Photo by Mike Dunn
We are deeply concerned about erosion of safeguards for our nation's public lands and waters. While Americans are divided on many issues, we believe our mutual love for our nation's wild lands and natural places is a common cause that unites us. Protecting our public lands and natural heritage assets is not a "blue" or "red" issue. The vast majority of Americans support the conservation of America's environmental resources and natural heritage.
Those of us who care about the environmental health and well-being of our country and region must act in defense as the Trump Administration pursues the most aggressive anti-environmental onslaught of our lifetime, attempting to reverse 50 years of federal environmental protection programs, grants, policies, and laws. Public health–based standards for the waters we drink, the air we breathe, and the land that sustains us are under attack. Fortunately public outcry has encouraged the US Congress to decline some of the worst of the proposed federal budget cuts that would have imposed draconian cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, public lands acquisition and management, US Forest Service state and private forests assistance programs, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service's landowner conservation assistance and wetlands reserve programs, the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, endangered species and ecological services programs, AmeriCorps, the National Heritage Areas program (described in our featured Partnerships), and most other environmental, public health, education and welfare, community enhancement programs.
For example, the President has proposed a 30% reduction in grants to the states that carry out federal Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act permitting and enforcement programs. Since federal grants provide 50% of the total funding for states' clean water and air programs, a 30% cut in those federal grants would create large holes in budgets for state permitting and enforcement. And with President Trump's unilateral withdrawal of the US from the worldwide climate accord, widespread removals and transfers of career agency managers, and his appointments of anti-environment agency administrative heads, we have confirmation that the Trump Administration has little concern or understanding for the threats we all face from climate change and other environmental perils.
We believe the Trump administration's actions to diminish environmental protection and energy policies are dangerously short-sighted and will cause long-lasting harm to communities and our natural heritage.
The U.S. president sets the agenda of the federal government; Congress holds the "purse strings" and authorizes the budget. While President Trump's budget proposals amount to a budget recommendation to Congress, he is aggressively reducing or demolishing government environmental and natural resource conservation programs by freezing congressionally authorized funds, cancelling programs, or reassigning and eliminating personnel.
We join with other defenders of our environmental assets and advocates for healthy human and natural communities to be vigilant, strong, and effective champions of the South’s natural heritage and environment. In the words of Rick Middleton, founder and chief executive of Southern Environmental Law Center, "Don't be discouraged. Get mad, and be determined . . . fight for common sense and our common future."
We will alert you to imminent dangers, and provide here links to other partner organizations that are monitoring anti-environmental federal proposals and actions, and are leading in response strategies.This rapidly changing situation is challenging to track. We suggest you frequently visit the websites of other partner organizations for updates and action alerts – such as www.SouthernEnvironment.org/standingourground and www.lwcfcoalition.org .
NOTES: For background, see NPR news articles about the political and budget threats to US EPA: On the Media: "How The Environment Got Political."
Other opportunities to be engaged in defending environmental protection programs and laws can be found at the Center for Biological Diversity and National Wildlife Federation.
Defenders of natural resource conservation and environmental protection programs must be vigilant and register their concerns with their congressional representatives if we are to ensure continuation of federal funding for important environmental protection and natural resource conservation programs.
MASSIVE ROLLBACKS by TRUMP ADMINISTRATION of Federal Environmental Protection Regulations & Laws
The Trump Administration has cancelled, reduced, or is in the process of diminishing more than a hundred national environmental protection regulations and policies. Under the guise or screen of pandemic response, these rollbacks have accelerated. See this article. Also read: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks.html
IN THIS TIME OF PANDEMIC PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS, OUR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT IS UNDER ASSAULT
With the "foxes guarding our hen house," the Trump Administration is taking advantage of reduced vigilance by public defenders of our natural environment to attack and weaken environmental protection regulations and programs. The following actions are among many that have occurred during the pandemic:
> > The US EPA announced in late March that it would no longer be enforcing clean water and air pollution regulations during the 2020 pandemic crisis, leaving oversight of emissions to the discretion and self-monitoring of the same industries that produce the pollution. See the New York Times article about this. At a time when public health is threatened, we need pollution protections more than ever. Read More
> > Repeal and replacement of the Waters of the United States rule under the Clean Water Act will soon go into effect, putting much of the Southern US's wetlands and fisheries in peril, but challenges are expected. Read More.
