State and local officials in southwest Utah are asking the federal Bureau of Land Management to approve the bulldozing and carving of a new 4-lane highway through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. The request comes less than a dozen years after Congress designated the conservation area to protect habitat for the imperiled Mojave desert tortoise, which has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1990.
Construction of the highway, known as the Northern Corridor, would harm much of this key habitat for the threatened tortoise. The new highway would also exacerbate impacts of a July 2020 wildfire that tore through 12,000 acres of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, which as the local paper pointed out, impacted desert shrubs, herbs, grasses, cacti, and wildflowers that serve as shelter and food for the threatened tortoise. The truth is that the highway is unnecessary and would increase the already rapid pace of human expansion into southwest Utah.
The Red Cliffs are the northeast extent of the range of Mojave desert tortoise and a stronghold for the species. While these creatures can live up to 80 years, they don’t reach reproductive maturity until around 15 year-old and they are very sensitive to habitat changes, which means that their populations grow slowly. The tortoise’s overall population has long been declining and the Northern Corridor highway would fuel further decline in several significant ways.
The 4-lane highway would permanently restrict tortoises’ ability to migrate within the National Conservation Area, which could lead to the complete loss of local sub-populations. And while federal officials would attempt to gather up tortoises in the path of the highway and relocate them before bulldozers started rolling, the effort would largely serve as PR rather than preservation. Science has shown that re-located tortoises have very poor survival rates and other tortoises wouldn’t be found and would be crushed by heavy equipment during construction.
Utah’s Department of Transportation wants the public to believe the new highway is needed to reduce snarled traffic in rapidly growing St. George. But real-world experience shows us that any short-term reduction in traffic congestion provided by the Northern Corridor would hasten further sprawl around St. George, ultimately offsetting the short-term traffic benefits. And the Bureau of Land Management’s own environmental analysis identifies an alternative route that not only avoids the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area entirely but would be more effective at reducing traffic congestion in the long term.
September 10 is the deadline to tell the Bureau of Land Management to act in the best interest of public lands and threatened wildlife. Click here to ask the Bureau to reject Utah’s request for an unnecessary and harmful 4-lane highway through this desert tortoise stronghold.
Trump’s Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue flew into Missoula on June 12 to sign a memorandum directing the U.S. Forest Service to essentially double-down on its continued push to prioritize logging, mining, drilling and grazing, all while limiting environmental reviews. During the campaign-style signing event, Secretary Perdue—a former agribusiness CEO whose previous political campaigns were bankrolled by Monsanto and Big Ag interests—not only bragged that “we see trees as a crop,” but also ironically compared America’s bedrock environmental laws to “bubble wrap.” Apparently it was lost on Secretary Perdue that bubble wrap protects valuable things from being destroyed.
Missing from the secretary’s statements was any recognition that America’s national forests, 193 million acres in all, are actually diverse ecosystems that are home to hundreds of imperiled fish and wildlife species, and contain the last remnants of wildlands in this country that millions of people cherish. The secretary failed to mention how numerous communities rely on national forests to provide clean drinking water, or the fact that intact forests do more to remove atmospheric carbon than do stumps. In fact, national forests have a crucial role to play as part of global, natural climate change solutions.
Returning to the past, when resource extraction and exploitation ruled the land is hardly a blueprint for the future. Yet, this is exactly what the secretary ordered and what the Trump administration has been pursuing from Day One. In fact, Perdue’s memorandum comes on the heels of two recent Trump Executive Orders allowing industry and federal agencies to waive compliance with long-standing environmental laws that safeguard fish and wildlife. These orders follow Trump’s wholesale rolling back of rules requiring federal agencies to involve the public, take a hard look at the environmental consequences of its actions, and consider alternatives.
A recent Journal of Forestry article demonstrates the rationale for these rollbacks and attacks is baseless. Even without further “streamlining processes,” the Forest Service approved over 80% of projects between 2005-2018 by categorically excluding them from environmental analysis. The same study also showed that less than 1% of all projects were challenged in court.
