or programs with a connection that is direct and clear, not remote or attenuated.”
This essentially lets the federal government deny fee waivers simply because it believes the requested information isn’t relevant.
Overall, the proposed rule aims to add more subjectivity into the Interior Department’s transparency regulations, clearly intending to give agencies more discretion to deny access to information and to deny fee waivers.
Overall, the changes appear to be blatantly contrary to the Freedom of Information Act. Click here to see our annotated version of the Department’s proposed rule with our comments on how it runs afoul of federal law.
Earlier this year, we led a coalition in calling on the Interior Department to defend the Freedom of Information Act and government transparency. In a letter to outgoing Secretary, Ryan Zinke, we stated:
It is an affront to the bedrock of democracy that the agency would suggest asking Congress to make changes to the law in order to limit requests for information, impose burdensome fees, and otherwise seek changes that are clearly meant to stymie, not promote, public engagement.
– Coalition Letter to Ryan Zinke
Sadly, it’s clear Interior has no interest in defending the right for Americans to know what their government is up to.
Rather than uphold the democratic ideal of the freedom of information, Interior is instead treating our transparency laws as a “burden.”
Ironically, and perhaps not surprisingly, while Interior is moving ahead with transparency rollbacks, the Department is refusing to accept requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
In response to the proposed rule, we submitted a request today for records underlying the changes. The response from Interior? “Due to the government shutdown, no FOIA requests can be accepted or processed at this time.”
Rest assured, we will be pushing back against Interior’s attacks on transparency and our democracy. Access to information is critical for ensuring Interior is defending our public lands, wildlife, National Parks and Monuments, climate, and more.
America can’t afford rollbacks of Freedom of Information rights. Whether you’re on the right, the left, in the middle, or anywhere else in between, we simply can’t allow our government to retreat into the shadows.
We will do everything we can to ensure these illegal rules never see the light of day.
The future of Tri-State Generation and Transmission is more uncertain than ever as the western utility faces revolts from its customers and the reality that its utility partners are actively moving away from costly fossil fuels.
Reliance on Fossil Fuels a Big Problem
In the past two weeks, Tri-State has probably faced more threats to its existence than ever before.
The utility, which provides wholesale power to 43 rural electric cooperatives in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming, is heavily reliant on coal and natural gas-fired power generation, which is becoming more expensive to sustain.
Tri-State owns more than 1,800 megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity at power plants in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. Not only that, the company fully owns coal mines in northwestern Colorado, as well as a stake in a massive mine in northeastern Wyoming.
That’s certainly a problem for our climate. Studies show that Tri-State is the most carbon-intensive utility in the U.S. because of its reliance on fossil fuels.
More importantly, that’s a huge problem for its customers, including rural communities throughout the American West.
Because Tri-State’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels, and in particular coal, is leading to higher rates for its rural electric co-op members.
What’s worse is the company has its members locked into long term contracts requiring that they buy at least 95% of their power from the wholesale provider.
As the cost of coal goes up, Tri-State’s members are on the hook for the increase, whether they like it or not. Not surprisingly, many members are not liking it.
And not only are members not liking it, but neither are Tri-State’s utility partners, including its coal-fired power plant co-owners.
These winds of change are casting more doubt than ever on the future economic viability of Tri-State and raising legitimate questions over the future of the utility.
In The Last Two Weeks, Everything Has Changed
While Tri-State has kept its house in order for many many years, in the past two weeks, events have occurred that indicate its house is collapsing.
At the end of November, United Power, which serves the north Denver Metro area, sent a letter to every other co-op served by Tri-State calling for changes to allow members to purchase and develop cleaner and more affordable renewable energy.
United Power generates more than 12% of Tri-State’s revenue, more than any other member of Tri-State, and serves nearly 80,000 customers, also more than any other member. Although United is one of 43 members of Tri-State, it’s clearly the most economically important one. The co-op was very blunt in its criticism of Tri-State:
Tri-State’s reluctance to embrace additional sources of renewable energy generation due to constraints of its largely fossil fuel generating fleet creates growing problems with our environmentally conscious residential, commercial, and industrial members.
– United Power, Member of Tri-State
That was just the beginning.
Following the release of United’s letter, Tri-State’s utility partners last week made announcements signaling a massive and unprecedented move away from fossil fuels.
First off, Pacificorp, which operates the largest fleet of coal-fired power plants in the western U.S., released a report showing that 60% of its power plants were more expensive to operate than renewable energy options.