> > Fracking is dirty and dangerous -- but the Trump administration is proposing to give fracking companies a massive taxpayer bailout under the guise of pandemic economic recovery. Tell Congress: Our taxpayer dollars shouldn't fuel fracking that harms our environment and communities.
> > While our nation is in the grip of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Trump Administration announced on March 31 its final rule rolling back the nation's clean car standards and dismissing decades of law under the Clean Air Act, which allows states to adopt stronger vehicular emissions pollution limits to protect the health of their residents.
> > Trump Administration pushes ahead to rollback landmark regulations that have protected migratory birds for a century. In a move largely beneficial to the oil and gas industry and electric utilities, the Trump administration is proposing to cement through rulemaking its policy rolling back significant protections for migratory birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Wildlife defense groups challenge this move as unlawful.
> > The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced intent to approve the use of genetically engineered crops on national wildlife refuges across the southeastern United States. If approved the agency's plan would green-light the growing of crops designed to withstand heavy doses of herbicides like glyphosate. This could devastate wildlife across the region — from Louisiana to North Carolina, down to Florida and the Caribbean.The Southeast is an area of unparalleled biodiversity, with almost 4 million acres of refuge lands and waters that are home to dozens of endangered species imperiled by pesticide use — including butterflies, birds, bats, mussels and fish.
COALITION DEFENDS WATER AGAINST TRUMP ADMINISTRATIONS' DIMINISHED REGULATIONS
More than a dozen environmental groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's recent rewrite of the rule defining waters subject to protection under the federal Clean Water Act. The Southern Environmental Law Center is regionally leading this defense team. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army published April 21 in the Federal Register the final replacement rule defining what waters are federally regulated under the Clean Water Act. The rule, which is set to take effect June 22. SELC on behalf of the coalition on April 29th filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina over the Trump administration’s “effort to gut clean water protections from wetlands and streams that feed drinking-water sources for 200 million Americans and 32 million people in the South, or seven out of ten Southerners.” Read more.
See also: Special Report: Wetlands In Peril
NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT: Trump administration has made radical changes to America's landmark environmental protection policies and restricted procedures for environmental impact assessments
The Trump Administration has changed and reduced environmental impacts assessment requirements on government agencies and private industry receiving federal funding or permits. If litigation by environmental protection organizations is not successful, we will have effectively lost one of our nation’s most important tools to ensure public oversight and transparency of federal projects that could harm the environment, such as logging, road building, and energy development. Read more. And learn more about these attacks on NEPA and additional resources here: National Environmental Policy Act Messaging Toolkit.
Also consult https://www.southernenvironment.org/protect-nepa
See also Proposed NEPA Regulations Gut Environmental Reviews & Public Input Process
REVISIONS WILL GUT ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
The Endangered Species Act is the world's strongest law for saving species from extinction. The Trump administration in early August 2019 finalized sweeping changes to the Act that weaken habitat protections, block climate change from being addressed as a threat to vanishing wildlife, and create new barriers to preventing extinctions. The Center for Biodiversity, National Audubon Society, and other defenders of vulnerable animal and plant species report that if their lawsuits are unsuccessful and Congress is unable to block, the changes will radically alter enforcement of the Endangered Species Act.These changes enable economic considerations to drive key conservation decisions: for the first time, concerns about potential lost revenue from ESA restrictions on mining, oil and gas drilling, or logging could influence decisions on whether a species merits protection. The new rules also limit the ability of regulators to take climate change into consideration when making listing assessments. In short, they endanger the very species the ESA was intended to protect. Read National Audubon Society’s statement and more on Audubon's website. Find links to the rules here. More here.
CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY SUES TRUMP ADMINISTRATION IN DEFENSE OF ENDANGERED SPECIES
In June 2020 the Center for Biological Diversity launched a lawsuit against President Donald Trump for illegally ordering federal agencies to harm wildlife. No other president has used executive powers to incite others to violate environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act — so the Center has taken unprecedented action. Its suit challenges Trump's recent executive order directing all federal agencies to exploit the Endangered Species Act's emergency provisions to rubber-stamp the approval of fossil fuel pipelines, oil and gas drilling, and other routine infrastructure projects.
"Inciting federal agencies to violate the Act is part of a pattern Trump's displayed throughout his presidency," said Kierán Suckling, the Center's executive director. "He's encouraging officials to ignore the rules and obey his whims. But he's not above the law."
Get more information from The Hill and Center for Biological Diversity | Saving Life on Earth
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION GUTS CLEAN WATER and WETLANDS PROTECTION REGULATIONS
The Clean Water Act--the federal law that protects water quality across the country--has been in place for 46 years. It's Section 404(c) serves as a vital tool to stop the most damaging harm to the nation’s rivers, streams, and wetlands. Yet the protections guaranteed by the Clean Water Act are in jeopardy, as the Act is under unprecedented assault. In addition to proposed elimination of regulations, the Trump Administration has proposed a federal budget which, if Congress accepts, will continue to slash core programs of the EPA such as monitoring streams and lakes, setting standards to protect them, and enforcing anti-pollution controls.
In early September 2019, the the Trump Administration, over massive objections from environmental protection defenders, finalized its rule to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule or "Waters of the US" Rule issued under the Obama Administration, which defined the waters that are protected by the Clean Water Act. This repeal is step one of the current administration's plan to repeal and replace the 2015 definition of "Waters of the US" with a much weaker, narrower definition that would leave an estimated one-fifth of the nation's streams and half of its wetlands unprotected from pollution and destruction under the Clean Water Act.
The EPA and Corps of Engineers abandonment of the 2015 Clean Water Rule will dramatically reduce the scope of waters protected by the Clean Water Act. This is the most significant weakening of Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands in history. A number of states attorney generals have filed opposition to the proposed weakening of national clean water and wetlands and stream damage regulations.
If and when another oil spill disaster occurs,similar to the BP Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster (ten years ago) or the Exxon Valdez oil tanker sinking on the Alaska coast, under the Trump Administration's alterations of federal water pollution criteria NO penalties or remediation will be charged against the corporate polluter.
If not blocked by litigation or by Congressional action, the Trump Administration's revised Clean Water rules will make our nation’s water resources more vulnerable to pollution and destruction. This action will roll back federal protections for thousands of American waterways and wetlands. According to the National Wildlife Federation, the proposed rollback would strip protection for 60 percent of all stream miles in the continental U.S. and also strip protection for half of the wetlands in the U.S. The Rule change will imperil advances to protect water quality of many of America's rivers and estuaries, including the Chesapeake Bay and many others. Learn more:
Note that the Southern Environmental Law Center immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the Trump administration's evisceration of the Clean Water Act. SELC expects a multiyear battle to defend our nation's key clean water safeguards against this unprecedented assault, and is committed to protect the South's drinking waters, natural biodiversity, and the rivers-lakes-and coastal waters essential to our way of life, economy, and environment.
Also, River Network, the national association of river protection organizations, offers strategies in response to the relentless series of attacks on safeguards for clean water and healthy communities from the Trump Administration and Congress. River Network’s member organizations have been at the forefront of raising awareness and speaking up for the value of regulatory safeguards to their rivers and communities, and for protecting federal policies and clean water protections now at risk. Learn more about the federal policies at risk and how you can use RiverNetwork's Federal Budget Toolkit to support efforts to protect federal investments in local rivers and waters. The strategies and success stories give us hope.