Of course, this administration and industry proponents would never let facts change their story, especially when it plays on people’s fears and hopes. For years, those opposed to public land protection keep weaving nostalgic hints of returning to the good ole days when the mills were humming and the logging trucks filled with big trees, all the while knowing economics and automation make this impossible. At the same time, they use fear of wildfires as cover for industrial logging, sidestepping the reality that climate change and the historic drought gripping much of the West increases wildfire risks far more than cutting trees will ever address. The wildfires we see today matches what climate science tells us. If we truly want to see fewer large-scale wildfires, then we need to stop burning fossil fuels and do more to preserve intact, mature forests. Further, it is hubris to believe, and irresponsible to purport, that timber harvest will prevent wildfires. No one talks about hurricane-proofing the Gulf Coast, or tornado-proofing Oklahoma, but the Forest Service suggests if given enough latitude it can reduce forest fires – though the degree of which is left to the public’s imagination and that’s the point.
Ultimately, Secretary Perdue and the Trump administration believe national forests are little more than crops and the best, highest use for public lands is to exploit them with more logging, grazing, mining and drilling. The fact is, national forests and public lands are complex, living ecosystems with inherent value that deserves our moral consideration. These public lands are homes to grizzly bears, mountain goats, elk, trout, salmon and a whole host of other iconic wildlife species. Their survival depends on us, and we need to be better environmental citizens with our non-human neighbors.
America does need a “modernization blueprint” for the future of national forests, one that re-envisions their purpose so we can move beyond viewing forests simply as sources of lumber. In the 21st century, we need to strengthen forest protection, maximize the ability of national forests to serve as part of natural climate change solutions, and heal the scars left from decades of exploitation through true restoration, which cannot be done with a chainsaw.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought to light the importance of wild places in all our lives. Yet the Trump administration is intent on their destruction through unmitigated extractive uses such as oil and gas development, mining, logging, and grazing to benefit private industries.
Wild places—most of which, at least in the U.S., are on public lands—safeguard and improve public health in numerous ways. Studies confirm what is intuitive to anyone enjoying a beautiful day in nature: greater contact with the natural world reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as physical manifestations that often accompany these conditions.
Paradoxically, wild places keep us healthy by limiting our exposure to nature’s ills by creating a physical buffer between human populations and the wildlife that can transfer bacteria and viruses. Covid-19 is not the only recent example of a disease existing in the wild prior to jumping to humans—Lyme disease in the U.S. and the Ebola virus in Africa have been traced to human encroachment upon wild places. Lyme disease, which is transmitted to humans through the bite of ticks infected with a particular species of bacterium, was first diagnosed in Connecticut in 1976. Its current prevalence is thought to be the result of the expansion of suburban neighborhoods into formerly wooded areas and an accompanying reduction in predator populations that control the numbers of deer and rodents that normally host the ticks.
More broadly, wild places support greater biodiversity than places where humans have a heavier presence on the land. And biodiversity gives resilience to the natural systems and cycles that make the planet habitable to humans, as healthy, species-rich ecosystems adapt more easily to stressors such as climate change. It’s no exaggeration to say there’s no humanity without biodiversity.
Wild lands are also carbon sinks that capture and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere—especially forests, though grasslands and deserts store significant amounts of carbon as well. Preservation, and even expansion, of wild places will be crucial in tempering the extent of climate change.
At a time when the need for wild places and public lands is so clear, it’s infuriating and illogical that the Trump Administration is pushing hard for the removal of protections for endangered species, clean air and water, and public participation in land management decisions, all while federal land management agencies are ramping up efforts to drill, mine, graze and cut trees on public lands across the West. In Utah, the Bureau of Land Management is plowing ahead with plans to offer more than 100,000 acres of public lands near Canyonlands and Arches national parks for oil and gas leasing. The Trump administration has proposed reopening public lands on the north rim of the Grand Canyon to uranium mining despite a 2012 moratorium imposed to prevent further poisoning of the landscape. In an effort to push projects through faster and with less public oversight, the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service announced they will no longer analyze the environmental or public health impacts of vast categories of extractive uses—including fossil fuels, logging and grazing—that generate corporate profits at the expense of public lands and human health. Capitulation to the extractive industries has also had a disproportionate impact on low income, Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities. Every extractive industry seems to be getting a sweetheart deal, while vulnerable communities, wildlands, wildlife, wild rivers, and public health bear the consequences.
