WildEarth Guardians

A Force for Nature

Select Page

In the heat of the summer, residents of the Rio Grande flock to its shores as the river flow brings life to its communities. The time spent with the river has been diminishing decade after decade as these communities have grown accustomed to the Rio being dry significantly longer than it’s not. But when there is water in the river, people waste no time to meet and bond along its banks.

Over the course of the summer, I have been taking pictures of the central Rio Grande to document its flow over time and how people connect with it. Having grown up on the eastside of El Paso, Texas, I was unfamiliar with how much the river means to some people. Our community has grown disconnected from it because of the border wall and other water policy decisions, but while on assignment, I quickly learned the significance it still has to its many communities.

During my first visit to central New Mexico, I stopped by Riverside Park in Los Lunas. After a brief trail walk that was made unforgettable by the raining cotton that danced to the ground after falling from the cottonwoods native to the area, I made it to the river. It flowed under a bridge supported by graffitied pillars.

Main St. NE bridge over the Rio Grande. Photo by Javier Gallegos.

I was immediately greeted by a trio of teens swimming in the river. The sound of rap music blasting from their portable speaker didn’t feel out of place as the sound of cars driving above interrupted any sense of ambient natural sound.

Only a minute of picture-taking passed before one of them shouted at me asking what I was doing. I explained that my assignment was to take pictures of the river. They all swam closer to me on the bank as they became engaged in telling me everything they knew about it: the flow was currently about as high as it gets; Tome Hill has a great view of the river; the water is nearly all gone by fall.

One of the high schoolers jumps through tube floats into the river. Photo by Javier Gallegos.

Their hospitality and eagerness to talk about the river surprised me, but it would become a common experience throughout my assignment.

Shortly after I parted ways, a separate group of five friends in their early twenties arrived. Like the three high schoolers I had spoken to prior, they were intrigued by my camera and asked what I was doing here. They thought my assignment was pretty cool. The small talk they made with me eased my mind and let me relax when I asked if I could take their picture. They casually obliged.

I spent the next two hours with them by the river.

They came prepared with cans of Coke, water, fishing rods, bait, and hip-hop instrumentals. The first bits of conversation I caught revolved around the events of a party the previous weekend where clumsy attempts of love were made.

As stories played out and conversation wound down, a freestyle randomly began to my delight. One of the boys started rapping; another took out his phone and started playing a beat; the next jumped in with his own rhymes to turn the freestyle into a cypher. They rapped fluently about cars, money, and each other.

Fishing was the next thing to do. They had two rods and a can of worms between them. Their street clothes and light gear told me they’re hobbyists who perhaps only fish because it’s easy to do with the river full. Two fish were caught while I was there. Both were released after a quick picture.

Andress, Greg, Carlos, and Jules (left to right) pose with a catfish briefly before releasing it back into the water. Photo by Javier Gallegos.

An hour or so after the group arrived, an old, bearded, shirtless man rode his bike down to meet us by the river. The group cheerfully greeted him as if he too was a part of their graduating class. He offered them all beers, and they gladly accepted. It was a wholesome relationship the old man had with the group – an unlikely one that was made possible by their mutual hanging out by the river. Together, they talked, fished, and drank.

The old man told me his name was River Rat. He wore a bright bandana and knew of the best deals at the beer depots around the area. He spent much of his time by the river and its banks, so much so that he named himself after it.

River Rat handing out beers. Photo by Javier Gallegos.

I left right before sunset as I had to check into my room before nightfall. Had I not been forced to leave, I would have stayed hours longer with the people that welcomed me to their spot along the river. Three of them left at the same time I did to go get dinner for the other three that stayed fishing. Everything they needed, they brought with them back to the river.

All this happened within just a few hours of being at a normal park along the Rio Grande. People all along the river connect with it every chance they get. As the fight for the river and natural preservation continues, its moments like these and the bonds that they create that remind us why the river matters.

Francis sitting down in the river. Photo by Javier Gallegos.