Although the company has made no decisions related to this report yet, the writing on the wall is pretty clear that these plants are up for retirement.
This announcement was significant because among the uneconomic power plants identified by Pacificorp was the Craig coal-fired power plant in northwestern Colorado. The utility co-owns a portion of the Craig plant, but Tri-State largely owns the facility. In fact, the Craig power plant is Tri-State’s most significant coal-fired power plant investment.
This announcement was significant because if Xcel is seriously going to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030, it will have to retire all of its coal-fired generating capacity. That’s huge because Xcel also co-owns a portion of the Craig plant together with Tri-State.
Next, the Platte River Power Authority, which serves northern Colorado, also announced last week a new bold energy commitment of reducing carbon emissions 100% by 2030.,
Without a doubt, this announcement means the Platte River Power Authority will have to shutter all of its coal-fired power generation by 2030. That’s significant because the utility, like Pacificorp and Xcel, is also a co-owner of the Craig coal-fired power plant.
Taken together, it means Tri-State faces the near-term departure of most owners of the Craig coal-fired power plant, which means the utility faces the immediate prospect of either shouldering the added expenses of operating and maintaining the power plant or shutting it down completely.
Either way, Tri-State faces more costs and more uncertainty.
To top it off, last Thursday, the Delta Montrose Electric Association, filed a formal complaint with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in an effort to buy itself out of its contract with Tri-State.
What it Means for Tri-State
The Delta Montrose Electric Association, which serves the western Colorado communities of Paonia, Hotchkiss, Delta, Montrose, and others, isn’t the biggest Tri-State customer. However, the fact that they’re leaving is a sign of more widespread impending attrition among Tri-State’s membership.
And as more attrition unfolds, Tri-State faces an impending death spiral.
If Delta Montrose can buy out their contract with Tri-State, then other members will surely follow. As Tri-State loses customers, its revenue will decline, although its costs, especially associated with coal mining and power generation will stay the same.
To recoup costs Tri-State will be forced to raise rates, which will fuel more attrition among its customers. As customers defect, revenue declines further and costs go up for remaining customers.
Which means ultimately, Tri-State loses customers and money and has no choice but to go bankrupt.
Time for Bold Action
Given that its utility partners are also actively divesting in fossil fuels, it seems that Tri-State’s future grows more dismal by the day.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though.
If Tri-State Generation and Transmission were to make serious and significant commitments to retiring fossil fuels and investing in more affordable and cleaner, renewable energy, the company may have a chance of avoiding demise.
Although shuttering coal and natural gas-fired power plants has a cost, the key is to cut the loss and pay off debts as soon as possible.
Because ultimately, investing heavily in renewables appears to be the new model for economic sustainability.
A utility competitor of Tri-State, Guzman Energy, is already showing that renewable energy can be provided at lower rates and with greater returns. The company just this week announced plans to develop 250 megawatts of new wind and solar in the American West, a major testament to the economic viability of fossil fuels.
For Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the time to act is now. As other western utilities move away from fossil fuels, the company is increasingly going to shoulder the cost of maintaining coal and natural gas-fired electricity generation.
Tri-State has an opportunity to not just power, but empower the rural American West with 100% clean and affordable renewable energy.
WildEarth Guardians this month stepped up to confront Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s failure to guarantee more than $120 million in coal mine clean-up costs.
Tri-State has been allowed to post “self-bonds,” essentially corporate IOUs, to guarantee cleanups at four mines, including the Dry Fork mine in Wyoming and the Colowyo, New Horizon North, and New Horizon South mines in Colorado. However, Tri-State hasn’t actually accounted for these self-bonds in its financial reporting to state and federal regulators, meaning the company hasn’t actually allocated any real money toward these liabilities.
As we’ve written about before, Tri-State has over $120 million in coal mine reclamation obligations related to the company’s Dry Fork mine in Wyoming and the Colowyo, New Horizon North, and New Horizon North mines in Colorado. Unfortunately, with the company’s empty promise of self-bonding, there’s no guarantee these mines will ever be fully reclaimed.
With no tangible financial backing, Tri-State’s “self-bonds” are effectively empty promises. This means that if the company were to go out of business, it would have no money on hand to actually assure the restoration of its mines. This would put taxpayers on the hook for cleaning up their mess.
