Executive Director’s Report, April 2021

Executive Director’s Report, April 2021 960 960 California Wilderness Coalition

By Chris Morrill, Executive Director

Last month’s ED Report outlined the historical significance of the first tribal member leading the Department of Interior, an agency tasked with overseeing millions of acres of federal land and waters as well as managing our governments regular relationships with tribal governments. The significance of the leadership of Secretary Deb Haaland, a 35th generation New Mexican and member of the Pueblo of Laguna, became clear this month.

In Secretarial Order (SO) 3399, Secretary Haaland outlined the importance of the Department of Interior implementing the whole of government climate change policy outlined by President Biden’s early Executive Orders. The SO highlights the important role DOI can play in combating climate change, and also how different their work should be to address the harm done by climate change to marginalized communities by DOI policy.

First, on combating climate change, the order revokes orders from the previous administration which sought to greatly expand oil, gas, and coal leasing on public lands. While not restoring the coal leasing moratorium established by the Obama administration, revoking the order to expand drilling on public lands is critically important given that almost 25%  of our country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions come from public land oil and gas development.

Additionally, the order emphasizes the importance of expediting leasing for renewable energy development. Appropriately sited renewable energy can be an important tool in our fight against climate change and can potentially provide some job opportunities for communities nearby.

“From day one, President Biden was clear that we must take a whole-of-government approach to tackle the climate crisis, strengthen the economy, and address environmental justice. At the Department of the Interior, I believe we have a unique opportunity to make our communities more resilient to climate change and to help lead the transition to a clean energy economy. These steps will align the Interior Department with the President’s priorities and better position the team to be a part of the climate solution,” said Secretary Haaland. (LINK)

Secretary Haaland also wants to see greater efficiency in DOI’s climate work, leading her to establish a Climate Task Force to coordinate across the agency. Finally, the SO re-established the need for science as a key component of decision making as well as improving transparency and public engagement.

It is that last piece that I want to emphasize. In July 2020, CalWild joined a lawsuit led by Western Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice defending the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) from changes adopted by the Trump administration that would have drastically altered the way federal agencies implement NEPA. Although NEPA is not an environmental law, per se, the law requires federal agencies to engage in processes that ensure the government authentically and earnestly engages the public in decision making , conducts appropriate environmental review, and justifies the science and logic behind any decision.

CalWild consistently utilizes NEPA in our engagement with the BLM and Forest Service. Restoring NEPA and deepening its use will make DOI more responsive to people impact by its decisions including tribes, and black and brown communities.

All of these elements show that under new leadership, Secretary Haaland will continue to make climate change a central consideration in all elements of DOI, ground decisions in scientific knowledge and research, and reform the agency’s processes to better address the current and past harms of communities affected by DOI’s policy.

“For generations we’ve put off the transition to clean energy, and now we face a climate crisis. It has fallen on those communities: communities of color, poor communities. You can bet that I’m going to do everything I can to help those communities to have an opportunity to build back better.”  Secretary Haaland told Grist.

That’s not turning a page, that’s a whole new book. And it’s a book I’m looking forward to reading.


Please let me know your thoughts, comments, and questions by emailing me at cmorrill@calwild.org.

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