Like what you just read? Sign up for our E-news. Want to do more? Visit our Action Center.

Note: The following testimony was given before the EPA and Department of the Army on August 31, 2021 regarding the agency’s intention to revise the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) to better protect our nation’s water resources.

Good afternoon, my name is Jen Pelz. I am the Rio Grande Waterkeeper and Wild Rivers Program Director, WildEarth Guardians. We work to protect river flows, safeguard clean water, and restore the ecological integrity of the Rio Grande and other river ecosystems for people and wildlife throughout the West.

I am here, on both a personal and professional level, on behalf of myself, my two young daughters, as a Waterkeeper, and as a representative of the members and supporters of WildEarth Guardians to ask that the agencies to welcome yesterday’s decision by Judge Hernandez to vacate the rule and ask the agencies to direct the Department of Justice to not appeal that decision. We also request that the agencies immediately begin reviewing all the jurisdictional determinations made under the Navigable Water Protection Rule and put all your resources into restoring the pre-2015 definition of “waters of the United States.”

The Navigable Water Protection Rule (or more aptly named the Dirty Water Rule) is contrary to the fundamental purpose and pinnacle objective of the Clean Water Act—“to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters” and as the agencies and courts have recognized “is leading to significant environmental degradation,” including “cascading, cumulative, and substantial downstream effects, including but not limited to effects on water supplies, water quality, flooding, drought, erosion, and habitat integrity.”

This harm is particularly significant in the Rio Grande watershed—which is the fifth largest watershed in North America (encompassing 336,000 square miles, an area larger than the state of Texas)—as the rule removed clean water protections from more than 90% of waterways in New Mexico.

As an example, in New Mexico, as of June 30, 2021 there were 197 negative jurisdictional determinations under the rule and only two positive. One of those determinations excluded an ephemeral stream that flows from the Los Alamos National Laboratory into the Rio Grande (the labs are a well known source of radioactivity and legacy pollution in northern New Mexico). Downstream from that now unprotected stream discharge into the Rio Grande, the City of Santa Fe pumps its drinking water to my parents’ home. The culture, communities, and agriculture of six downstream pueblos is threatened. Three national wildlife refuges, including the first urban refuge created to address environmental injustice to communities in Albuquerque’s South Valley, and their vital ecosystems and recreational opportunities are left vulnerable. And near and dear to my heart—the last 175 miles of remaining aquatic habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow, a vital riparian habitat for many other species of fish, wildlife, and plants from Cochiti Dam to Elephant Butte Reservoir is unprotected from upstream pollutants.

We in the Rio Grande Basin and throughout this country need strong, broad clean water protections for rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, cienegas, ditches, arroyos and other waterways—even those that only flow at certain times during the year—because these networks of desert waterways are all connected.

We support the restoration of the pre-2015 definition of “waters of the United States” without any modifications. It is consistent with the goals of the Clean Water Act and was in place for nearly four decades prior to these recent changes. We also ask that these agencies immediately review and reverse the jurisdictional determinations made under the rule.

Thank you for the opportunity and look forward to the agencies restoring broad clean water protections to the Rio Grande watershed and throughout the country.

Water is life and protecting it has never been more important.  

For four years the Trump administration ruthlessly attacked some of America’s most fundamental clean water protections, placing the interests of polluters and profits over the well-being of people and the environment. Your voice is now needed to ensure protections to these life-giving waters are restored.

The pinnacle of these attacks, Trump’s 2020 Dirty Water Rule, left over 60 percent of our beloved rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, and other waters vulnerable to severe environmental degradation. In the desert Southwest, it’s even more grim with over 90 percent of rivers, arroyos, and streams losing federal protection.

Tens of millions of Americans depend on these waters for their drinking water, for recreation, to nourish crops and cherished landscapes, in addition to the countless plant and wildlife communities that depend on them for their survival. We cannot wait to restore clean water protections.

