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The Trump administration using coronavirus to accelerate destruction of environment

The administration has shown surprising cunning in its ability to exploit the COVID-19 situation at every turn in many different arenas. From our viewpoint as public lands defenders, the Trump administration is using the coronavirus disaster as an opportunity to rollback, repeal, and deregulate any and all environmental rules and policies deemed harmful to their vision of developing and profiting off of America’s public lands.

We’ve laid out some of the major changes we’ve tracked in these first two months below. These include a couple important environmental rollbacks not related to public lands. Also, be sure to keep an eye on our Bill Tracker to see relevant legislative updates we’re tracking through Congress.

Public Lands Management

  • National Forest logging contracts see extensions
    • A familiar pattern of prioritizing development and marginalizing conservation public lands has arisen in the last few years, so these types of preferential treatments come as no surprise. A good example of the questionable timing of these extensions is in Tongass National Forest in Alaska; contracts can continue for up to 3 more years at the exact time the administration is battling a rule that blocks most road-building and timber harvesting there. Now, if the administration was also finding ways to directly call out and support other industries that depend on public lands – such as outdoor recreation or conservation work – then we might not be so skeptical of their intentions.
  • New oil and gas leasing at some of central California’s BLM offices
    • As we mentioned in our 2020 Top 5 Threats, the expiration of a BLM moratorium on new drilling in much of Central California, which was the result of a 2012 lawsuit, brought new oil and gas action in the region. Since then (read our blog for background), the BLM Bakersfield has opened leases for areas around the Carrizo Plain National Monument and Temblor Range Proposed Wilderness. Here is a map with the leases. (HT to our friends at Los Padres Forest Watch on the amazing map!)
  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) writes opinion that results in an abandonment of Forest Service funds for Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) projects in the west
    • The LWCF includes a provision that limits the amount of western land that can be acquired and transferred to the U.S. Forest Service every year, but now the GAO has concluded that the Forest Service has been violating the law for 15 years and the Forest Service has capitulated to their interpretation. See our Senior Policy Director’s recent article about this here.
  • BLM proposes all classes of e-bikes allowed on their national portfolio of lands
    • Another one of our 2020 Top 5 Threats coming to the surface is the encroachment of e-bikes on public lands across California, and the country. With the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Reclamation all having issued similar proposed e-bike exceptions to their off-road vehicle definitions, the BLM is now doing the same. Being that e-bikes have small motors, they are motorized and do not belong on non-motorized trails.

Wildlife

  • Trump’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife withdrew their proposed federal protections for sage grouse along the California/Nevada border
    • In 2013, Fish and Wildlife initially listed the species as threatened, and then withdrew their decision in 2015. Contention throughout the west led to a compromise by Republican and Democratic Governors that would protect critical habitat without listing a formal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection. The Trump administration has sought to reverse that compromise, despite a federal judge ruling in 2019 that asked Fish and Wildlife to reconsider their earlier status withdrawal.
  • Northern spotted owls refused their rightful ESA listing
    • After decades of slow progress and delays, Fish and Wildlife determined in November 2019 that populations were in decline and were likely to go extinct due to logging and encroachment of the invasive barred owl. Then, last month, the same agency inexplicably denied them ESA listing.
  • Trump relaxes protection for migratory birds
    • Earlier this year, the Trump Administration proposed to relax protection for millions of migratory birds by adopting new rules allowing oil and gas companies to “incidentally” take (i.e. kill) migratory birds during their operations. The Migratory Bird Treaty has protected avian wildlife since 1918.

Pollution

  • Rollback of 2012 fuel efficiency standards
    • California has led the fight to improve fuel efficiency standards for years since the plan was adopted in 2012 and defended them against repeated attacks. The Trump administration has finally rolled back. Their final decision is less aggressive than their previous messages suggested, but they still aim to hamper an otherwise broadly agreed-upon policy – one that is critical to mitigating climate change. Eight years on, many of the major U.S. automakers are not only in support of these standards, but they are well on their way to achieving them.
  • Trump stops law enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency
    • Routine monitoring and reporting, along with assessing penalties for those who do not meet EPA goals, are suspended during the coronavirus outbreak. Despite logical fallacies aplenty, High Country News reports that this development, “…follows lobbying from the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas industry group, which sent the EPA a letter this week calling for the suspension of rules”.

The Trump Administration’s rollback of environmental protections will affect all aspects of life. Other Trump administration actions harmful to the environment include scrapping clean water regulations protecting streams and wetlands, rolling back requirements for energy efficient light bulbs, reducing vehicle emission standards, and weakening regulations requiring power plants to reduce toxic mercury emissions.

Surely, we have not seen the last of these sneaky tactics. CalWild continues to monitor California’s public lands – and our D.C. federal managers closely.