In the recent past, we have seen states and extractive industries pushing for the transfer of public lands into private or state hands that don’t have to comply with all the federal environmental laws that protect the lands, waters, species, and neighboring communities. Yet advocates for public lands privatization or “transfer” to the states have been surprisingly silent during the coronavirus pandemic. Maybe they’re self-aware enough to know their perceived grievances won’t register with a country currently grappling with systemic racism, a public health crisis, and economic dislocation.
Or maybe they remember that past efforts to legislate the mass sale or transfer of public lands to states or private industries have been overwhelming failures. In 2012 Utah enacted the Transfer of Public Lands Act, which demanded that the United States “extinguish title to public lands and transfer title to those public lands to the state on or before Dec. 31, 2014.” The federal government has not felt compelled to respond to the absurd demand. Utah later passed a bill to authorize a lawsuit against the U.S. to “take back” those same public lands. It’s amounted to nothing, other than lining some lawyers’ pockets. And in 2017, then-Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), after facing widespread public outcry, was forced to withdraw his bill to sell off millions of acres of public lands across the West.
As a result of these past failures, conservative lawmakers and industry proponents have looked to alternative means to make it easier for extractors and developers to exploit public land resources. That’s largely what we’re seeing now: the effective privatization of public lands by weakening the regulatory safety nets that protect wildlands, waters, species, and public health; as well as the removal of public oversight from agency decision-making. It should come as no surprise the Secretary of the Interior was a long-time industry lobbyist who advocated for privatization, reduced public oversight, and weakened environmental laws. Or that the person Trump finally nominated for Bureau of Land Management Director is a dyed-in-the-wool racist climate-change-denying sagebrush rebel.
Despite the recent silence, we shouldn’t expect those who’ve clamored for privatization or state control to keep quiet for long. The issue is too central for its proponents, and the pandemic’s aftermath may offer new pretexts for privatization and state control: boosting government revenue and restarting national and local economies.
The arguments that environmental laws are too burdensome and that public lands have been “locked up” by “Washington bureaucrats” for too long are as short-sighted as ever. But with states facing budgets in shambles and unprecedented unemployment, privatization or transfer may appeal even to those who normally see this scheme for the plundering of public resources it is. We cannot afford to let down our guard.
Public lands in public hands means we all share in the benefits public lands provide—clean water, clean air, recreation, physical and mental health, hunting, fishing, birdwatching, biodiversity, protection against disease, protection of historic and cultural resources, and moderation of the impacts of climate change. Just as important, public lands in public hands means we can all participate in planning and making decisions for how public lands are managed for future generations, through laws such as the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
For now, we maintain the right to determine whether public lands protect us from disease, or bring it to our doorstep; help us adapt to climate change, or contribute to the crisis; provide refuge for wildlife, or serve as a feedlot for livestock. We must remain vigilant in our defense of public lands against effective or actual privatization by those who seek to destroy them for private gain. Luckily, Guardians, our supporters and our conservation allies are fighting tooth and nail to keep existing environmental safety nets in place. We will continue to do so, and hope you will continue to join us.
The U.S House of Representatives announced this week that the Moving Forward Act designed to improve green infrastructure and reduce climate impacts includes a provision called “The Forest Service Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program.” Incorporated from legislation previously introduced by U.S. Representatives Kim Schrier and Derek Kilmer from Washington state, this much-needed program will address aging and obsolete Forest Service transportation infrastructure to improve fish migration, water quality, imperiled species habitat, and future resilience to storms.
The U.S. Forest Service manages a massive road and trail system, including more than 370,000 miles of roads, 159,000 miles of trails, hundreds of thousands of culverts and more than 13,000 bridges. Twice as many miles as the national highway system, the Forest Service road system demands considerably more maintenance attention than current funding allows and every year the deferred maintenance backlog grows. The Forest Service currently reports an astounding $3.2 billion road maintenance backlog. In addition to the official road system, the National Forests are haunted by a ghost system of tens of thousands of miles of abandoned and obsolete roads, a legacy of the big timber era.
“The Forest Service not only has a responsibility to uphold Clean Water Act standards set by the states, but also for the 3,400 communities that rely on national forests as drinking water sources,” said Marlies Wierenga, Pacific Northwest conservation manager for WildEarth Guardians. “This program gives the Forest Service a real tool to meet this responsibility. We thank Representatives Schrier and Kilmer for leading this effort to protect clean water.”