Put another way, we strongly believe that Tri-State is lying and our latest brief challenges the failure of mine regulators to confront their BS.
The need to address Tri-State’s coal mine reclamation bonding is more critical than ever. The company is the wholesale power provider for 43 rural electric cooperatives in Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Yet with its heavy reliance on coal, the utility is facing serious financial headwinds and its ability to guarantee mine cleanups is increasingly in question.
In fact, the utility’s reliance on coal is costing its members more than ever, leading to defection and unrest among its customer base. The Delta-Montrose Electric Association in western Colorado recently took steps to get out of its membership with Tri-State and the La Plata Electric Association in southwestern Colorado is eyeing similar moves.
Tri-State’s future is anything but certain at this point, making it crucial that the company post real assurances–not empty IOUs–that its coal mines will be cleaned up.
With our latest filing, we’re keeping up the pressure to ensure utilities like Tri-State are held accountable to the true costs of coal and not allowed to pass those expenses onto their customers and to taxpayers.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is barreling ahead to auction New Mexico public lands for fracking and steamrolling, sidelining, and shunning the American public in the process.
The agency yesterday announced its intent to sell more than 84,000 acres of the Land of Enchantment to the oil and gas industry this December. This includes more than 43,000 acres in the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico and 41,000 acres in southeast New Mexico’s Greater Carlsbad Caverns region (the sale also includes more than 5,000 acres in Oklahoma and Texas).
Simultaneously, the Bureau of Land Management rejected a request from WildEarth Guardians and many others for public hearings around the proposed sale. A broad coalition of environmental, Tribal, health, and clean energy advocates had requested the meeting to have an opportunity provide more direct and meaningful comments to the agency.
– New Mexico U.S. Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham
The message from the Bureau of Land Management is loud and clear: they don’t care at all what we have to say.
Their rejection comes as the agency has launched unprecedented rollbacks of public involvement opportunities around public lands oil and gas management.
In New Mexico, the Bureau of Land Management eliminated an opportunity for the public to submit early comments on proposed fracking auctions. The agency also shortened the opportunity to file “protests,” or appeals, of proposed sales from 30 days to 10 days and now only allows protests to be mailed or hand delivered in hard copy.
That latter move was held illegal by a Federal Judge in Idaho, who found the Trump Administration violated Americans’ right to due process and environmental review. The Judge said succinctly:
The evidence illustrates that the intended result of the at-issue decisions was to dramatically reduce and even eliminate public participation in the future decision-making process.
– U.S. Federal Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush
In spite of this, the Bureau of Land Management is only altering its process where oil and sales overlap with greater sage grouse habitat. For New Mexico, which is outside the range of the greater sage grouse, this means no reprieve.
Perhaps the most telling sign of the Bureau of Land Management’s contempt toward the public, including Tribal and community leaders, is the agency’s still-relentless push to open up as many New Mexico public lands as possible for fracking.
Beyond its plans for December, the agency has already signaled its intent to sell off 55,000 acres in March 2019. These involve more than 11,000 acres in the Greater Chaco region, including lands within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
And the agency continues to shamelessly embrace what’s described as an “Energy Dominance” agenda, where public lands are being entirely committed to the oil and gas industry.
Rest assured, we’ll be pushing back against the Bureau of Land Management’s blatant disregard for the public interest in New Mexico and beyond.
In the sacred Greater Chaco region and other irreplaceable western landscapes, we can’t afford to let the Trump Administration succeed in its quest to condemn our lands and our future to fracking.
In case you missed it, last week the Freedom of Information Act Project released a report detailing how lawsuits enforcing our nation’s bedrock transparency law have more than doubled under the Trump Administration.
The report details how suits filed by nonprofits and advocacy groups under the Freedom of Information Act have soared to above 500, an unprecedented level of transparency litigation.
It’s not surprising given the Trump Administration’s ongoing assault on public transparency and accountability. As we’ve written about before, agencies like the U.S. Department of the Interior are refusing to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and even pushing to roll back the law.
What was surprising, however, is that WildEarth Guardians is among the top transparency litigators in the nation. According to the latest report, Guardians is is the number five filer of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, just behind the American Civil Liberties Union.
It’s an honorable distinction and one that we’ve worked hard to accomplish. Since Trump took office, we’ve made transparency and enforcing the Freedom of Information Act a top priority.