Guardians and our allies continue to push hard to ensure the health of living rivers throughout the American West. But we need your help. Use your voice today to take a stand for clean water and tell federal agencies that leaving our nation’s waters vulnerable to polluters and special interests is unacceptable—they must immediately repeal the 2020 Dirty Water Rule while they are working on a revision.

The EPA and the Department of the Army are currently accepting written comments from members of the public through September 3, 2021. You can submit your comments via Regulations.Gov here.

To assist you, we’ve put together this comprehensive list of talking points that you may want to include in your comments to the EPA and the Department of the Army:

  • The Clean Water Act was enacted to provide drinkable, fishable, and swimmable water to every person in the United States;
  • The Clean Water Act protects “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) if a water body is not defined under WOTUS, it has no protection;
  • The 2020 Dirty Water Rule redefined WOTUS, removing protections from many of our nation’s water bodies, and is the biggest reduction in environmental protections since the Clean Water Act’s passage nearly 50 years ago;
  • The 2020 Dirty Water Rule was one of the most egregious examples of the Trump administration’s attacks on our most fundamental environmental protections;
  • It is not enough to commit to revising this rule, it must be immediately rescinded while a revision is being worked on;
  • In their own words, the EPA and US Army Corps of Engineers recognize the “significant environmental damage” this rule has caused and that “communities deserve to have our nation’s waters protected;”
  • The Dirty Water Rule has had catastrophic effects on waters across the US, opening up over 60 percent of our nation’s rivers, lakes, wetlands, and other water to pollution and other degradation;
  • This includes over 90 percent of rivers and streams in the desert Southwest, including most of the streams that flow into the Rio Grande;
  • We are deepening our understanding of the ways that wetlands can help to mitigate climate change but also how deeply sensitive they are to these changes, with growing impacts from climate change in the American West, it is irresponsible not to protect these landscapes;
  • Intermittent and ephemeral streams are important parts of arid and semi-arid climatic regimes but are also under increasing threats due to climate change—these streams are largely unprotected under the current rule;
  • The rule revision process is one which may take years, our nation’s waters cannot wait that long;
  • Low-income and communities of color already bear the brunt of too many of our environmental crises, leaving this rule intact will leave this communities vulnerable to impacts from pollution and flooding;
  • It is an environmental justice imperative that this rule be immediately rescinded;
  • Returning to the days where 2/3 of our nation’s waterways were dangerously polluted is a non-starter.

Again, please make sure to submit your comments to the EPA and the Department of the Army by September 3, 2021. Short on time? Sign our petition.

Like what you just read? Sign up for our E-news. Want to do more? Visit our Action Center.

As the global pandemic rages, I am set adrift without connection to my home anchor.

This charmed place with the monochromatic desert landscapes and auburn central river are but a distant memory. I breath in the thirsty air and watch a pair of coyotes skulk through the urban refuge in my hometown. The geese snub the prowlers, yet disperse at the bright call of a meadowlark.

Even then, a dark veil of uncertainty washes over me—unease as to what lies ahead.

The Rio Grande, like many western rivers, is experiencing a collision of crises threatening its future, the future of the aquatic and riparian ecosystems it supports, and the communities and cultures that are at its heart.

Like the endless murder of crows I watch congregate in the crooked branches of an elderly cottonwood, doom is near for this lifeblood of the desert Southwest.

Life exists along the Rio Grande because of the sacrifice made by this Great River to nourish the environment and the 6 million people that inhabit the watershed from the crisp snowcapped mountains of Colorado to the humid and vast Gulf of Mexico.

It is now our turn to show gratitude by charting a new course for a sustainable future for this icon of the West.

The Rio Grande watershed is the fifth largest in North America, draining 336,000 square miles, which is an area larger than the state of Texas. Here, where I am transfixed on a juvenile bald eagle scanning the Bosque at sunset, the riparian corridor represents only one percent of the landscape. However, it is home to over 400 species of native fish, wildlife and plants, including beloved sandhill cranes, speckled Rio Grande cutthroat trout, reclusive ocelot, charismatic yellow-billed cuckoo, and the oldest and largest cottonwood forest in the world.