Read the press release.
Fifty years ago, a group of visionaries created an event to honor, celebrate and protect the earth. The original founders of Earth Day were inspired by an understanding that Earth and its life support systems were increasingly vulnerable. They also understood a profound and simple truth—if the Earth suffers, then humanity suffers too.
If Earth and its natural systems are to thrive in the next 50 years, we need a deep recommitment to the bold vision that inspired the first Earth Day. Simply put, it’s time for action and we need Guardians like you to step up and help be a catalyst for the type of bold changes needed to address systemic problems, like the nature crisis and climate crises.
First, if you haven’t already, sign our Earth Day Pledge and make sure to share it with your friends and family.
Next, help us take over social media for Earth Week! To do that, we’ve assembled ready-to-go images for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you’re short on time, we’ve even put together some sample Facebook posts and Instagram hashtags for you. We’ve created something extra special for people on Twitter: A compelling series of 15 tweets. We’d be especially grateful if you could send them all out!
Finally, you can find WildEarth Guardians on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @WildEarthGuardians, so make sure to tag us!
All Earth Day images can be downloaded from this folder. They’re already sized for Facebook/Instagram or Twitter. You can also click on each image below and get a full-size image for use on social media.
Start your very own Twitter Storm by sending out the following 15 tweets. We’ve made it simple: Just grab and post! Please note: If an image isn’t associated with the suggested tweet (Example: Suggested Tweet #1) an image will automatically propagate when you post the entire tweet.
Suggested Tweet #1
The original founders of #EarthDay were inspired by an understanding that Earth and its life support systems were increasingly vulnerable. They also understood a profound and simple truth—if the Earth suffers, then humanity suffers too. https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/earth-day-2020-a-vision-for-the-next-50-years/
Suggested Tweet #2
Sign the Earth Day Pledge: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge @wildearthguard
Suggested Tweet #3
Thanks to the catalyzing effect of the original #EarthDay vision—as well as a deep and wide progressive social and political movement—a whole suite of environmental safety nets now exist to protect nature, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/americas-bedrock-environmental-laws-a-conversation-with-john-horning/
Suggested Tweet #4
This #EarthDay is a time to reject dualities that seek to deny our interdependence and embrace our shared destiny—planet and people have one health. From this stems our belief that the rights of nature and the rights of people are inextricably intertwined. https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/earth-day-2020-a-vision-for-the-next-50-years/
Suggested Tweet #5
Help spread the word about #EarthDay2020! Check out our Earth Day social media tool kit for a series of ready-to-go tweets, posts, and images. Let’s be loud and be proud this #EarthDay! @wildearthguard https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayToolkit
Suggested Tweet #6
There has never been a better time to chart a new course towards a restorative and regenerative future. Take the #EarthDay Pledge: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge @wildearthguard
Suggested Tweet #7
Extractive industries that mine, drill, log, and graze on #publiclands are fueling the climate crisis and the nature crisis. We must equitably retire extractive industries on public lands. Take action: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge #EarthDay
Suggested Tweet #8
Living rivers are vital to the diversity of life on earth. To ensure the future health of rivers and the species that depend on them, we must revive the pulse of great waterways and expose the historic injustice to rivers. Take the pledge: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge #EarthDay
Suggested Tweet #9
Native #wildlife, especially carnivores, are suffering under the multiple and intensifying threats of habitat destruction, climate disruption and questionable hunting and trapping practices. We must nurture an ethic of compassionate co-existence: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge #EarthDay
Suggested Tweet #10
Public lands in the American West are home to some of the last remnants of wild, yet still unprotected, landscapes in our nation. There are potentially up to 40 million acres of #publiclands that would be eligible for permanent protection. ACT: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge #EarthDay
Suggested Tweet #11
Times like these show the importance of safety nets. We must secure and strengthen environmental safety nets like the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act to meet the challenges ahead. Sign the pledge: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge #EarthDay
Suggested Tweet #12
WildEarth Guardians’ #EarthDay vision calls for leadership at all levels of society. We need leaders from all political spectrums to shoulder the responsibility of creating and embrace the vision of a new, more nurturant social contract with citizens. https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/earth-day-2020-a-vision-for-the-next-50-years/
Suggested Tweet #13
Living rivers and #cleanwater are vital to all life. Flowing, healthy rivers nourish communities, connect ecosystems, and provide corridors and habitat for fish and wildlife. Sign the pledge to protect and defend #livingrivers: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge #EarthDay
Suggested Tweet #14
We must deepen our commitment to greater equity and inclusion in our human communities to ensure that people are treated with compassion and afforded the dignity that all people deserve. #EarthDay https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/earth-day-2020-a-vision-for-the-next-50-years/
Suggested Tweet #15
The beauty, resiliency, and dynamism of Earth can still inspire a sense of awe and wonder in each of us. If we re-commit, with a greater sense of urgency, to the founding vision of #EarthDay, we can ensure future generations will experience the beauty too. https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge
Suggested Facebook Posts
Suggested Facebook Post #1
The original founders of Earth Day were inspired by an understanding that Earth and its life support systems were increasingly vulnerable. They also understood a profound and simple truth—if the Earth suffers, then humanity suffers too.
