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12 Trump Attacks on the Environment Since the Election • The Revelator
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12 Trump Attacks on the Environment Since the Election • The Revelator

Aerial view of dam and lake


Donald Trump tried every trick in his power to avoid the harsh reality of his loss after the Nov. 3 election. The legitimacy of the election has been questioned by a barrage of lawsuits and disinformation campaigns.

However, a close examination of executive actions and regulatory actions shows that even though Trump is refusing to give or transition power to the incoming Biden government, his team is pushing through a series of last-minute rules.

Many of these changes will have negative effects on the environment and public safety.

It isn’t surprising that an administration that has attempted to roll back more than 100 environmental protectionsIt would intensify its attack in the final months of the four-year period. But that doesn’t make the continued attacks any less important. Here’s some of what’s at risk:

1. Tribal Lands

Tribes and environmental groups have been fighting for decades against a copper mine proposed in Oak Flat, Arizona. This area is sacred to a dozen tribes including the San Carlos Apache.

The Trump administration wants to expedite a deal to transfer the land’s ownership to Resolution Copper. Resolution Copper is owned jointly by Rio Tinto and Billiton BHP mining companies.

“Last month tribes discovered that the date for the completion of a crucial environmental review process has suddenly been moved forwardBy a full year, to December 2020, even as the tribes are struggling with a COVID outbreak that has stifled their ability to respond,” an investigation by The Guardianfound. “If the environmental review is completed before Trump leaves office, the tribes may be unable to stop the mine.”

2. FERC Shakeup

Trump changed the leadership of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission within days of his election. This commission regulates hydroelectric projects as well as interstate transmissions oil and natural gas.

James Danly, a Republican who was also elected Chairman of the Board, replaced Neil Chatterjee. more conservative viewFederal energy policy. Chatterjee, once known as a “coal guy,” had recently advocated for policies supporting distributed energy and for regional grid operators to embrace carbon pricing as a market-based solution for addressing climate change.

3. Hamstringing LWCF

The August Great American Outdoors Act, which was a major conservation bill, provided $9.5 Billion to fix national park infrastructure and permanently finance the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

But despite (falsely) hailing himself as a conservation hero at the law’s signing, Trump has already begun undermining the legislation’s effectiveness. On Nov. 9, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed an order allowing state and local governments the right to veto any land- or water acquisitions through the fund.

Chris D’Angelo at HuffPost called the move a “parting gift to the anti-federal land movement.” Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who advocated for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, wrote a letterBernhardt requested that the order be canceled. “This undercuts what a landowner can do with their own private property, and creates unnecessary, additional levels of bureaucracy that will hamstring future land acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” he wrote.

Tester standing at podium
Senator Jon Tester speaks at a conference to discuss the 2018 Land and Water Conservation Fund. Photo: Public domain

New Mexico officials and conservation organizations were also shocked to learn that none of their projectsThe Department of the Interior selected the proposals that would receive funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Some believe that the move is political retribution after criticizing the Trump administration’s policies.

4. Dam Raising

The Trump administration will be inaugurated on Nov. 20 finalized a plan to raise the height of Northern California’s 600-foot Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet, which would allow for more water storage. The reservoir is fed by the federally managed Central Valley Project, which funnels water hundreds and miles south to cities or farms. This includes the politically connected Westlands Water District of the San Joaquin Valley. Formerly, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was a lawyer/lobbyist.

The state of California has strongly opposed the effort to raise the dam’s height because it would flood the McCloud River, protected as wild and scenic. Conservation groups warn that the plan would also threaten endangered species like Chinook salmon, delta-smelt, Shasta salamanders, and Chinook salmon.

Jared Huffman is a California Representative called it the “QAnon of water projects, meaning it’s laughably infeasible and just not real.”

The opposition has been the most steadfast. Winnemem WintuTribe, which lost 90% its sacred sites due to the dam’s construction, faces the possibility of losing its remaining sites and burial grounds if it is expanded.

5. Pesticide Changes

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Nov. 20 that it would be removing a tool state can use to monitor how pesticides are used. The move could lead to further actions endanger farmworkers and wildlife.

A Section 24 provisionFederal, Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act allows states the ability to impose stricter restrictions on federally-regulated pesticides according to local conditions and needs. After numerous states tried to limit the use dicamba’s weed killer, the agency has decided to stop allowing states to set any more protective rules.

6. Migratory Birds

A gutting of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 took a big step forward at the end of November, clearing the way for the administration to finalize the rule change by the end of Trump’s term.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its Final Environmental Impact Statement to redefine the scope of the law to no longer penalize the energy industry or developers for “incidentally” killing migratory birds.

oil covered bird in water
Pied-billed Grebe on an oil-covered Evaporation Pond at a Commercial Oilfield Wastewater Treatment Facility. Photo: Pedro Ramirez Jr. / USFWS

The agency’s own analysis found that the rule change would “likely result in increased bird mortality” because — without penalties — companies wouldn’t take additional precautions to help make sure birds aren’t killed by their operations.