Within our Climate and Energy Program, we’ve filed hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests and received millions of pages of information that would otherwise be withheld form the public. Not only that, but we’ve posted every single one of our Freedom of Information Act requests and every responsive record to our online “FOIA Repository,” which you can access by clicking here >>
Our advocacy under the Freedom of Information Act has sought to secure all manner of records, including the communication records of Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, records related to the sale of public lands for fracking, and records related to the Interior Department’s efforts to roll back environmental safeguards for coal mining.
Sadly, rather than be responsive and transparent, the Administration is instead stonewalling. Hence our prolific litigation.
Rest assured, we intend to keep up the pace. As the fossil fuel industry and their cronies in the Trump Administration push to sideline the American public, subvert climate science, and silence dissent, enforcing transparency is critical.
A huge thanks to the Freedom of Information Act Project for their great work in tracking advocacy under the Freedom of Information Act! Together, we’re shining a much-needed spotlight on the Trump Administration’s lack of transparency and confronting their attacks on our democracy.
There’s no sugar-coating it. Last week’s report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change painted a grim outlook for our climate and the future of this planet.
Aside from acknowledging the reality that human-caused climate change is already wreaking havoc around the globe, the Panel also acknowledged that confronting this crisis will require unprecedented action to curb fossil fuel consumption, mitigate climate disruption, and even to reverse climate impacts by removing carbon from the atmosphere.
Admittedly, the findings from this Nobel Peace Prize-winning panel of thousands of scientists were discouraging, to put it mildly. The take home message was essentially, we’re screwed.
The truth is, we’re screwed only if we do nothing. And as disturbing as it may be, the reality is, the report is immensely liberating.
That’s because what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did is effectively make the case for the boldest, most aggressive, most radical action for the climate that we’ve ever seen or thought about.
WildEarth Guardians has always brought “no bullshit” when it comes to fighting for the climate. Remember, we’re the group that notoriously said “tough shit” when the coal industry whined that the federal government wouldn’t appeal a lawsuit win we secured over a coal mine expansion in northwest Colorado.
We received some blowback from the quote (an effigy even appeared as well as colorful bumper stickers!), but we never backed down. We meant it at the time and we’d say it again in a heartbeat.
But in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, it’s clear that even our “no bullshit” approach to climate advocacy needs to crank up.
We already make no bones about the fact that our aim is to shut down the fossil fuel industry in the American West, to transition to 100% renewable eleecticity by 2035, and to help communities get the resources they need to move away from fossil fuels and to more prosperous and sustainable economies.
Moving forward, however, it’s clear we need to turn the pressure up on the fossil fuel industry more than ever and bring forward more creative and hard-hitting tactics. Here’s some of our thinking on how to do that:
We will not settle for anything but 100% transition to renewable energy by western utility companies.
As we confront fossil fuel-fired power plants in the American West, our aim will be to secure commitments to move completely away from fossil fuels.
We will engage to secure concrete commitments from utilities to shutter all coal and gas-fired power plants. We will not accept compromise. We will oppose deals between utilities and other environmental groups unless they call for 100% renewable energy.
We will not tolerate companies like Xcel Energy, which in spite of shuttering some coal, continues to fall short of retiring all their fossil fuel-fired power plants, even though renewable energy would be cheaper.
We will be stepping up our efforts to foment local development of renewable energy in the rural west.
Locally developed distributed renewable energy is not only good for economies, it’s literally and figuratively empowering for communities. It puts control of electricity generation into the hands of locals, keeps money from leaving, and creates a more resilient electric grid.
Already, many rural electric co-ops are eyeing opportunities to develop wind, solar, and other sources of power. We will actively support these efforts and also step up our campaign to help rural communities break free of having to purchase costly fossil fuel-fired electricity from wholesale providers, like Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which is already in WildEarth Guardians’ crosshairs.
We will be even more relentless in pushing back against fracking on our public lands and lend more support to local and state efforts to rein in the oil and gas industry.
Already we’ve launched unprecedented initiatives to confront fracking on our public lands, including suing over the failure of the Interior Department to account for the climate impacts of oil and gas and challenging the Department of Transportation over its failure to ensure pipeline safety on public lands.
It’s clear, however, especially under President Trump and his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, that we need to be even more aggressive in exposing and confronting the going climate destruction being perpetrated by companies like Exxon and BP. And it’s clear we need to empower local and state action as well, especially where oil and gas development is not occurring on public lands.