As we commemorate this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we do so with a somber reckoning that we have not heeded planetary health warnings early or well enough. Therefore, these times require ever more bold actions to realign our commitment to Earth and its natural systems and our mutual well-being.
Here’s what guardians like you can do today to help us collectively achieve this vision.
Suggested Facebook Post #2
If Earth and its natural systems are to thrive in the next 50 years, we need a deep recommitment to the bold vision that inspired the first Earth Day. It is a time for action. It is time to reweave the threads of the environmental, public health, and economic safety nets, which ensure that the public welfare and the common good are each protected.
Take the Pledge: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge
Suggested Facebook Post #3
Happy Earth Day…Now get to work for the Earth!
Our Earth Day social media tool kit is a one-stop-shop of ready-to-go tweets, posts, and images.
Instagram Hashtags and Link for Bio
Put this link to the Earth Day Pledge in your bio: https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayPledge
Hashtags: Use one, or use them all!
#EarthDay #EarthDay2020 #EarthDayEveryDay #ClimateAction #StopExtinction #PublicLands #Wildlife #EndTheWarOnWildlife #LivingRivers #KeepItInTheGround #ProtectWhatYouLove #SaveTheEarth #SaveThePlanet #ProtectOurPlanet #ActOnClimate #EarthWeek #WaterIsLife #CleanWater #CleanAir #Biodiversity #Coexistence #ProtectNature #SaveNature #ProtectWildlife #OneEarth #Together #EndangeredSpecies
Back in December 2017, during his visit to Salt Lake City to issue proclamations drastically (and illegally) shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, President Trump announced his intention to manage the former monument lands according to local wishes rather than by what best served the nation. “The families and communities of Utah know and love this land the best, and you know the best how to take care of your land,” he said. “I’ve come to Utah to take a very historic action, to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens.”
It certainly looked like Trump was telling the Bureau of Land Management, the Interior Department agency in charge of managing the former monument lands, to disregard the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, BLM’s “organic act” that requires it to consider the views of the general public, rather than local or state residents, when managing public lands.
After BLM’s February 6 press release announcing the publication of BLM’s new management plans for the two reduced national monuments and former monument lands, it’s abundantly clear BLM got the message. The lead quote from Interior’s acting assistant secretary for lands and minerals parrots Trump’s statement from the proclamation ceremony:
The approved plans keep the commitment of this administration to the families and communities of Utah that know and love this land the best and will care for these resources for many generations to come. These cooperatively developed and locally driven plans restore a prosperous future to communities too often dismissed and punished by unilateral decisions of those that would not listen to the voices of Utahns.
There’s not even any pretext that BLM gives a whit for the interests of anyone outside Utah, much less the land itself. This is galling given the sacred significance of Bears Ears to many Native Americans, including the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe that make up the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition.
Much of the rest of the press release reads like copy from a political campaign. Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R) rails that national monuments “should not be created over the objections of local communities.”
Utah Congressman Rob Bishop (R) bemoans the “politically-motivated monument designations by past administrations,” and warns that “well-funded special interest groups that aren’t from our state will spread outrageous misinformation” about the new management plans.
Fellow Utah Congressman Chris Stewart acknowledges that politics, not public interest, informs the plans, claiming the “Obama and Clinton Administrations snubbed and ignored Utah’s local, state, and federal elected officials. . . Thanks to this administration’s attitude towards local input, these new plans will benefit Utahns.”
