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.
WildEarth Guardians is in court today defending the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico from fracking!
Before a federal appeals court, we intend to make the case that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management illegally allowed the oil and gas industry to drill and despoil this sacred landscape, putting our climate, clean air, and Navajo communities at risk.
Stay tuned to WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Twitter account @ClimateWest for updates and developments!
Together with the Western Environmental Law Center, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, in 2015 we filed suit against the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of hundreds of drilling permits in the Greater Chaco region.
Sadly, last year our lawsuit was rejected by a U.S. District Court judge in New Mexico. Undeterred, we’ve continued to press for justice.
Today, we’re literally getting our day in court. At a hearing in Salt Lake City, Utah, we’ll be arguing before a panel of three federal appeals judges. Their hearings start at 9 AM mountain time. We’ll likely be arguing between 11 and noon.
WildEarth Guardians’ Managing Attorney, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, will be presenting to the court. Alongside her will be the Western Environmental Law Center’s Energy and Communities Director and Staff Attorney, Kyle Tisdel.
The hearing won’t be streamed online, but we’ll try to provide updates via social media as we can. Stay tuned to @ClimateWest and future updates here on our Brave New Wild blog!
The oil and gas industry and their cronies in the Trump Administration are again setting their sights on the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico, but we’re gearing up to thwart their plans.
In the past week, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced plans to auction off nearly 50,000 acres of public lands in this sacred area for fracking, including lands literally on the doorstep of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
The Greater Chaco region is the home of the Ancestral Puebloan people, who more than 1,000 years ago constructed a thriving civilization within the high desert of the Four Corners region. Chaco Canyon, which is protected as Chaco Culture National Historical Park, is at the heart of Greater Chaco.
All told, the agency intends to sell more than 11,000 acres in the region in March 2019 and more than 37,000 acres in June 2019.
We put together an interactive map showing where these parcels are located, check it out below or click here for a full-size version.
This map not only shows the location of the lands the Trump Administration wants to sell this year, but you can click on the layers tab and see the location of lands that were sadly sold last December, and lands that were “deferred” from sale in 2018.
Don’t be fooled, though. Deferred doesn’t mean these lands were taken off the table, it just means their sale has been postponed. While we’re breathing a sigh of relief, we know we have to remain vigilant.
Because as you can also see in this map by clicking on the layers tab, the Greater Chaco region is already under siege by the fracking industry.
More than 91% of the region has been sold to the oil and gas industry already and more than 40,000 wells have been drilled. More than 500 have recently been drilled and fracked near Chaco Canyon, the heart of the Greater Chaco region.
While more fracking promises more climate destruction, more loss of public lands, and more threats to the cultural integrity of the landscape, it also threatens present-day Navajo people who reside in the region.
Much of the Greater Chaco region lies within the Navajo Nation. And of the lands proposed for sale this year, may lie within Navajo Chapters, which are local government units within the Nation. As our map shows, the Huerfano, Nageezi, Counselor, and Ojo Encino Chapters all stand to be impacted.
In 2017, the Navajo Nation President and Vice President took a stand in opposition to more fracking in the region. Locally, the Ojo Encino, Counselor, Torreon/Star Lake, and Dilkon Chapters have all adopted resolutions opposing fracking in Greater Chaco.
The modern day Pueblo Tribes are also standing up to defend their ancestral lands. The All Pueblo Council of Governors has not only called for a moratorium on fracking in Greater Chaco, they’ve actively resisted the Bureau of Land Management’s past attempts to sell lands to the oil and gas industry.
Together with our Indigenous allies, we’ve been at the forefront of resisting more fracking in this sacred landscape. Last fall, we filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit to overturn hundreds of fracking approvals.
And we’ve continued to mount challenge after challenge to more fracking sales in the region, bringing forward tens of thousands of comments opposing these giveaways.
At the same time, we’ve been working closely with New Mexico’s U.S. Congressional delegation to strengthen proposed legislation that would protect the Greater Chaco region from fracking and help advance a just transition away from dependence fossil fuels.
And together with all our members, supporters, allies, friends, partners, and more, we’ve been upping the resistance, showing up in greater and greater numbers to demand justice and protection for Greater Chaco and its peoples.
Greater Chaco remains under siege, but we are holding the line. Although there’s every reason to be concerned, there’s every reason to be hopeful we will defend this sacred region and secure the lasting protection it deserves.
UPDATE: Unbelievably, shortly after posting this, Trump’s Bureau of Land Management approved yet another fracking well in the Greater Chaco region. If you haven’t yet, lend your voice in support of protecting the Greater Chaco region and Navajo communities from fracking.
In early February, the President and Vice President of the Navajo Nation made a straightforward ask of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management: place a moratorium on fracking-related activities in the Greater Chaco region of northwestern New Mexico.
How has the Bureau of Land Management responded since that request was made?
The’ve continued to approve more fracking-related activities in the Greater Chaco region. In fact, one can say the agency has effectively flipped the bird toward the Navajo Nation, its President, and Vice President.