That’s already proving true. “Since the administration began pursuing its looser interpretation of the law in April 2018, hundreds of birds have perished without penalty, according to documents compiled by conservation groups this year,” The Washington Post reported.

7. ANWR Auction

The Bureau of Land Management announced Dec. 3 that oil-and gas leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will go on sale Jan. 6, following a shorter period for the nomination and assessment of potential tracts.

“Once the sale is held, the bureau has to review and approve the leases, a process that typically takes months,” The New York Times reported. “But holding the sale on Jan. 6 potentially gives the bureau opportunity to finalize the leases before Inauguration Day. That would make it more difficult for the Biden administration to undo them.”

Despite the fact that the Trump administration is intent on opening the door to drilling in the 1.6 million-acre coastal plain — one of the wildest places left in the United States — it’s still unclear how interested the oil industry will be. Or how readily they’ll be able to finance their operations. All the major U.S. banks have said they’ll no longer fund new oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.

8. Dirty Air

One week into December, it was finalized by the administration declining to enact stricter standards for regulating industrial sootEmissions

This came despite the fact that the administration’s own scientists found that maintaining the current limits on tiny particles, known as PM 2.5, results in tens of thousands of early deaths each year. Harvard researchers discovered that people who have lived for decades with high levels PM2.5 pollution are at an increased risk of dying. greater risk of dying from COVID-19.

9. Border Wall

While the Biden administration has promised not to build another foot on the border wall, the borderlands ecosystem continues to be threatened by the Trump administration.

Sometimes wall builders even try to speed things up.

“That’s happening from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas to Arizona’s stunning Coronado National Memorial and Guadalupe Canyon, a wildlife corridor for Mexican gray wolves and endangered jaguars,” NPR reported. “At $41 million a mile, the Arizona sections are the most expensive projects of the entire border wall.”

In Arizona they’re needlessly razing vegetation and blasting mountains for roads in remote areas to help enable construction that likely won’t even take place.

10. Harming Dolphins and Whales

Trump may be leaving office, but marine mammals won’t be able to rest easy. NOAA Fisheries issued a rule on Dec. 9 allowing the oil and gas industry to harm Atlantic spotted dolphins, pygmy whales, dwarf sperm whales, Bryde’s whales and other marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico while using seismic and acoustic mapping, including air guns, to gather data on resources on or below the ocean floor.

In an effort to further efforts for oil and gas drilling, nearly 200,000 beaked whales and more than 600,000 bottlenose dolphins could be “disturbed.” And “pygmy and dwarf sperm whales are expected to be harassed to the point of potential injury, with a mean of 308 whales potentially harmed per year, according to the final rule,” E&E News reported.

Dolphins jumping out of the water
Dolphins in Gulf of Mexico Photo: Carey Akin, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

11. More Lease Sales

The Arctic isn’t the only place where the rush is on to exploit public lands. The Bureau of Land Management was established on December 9. updated An environmental assessment for a 2013 plan for leasesTo extract climate- and water-polluting oil sands from 2,100 acres of northeastern Utah. It halted the effort a few days later.

This one may be temporarily suspended, but the administration is still in place DidKick off the sale leases for oil drilling 4,100 acres of federal land in California’s Kern CountyDec. 10, The Biden administration could cancel the state’s first such sale within eight years. If so, environmental groups may file legal challenges.

12. Cost-benefit Rule

One of the administration’s biggest parting gifts to industry — the “cost-benefit” rule — was finalized on Dec. 9. It would require EPA to weigh the economic benefits of air pollution regulations and not the health benefits.

“In other words, if reducing emissions from power plants also saves tens of thousands of lives each year by cutting soot, those ‘co-benefits’ should be not be counted,” in the EPA’s new analysis, the Washington Post explained.

The rule would be a huge blow to efforts for public health improvement and pollution reduction.

“The only purpose in making this a regulation seems to be to provide a basis for future lawsuits to slow down or prevent future administrations from regulating,” Roy Gamse, an economist and former EPA deputy assistant administrator for planning and evaluation, told Reuters.

Slowing down the Biden administration will continue to be a big part of Trump’s last month in office — along with the finalization of more rule changes to add insult to injury.

Legal expertsWe have begun to map the rollbacks that are quick and simple to undo and those which will require a lot of effort. But one thing is certain: There’s a long road ahead to reverse dangerous regulations, restore scientific integrity and make up for lost ground on climate change, extinction and other cascading crises.

Creative Commons

Is deputy editor The RevelatorShe has been a digital editor and an environmental journalist for over ten years. Her focus is on the intersections between energy, water, and climate. Her work has been published in The Nation? American Prospect? High Country News? Grist? Pacific StandardAmong others. She is the editor for two books about the global crisis of water.

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