Ecosystem collapse is all but certain for this desert river without legal and political intervention and significant public outcry as to its value as a living river.

The Rio Grande does not have a right to its own water, unsustainable water use is causing its flows and aquifers to disappear, archaic laws and management prevent its flows from reaching the sea, extinction threatens many of its native species, and climate change is predicted to decrease available flows by an additional 25 to 50 percent by 2100.

I remember standing at the edge of the shimmering expanse of water, which today has only but a fleeting breath of water left to survive. In its absence, lost would be the calamity of cranes vying for safe island refuge among its waters, solace for human souls, and ancient ways of being.

To add insult to injury for the Rio, federal agencies issued a litany of rules over the past four years that remove fundamental environmental protections for clean water, native species, and public participation mandates for impacted communities with rollbacks of the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. The legal framework that helps support and protect these fragile environments, already heavily-burdened communities, and their life-source rivers are at risk.

We are at a moment of reckoning.

To be sure, we can continue to demand more of rivers and demolish the public health and environmental safeguards that protect the planet, its people, and its delicate ecosystems in the name of greed and false prosperity. But another more beautiful, likely more modest, and more equitable alternate future is possible for both people and the environment.

An acute power shift is necessary to realize this vision requiring people to step forward and others to open space. I am not talking about politics, although the same is true in that realm as well, but essential structural shifts in our homes, our workplaces, our communities, our watersheds, and our ecoregions.

My perception has always been that an ominous mass of crows looms dark. However, I’ve heard that in some native cultures, crows signify wisdom and luck. There is much wisdom left unheard and unseen that must be unleashed. If there was a time to liberate those voices, it is now. A different perspective can be magic.

In an effort to protect living rivers and stop extinction, WildEarth Guardians submitted comments on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s latest attempt to limit habitat protections for the western yellow-billed cuckoo. On February 27, 2020, the Service released its revised critical habitat designation for the cuckoo, which dropped 30 percent of the habitat included in the original rule it proposed in 2014 and also identified vast exclusions for consideration especially in states like Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming and Texas, where populations are in greatest danger of disappearing.

The western yellow-billed cuckoo is a migratory bird that travels between its wintering grounds in South and Central America and its breeding grounds in the United States and Mexico. Cuckoo populations have declined drastically since the early 1900s due to habitat loss and modification. They were once found throughout the West from Canada to Mexico, but now are restricted to a few isolated breeding populations in California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, and possibly Nevada. The Rio Grande in central New Mexico is home to the largest breeding group of yellow-billed cuckoos north of Mexico. As a result of the species decline, the cuckoo was listed as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act on October 3, 2014. This critical habitat designation is the next step in ensuring the survival and recovery of the species.

“This is a shady attempt to backpedal on the original proposal for critical habitat,” said Jen Pelz, Rio Grande Waterkeeper and director of the rivers program at WildEarth Guardians. “The yellow-billed cuckoo is an iconic bird of western rivers, and protecting their habitat would protect healthy watersheds and clean water; too bad the Trump administration isn’t interested in things like that.”

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!

Images

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.

Suggested Tweets

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.

https://wildearthguardians.org/brave-new-wild/news/earth-day-2020-a-vision-for-the-next-50-years/

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.

https://guardiansaction.org/EarthDayToolkit

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

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.

The Most Important Environmental Law You’ve Never Heard Of

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.

Most recently, the National Environmental Policy Act has proven critical for holding the federal government accountable to confronting the climate crisis.

The law has truly been a ray of sunshine and for Americans.

NEPA has been critical for defending the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico from unchecked fracking.

A Critical Tool For Environmental Watchdogs

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.

A Strike on our Nation’s Environmental Charter

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 Trump administrations proposed rollbacks to NEPA would leave public lands vulnerable to fossil fuel exploitation, fueling the climate crisis.

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.

Which is Why We’re Fighting Back

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.

You can join us on February 11, 2020, click here for more info. and to RSVP >>

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.