Since the Navajo Nation’s February 6, 2017 request for a moratorium, the Bureau of Land Management has approved nearly 30 new drilling and fracking permits, authorized new pipelines, and approved other developments to accommodate new fracking in the region.
This is what WildEarth Guardians learned after analyzing the Bureau of Land Management’s own database of actions, which are available through its ePlanning website. Here’s a link to one of the recent approvals, a WPX proposal to drill and frack seven new wells in the region.
It clearly shows the Navajo Nation’s request has fallen on deaf ears under President Trump.
Worse, it seems to have been rejected by a callous Administration that has no regard at all for public health and the welfare of Tribal communities.
How else to explain the fact that the Bureau of Land Management seems to be acting as if the Navajo Nation’s concerns simply don’t matter?
As background, the Bureau of Land Management has been authorizing a flood of fracking in the vicinity of Chaco Canyon, where Chaco Culture National Historical Park is located. While Chaco Canyon is itself an incredible protected landscape, the region is home to many Navajo communities.
These communities have been completely ignored and disregarded as industry has demanded to drill and frack wherever, however, and whenever it wants. Under Trump, the Bureau of Land Management has been more than willing to oblige oil and gas companies at the expense of Navajo residents, as well as the broader American public.
The consequences have been disastrous, ranging from a massive well explosion near peoples’ homes, a surge in air and water pollution, and widespread threats to the cultural integrity of the Greater Chaco region.
WildEarth Guardians is actually in federal court right now against the Bureau of Land Management for failing to address the air, water, climate, cultural, and human health impacts of this fracking. Our attorneys and attorneys with the Western Environmental Law Center just yesterday filed our opening brief, calling for the reversal of 362 drilling and fracking approvals.
Even the Bureau of Land Management has acknowledged it currently lacks an adequate plan to protect people and public lands from this surge in oil and gas development.
In spite of this, the fracking onslaught continues. Perhaps it’s no surprise the Bureau of Land Management walked out of public meetings in response to frustrations and concerns over this unchecked fracking.
If you don’t know, the Greater Chaco region of northwestern New Mexico is the cultural heart of the American Southwest. With Chaco Culture National Historical Park at its core, the Greater Chaco region spans nearly 8,000 square miles where more than a thousand years ago, the Ancestral Puebloan Chaco culture thrived.
The region is filled with Chacoan ruins and other culturally significant sites, and spans far beyond Chaco Canyon. The map below shows just some of the Chaco Great Houses found in this 8,000 square mile region.
Fossil fuel development has sadly been occurring in the area for decades, decimating many cultural sites. The latest threat from horizontal drilling and fracking of the Mancos shale, which underlies virtually all of Greater Chaco, is beyond what has ever occurred here.
Since 2010, hundreds of new oil and gas wells have been drilled and fracked increasingly in the vicinity of Chaco Canyon. Some of these wells are within 10 miles of the Park and inching closer.
The map below shows Chaco Canyon and a 10-mile buffer. It also shows the location of existing oil and gas wells in the area, as well a where drilling has recently started and where drilling has been permitted.
It gets worse, though. The Bureau of Land Management has already made nearly 4,000 square miles of the Greater Chaco region open to oil and gas development. Of this, the agency has leased more than 90% to the oil and gas industry. What is leasing? It’s effectively selling lands for fracking. A lease hands over control and access of public lands to private companies.
As fracking has boomed, more and more land has been sold to industry. Today, there are thousands of acres of public lands that are effectively owned by companies like Encana, WPX, Exxon, and others. These leases are literally on the doorstep of Chaco Canyon, meaning it’s only a matter of time before fracking really starts to attack the heart of Greater Chaco.
The map below shows the location of Chaco Canyon and the oil and gas leases that have been sold by the Bureau of Land Management in the vicinity.
Even while Greater Chaco is under siege and threatened like never before, the Bureau of Land Management has shown no restraint at all in restricting, limiting, our simply hitting the pause button on new fracking.
Just in January of this year, the agency actually sold nearly 1,000 more acres for fracking within 20 miles of Chaco Canyon. This, in spite of protests and calls from Tribal leaders to cancel the lease sale.
The silver lining in all of this is that as President Trump and the Bureau of Land Management continue to put the profits of the oil and gas industry before Tribal and American public interests, the opposition is only going to grow and intensify.
In February, the Navajo Nation and All Pueblo Council of Governors joined forces for the first time against fracking and horizontal drilling in the Chaco region. The New Mexico State Legislature also weighed, urging protection of Greater Chaco and its people.
And a growing and diverse number of organizations, including Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Tewa Women United, San Juan Citizens Alliance, New Energy Economy, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and others, are uniting under the Frack Off Greater Chaco Coalition.
It’s an injustice that President Trump and the Bureau of Land Management are thumbing their nose at the Navajo Nation and others calling for restraint. However, their resistance will only make us stronger.