Our plan is bring more and bigger lawsuits, throw our weight behind state and local citizen initiatives to limit fracking, and galvanize even greater opposition to the oil and gas industry among the climate movement. We especially need to foment more climate action in places like southeast New Mexico’s Greater Carlsbad Caverns region, where fracking is consuming every acre of land and releasing more climate pollution than coal-fired power plants.
We will be investing more heavily in advancing initiatives to electrify our transportation system in the western U.S.
Our dependence on oil is driven by the fact that most all of us have no affordable or viable alternative to fossil fuel-powered internal combustion engines. Quite simply, we’re in a forced addiction that won’t be resolved unless and until we make electric vehicles and charging infrastructure more affordable, accessible, available, and reliable.
Although Guardians hasn’t engaged much around transportation, that has to change. With western states already banding together to promote more effective and reliable electrification of transportation systems, there will be enormous opportunities to engage and make a difference.
We will make justice a priority.
Climate change disproportionately threatens people of color, indigenous peoples, and “economically disadvantaged” populations. What’s more, fossil fuels, both their consumption and production, invariably pose greater negative impacts to low income communities, to indigenous communities, and to communities of color. Put another way, climate change is an environmental justice issue and it needs to be confronted as such.
Our aim is to ensure that as we’re confronting the fossil fuel industry, we’re both empowering impacted peoples and communities to push back, and spurring solutions that rectify environmental injustice. In all honesty, our climate crisis is the result of old white men being in power. Solving it means taking them out of power.
We will take direct action.
It’s time to take it to the streets and use our power of protest to challenge the fossil fuel industry and their cronies in the government.
If we truly are committed to “no bullshit” advocacy, then we need to do more than just file comments, lawsuits, and write up blog posts. We need to energize, empower, and activate a movement. And we need to fully exercise our right to free speech. This means we need to be willing to put ourselves directly in the way of those who are disregarding and perpetuating our climate crisis.
Our goal is to bring forward more people power than ever before and do more to disrupt the fossil fuel status quo than ever before. Given the stakes, we simply can’t afford to be timid.
Things are not hopeless. Despite the challenges we face, we have solutions at hand.
Are they hard? Yes.
Are they unprecedented? Yes.
Do they involve risk? Yes.
Might they be uncomfortable? Yes.
But as much as confronting the climate crisis may be challenging and daunting, we know it will be liberating and empowering.
Will it make a difference for our future? Yes.
Will your kids be proud? Yes.
Will you leave a legacy? Yes.
Will you feel fulfilled? Yes.
Will you feel the joy of uplifting your fellow human beings and saving the planet? Yes.
So our question for you is, will you join us in our “no bullshit” campaign to confront the climate crisis? Because we need you and we want you. We believe our future is ours to make and we welcome anyone who agrees to stand with us and help us advance climate progress.
In spite of dire findings from scientists, our ability to effect social change has only grown more resolute. We can deal with this. It won’t be easy, but we can do it.
Westmoreland is a major producer in the American West, where the Colorado-based company owns the San Juan mine in New Mexico, the Kemmerer mine in Wyoming, and three mines in Montana–Savage, Rosebud, and Absaloka. The company also owns mines in Canada and Texas.
The reason for Westmoreland’s downfall? The U.S. is moving away from costly coal.
The company is in dire straits in no small part because of questionable decisions by management, but also because the U.S. coal industry is in broad decline and facing serious headwinds.
Utilities across the U.S. continue to retire coal-fired units at a rapid pace, cutting heavily into demand for coal. The advanced age of many plants, alongside relatively high maintenance and operating costs, are making them unviable in competitive electric markets, where cheap natural gas and the falling cost of wind and solar generation are relentlessly stealing market share.
Westmoreland’s financial predicament has been plainly obvious for sometime now. In the American West, the company’s mines fuel nearby power plants that utility companies have increasingly committed to shuttering.
For example, the company’s San Juan mine fuels the San Juan Generating Station, which is slated to shutdown by 2022 according to the plant’s primary owner and operator, Public Service Company of New Mexico (a.k.a. PNM).
And the company’s Kemmerer mine fuels the nearby Naughton Power Plant, a third of which is slated to shutdown by early 2019.
And the company’s Rosebud mine fuels the nearby Colstrip Power Plant, which is slated to shutdown completely before the 2030’s.
Westmoreland’s bankruptcy is another sign that the coal industry’s days are numbered and that no Trump bailout can possibly rescue mining companies.