It actually gets worse as a Beaver County, Utah commissioner declares her belief that the “downsizing of the Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to a manageable acreage was the most amazing, selfless act of a sitting President of the United States.” (emphasis added)
These quotes are so egregiously one-sided it makes one wonder whether the politicians strong-armed BLM’s communications officials in steering the messaging for the new plans.
Even the parts of the press release meant to convey information rather than offer quotes are abjectly political. This is text from the body of the press release, not direct statements from elected or agency officials:
“The previous 1.35 million-acre BENM was designated, over the objections of state and local officials, during a lame duck presidency on December 28, 2016.”
“Similarly, the 1.72 million-acre GSENM was designated in 1996 through an abuse of the purpose and spirit of the Antiquities Act, without due consideration to state and local elected officials, or the community, and commenced decades of mistrust with the Federal government.”
Given the press release’s slant, it’s no surprise the management plans prioritizes resource extraction and development, including grazing, at the expense of archeological and ecological protection. The monument plans allow “chaining” of pinyon-juniper woodlands, which involves cutting down native trees followed by dragging a heavy chain across the cut area with a bulldozer to break up the trees’ roots and topsoil. The area is then seeded with annual grasses. The purpose is to increase forage for livestock but BLM disguises it with thinly-supported claims of wildlife- and watersheds benefits.
The plans also permit more intensive visitation of fragile cultural and archeological sites with the monument boundaries. Tribes’ calls for the protection of such sites were ignored.
Mineral extraction will be permitted under the management plan for lands excluded from the monuments by Trump’s proclamation. Cedar Mesa, formerly part of Bears Ears, is known to hold uranium and the Kaiparowits Plateau, part of Grand Staircase-Escalante for more than 20 years, has extensive coal reserves. Former GS-E lands are also threatened by alabaster mining.
The good news is that these management plans will be invalidated if we and our fellow plaintiffs prevail in our lawsuits challenging Trump’s authority to shrink national monuments. Agency action taken in furtherance of an illegal act is typically halted by the courts, so we are confident the plans will ultimately be nullified. In the meantime, we and fellow plaintiffs are keeping an eye on the ground, making sure BLM doesn’t take action to approve projects that will have ground-disturbing impacts. If it does, we are prepared to ask the courts to halt such projects until the lawsuits are final on their merits.
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.
On September 30, 2019, the federal district court for the District of Columbia issued orders denying government motions to dismiss the lawsuits seeking to overturn President Trump’s 2017 proclamations shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah. We are plaintiffs in two of the suits.
These orders are not victories on the merits of our claims that President Trump acted illegally in dismantling the two monuments in Utah. They are nonetheless noteworthy, as the judge has rejected the government’s positions that the lawsuits must be thrown out for having no validity under the law and because the court lacks authority to even address the merits of our claims.
In our complaints, we and our co-plaintiffs claim the Antiquities Act—the law that grants a President the authority to designate national monuments—does not authorize the President to reduce or revoke existing monuments. Without express authorization from Congress, we suggest, Trump cannot diminish national monuments because a President’s authority over public lands is only as great as the power delegated by Congress. (The Constitution’s Property Clause reserves power over the public lands to Congress; the Antiquities Act is a delegation of that power to the President, but limits it to designating monuments.)
This is a straightforward, conventional, interpretation of both the Constitution and the Antiquities Act. But the government’s lawyers argued that not only does the President have the power to diminish existing monuments despite no such language in the Act, but that that power is wholly within the President’s discretion and therefore can’t be reviewed by the courts. The government’s lawyers maintained that both parts of their argument were so settled as a matter of law that the court should not even consider our arguments.
The judge wasn’t having it. The orders denying the motions to dismiss state that a “decision regarding the Antiquities Act will necessarily be one on the merits.” In other words, it’s certainly not settled that the President has authority to gut national monuments.
Again, we haven’t prevailed on our claim that Trump’s order to shrink the two monuments was beyond his authority, and thus illegal. But the judge’s ruling to deny the motions to dismiss is good news. We have sound legal arguments and are still on course to ultimately succeed. We’re confident Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante will be reinstated to their original glory.