The reality is, coal just can’t compete with more affordable renewable energy. Utilities can simply no longer justify charging customers for expensive coal when new renewable energy costs less, creates more jobs, and holds more promise for economic prosperity.
With news that a potential sale of the Navajo Generating Station, the largest coal-fired power plant in the American West, has fallen through, it’s now entirely clear this massive and costly facility is going to shut down in 2019, as originally scheduled.
That’s great news for our climate, clean air, and more. The power plant, located on the Navajo Nation and near the Hopi Tribe, has had a disastrous impact on public health and the environment in the Four Corners area, with its pollution disproportionately impacting Tribal residents in the region.
But it also means the U.S. Department of the Interior has to get serious about helping communities transition away from coal. Really serious.
And that means Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has to stop going to bat for coal companies and start actually helping communities move away from dependence upon this dying industry.
In the case of the Navajo Generating Station, the need for Zinke to get his priorities straight is more urgent than ever.
Without a doubt, the Navajo Generating Station has been an economic driver in the Four Corners region. The plant, as well as its fuel source, the nearby Kayenta coal mine, has provided jobs, power, and revenue for years.
The reality is, the retirement of the power plant and mine will be a loss to the region. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Interior has an enormous amount of power and authority to help the Four Corners region, particularly Tribal communities, not only weather the shutdown of the Navajo Generation Station and Kayenta mine, but to become more prosperous as a result.
First and foremost, Interior, through the Bureau of Reclamation, directly owns nearly 25% of the Navajo Generating Station. This ownership gives the Department tremendous leverage to negotiate the shut down and clean up of the power plant in a way that creates jobs and provides transition support to communities.
Interior’s Office of Surface Mining also regulates mining and reclamation at the Kayenta mine. This gives the Department the ability to direct more expeditious and intensive reclamation at the mine, which stands to yield more jobs and more revenue. It also gives Interior the power to authorize post-mining land uses that are more economically productive and sustainable, such as renewable energy development.
Most importantly, the agency plays a major role in supporting Navajo and Hopi communities in the region through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Truly, Interior could play a vitally instrumental role in providing resources, training, expertise, and more to Tribal communities.
In fact, in many respects, Interior is the only agency capable of providing the kind of support needed to assure successful economic transition in the region.
Unfortunately, rather than acknowledge the reality of the Navajo Generating Station’s inevitable downfall and the economic loss that will result, Interior has turned its back on communities.
Back in June, Interior threatened to force the plant’s largest customer, the Central Arizona Project, to purchase power from the Navajo Generating Station. The Central Arizona Project, which provides water to Phoenix and other parts of Arizona, ultimately rebuffed the Department and instead entered into one of the cheapest solar energy contracts reported.
The Department has also been meeting with Peabody Energy, the largest coal mining company in the U.S. and the owner of the Kayenta mine, apparently scheming to find ways to keep the mine and power plant operating.
Yet the amount of time and resources Interior has apparently been spending to help the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe transition from being economically dependent on coal?
As near as we can tell, 0 hours, 0 dollars, and 0 effort.
It’s particularly unjust considering the time and taxpayer dollars Interior is spending for the likes of Peabody Energy. Those resources could do so much to help advance economic transition and sustainability in the Four Corners region.
In other words, instead of getting behind real economic transition, Zinke is shamefully (and, frankly, desperately) just going to bat for the coal industry.
Sadly, this isn’t the only region of the American West where Ryan Zinke’s willful blindness to coal’s dismal future threatens to leave communities hanging.
In northwest New Mexico, the Interior Department is moving to approve 15-year expansion of the San Juan coal mine, even though its only customer–the nearby San Juan Generating Station–is closing by 2022.
Similarly, in southeast Montana, the agency is moving to approve an 20-year expansion of the Rosebud coal mine, even though its only customer–the nearby Colstrip Power Plant–is shutting down by 2028.
And in Utah, Interior is trumpeting the approval of a new federal coal lease, even as the Trump Administration has come under fire from former miners for refusing to help communities transition in the face of mine shutdowns.
In all these cases, Interior is doing nothing to acknowledge, plan for, and take action to address the near-term economic consequences of the inevitable, near-term shutdown of coal-fired power plants and the mines that fuel them.
Secretary Zinke believes he’s throwing the coal industry a lifeline. The truth is, he’s denying communities the support they need to survive and thrive.