PRESIDENT CUTS FUNDING FOR CLEAN WATER & RESTORATION
The president's budget for Fiscal Year 2020 [ see also budget request outline ]. The President's budget would make massive cuts to many environmental protection and water-related agencies and programs, and includes no funding at all for many programs, including:
STATE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION PROGRAMS ALSO SUFFER DEVASTATING FUNDING CUTS
The Environmental Integrity Project (a national nonprofit organization) in December, 2019, issued a report on state funding for environmental protection programs. The report, The Thin Green Line, looks at staffing levels and funding for environmental programs between 2008 and 2018 in the lower 48 states. In addition to providing funding and position numbers for each state, the report profiles five states -- including North Carolina. The report compares 2018 funding levels to both 2008 dollars and inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars. The percentage increase or decrease in funding calculated for each state represents the change from inflation-adjusted 2008 funding.
The report's funding and position numbers only reflect resources for environmental protection programs; the report did not include parks and recreation or fish and wildlife agencies. Budget numbers do not include infrastructure programs, such as the drinking water and wastewater loan and grant programs. The report excluded the capital spending because it varies year to year depending on grant cycles and does not support basic pollution control activities such as permitting, inspections and compliance actions.
Key findings related to North Carolina's environmental protection programs: adjusted for inflation, N.C. environmental programs experienced a 34% reduction in operating funds between 2008 and 2018. During the report period, N.C. environmental programs experienced one of the highest levels of cuts to both operating budgets and staff in the country. The legislature made significant reductions even as the state's population grew, the overall state budget increased and the state faced new environmental challenges. More HERE.
ONE MILLION OF EARTH'S SPECIES HURTLING TOWARD EXTINCTION
At least 1 million of the Earth's species will be extinct within the next few decades without immediate human intervention, according to the United Nations report released in early May 2019, which was authored and researched by an international panel of over 450 premiere conservation biologists who composed the Intergovernmental Science-Polity Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). This horrendous rate of extinction is due to a combination of human-caused land uses, pollution, climate change, population growth, and overfishing.
The new scientific assessment concludes that to slow this loss of the Earth's biodiversity and ecosystems, "transformational change" to the way society operates is demanded to put us back on course to meet global sustainable development targets. Species loss is accelerating to a rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past--all due to humans. But it’s not too late to fix the problem, the report said.
The report relies heavily on research by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is composed of biologists who maintain a list of threatened species. The IUCN calculated in March 2019 that 27,159 species are threatened, endangered, or extinct in the wild out of nearly 100,000 species biologists examined in depth. That includes 1,223 mammal species, 1,492 bird species and 2,341 fish species. Nearly half the threatened species are plants. But scientists have only examined a small fraction of the estimated 8 million species on Earth.
The big picture: The IPBES findings are a first-ever global report on the state of nature, and is aimed at getting policy-makers, activists and others to understand that biodiversity must be a high global priority.
IMPACTS AND EFFECTS OF A CHANGED CLIMATE ARE WORSENING while the president and congressional leadership are unresponsive
Obviously current events demonstrate hurricanes, floods, and wildly fluctuating weather events are intensifying, partially as a consequence of an altered world climate and unprecedentedly warm oceans and atmospheric temperatures. A new United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns the climate change crisis with compounding droughts and world food shortages is worse than previously understood: Read the full story and More .
The recent 2019 annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 25) global summit in Madrid, Spain, generally failed to commit to necessary remedial steps in response to the world climate crisis.
Without the leadership role of the United States, which sent no major political officials and hosted no public events, major goals of COP 25 — to write the rulebook for a global cap-and-trade market and to set ground rules for aiding developing countries dealing with climate crises — were not met. Frustration over the American absence was palpable, as a summary tweet from U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said "I am disappointed with the results of #COP25. The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation & finance to tackle the climate crisis."
The underwhelming global climate change conference came shortly after two bleak reports had been issued. In late November, the annual U.N. Emissions Gap Report stated that the world economy is expected to blow past the 1.5 degree Celsius ceiling, with global temperatures on pace to rise by as much as 3.9 degrees Celsius by 2100. And as global greenhouse gas emissions hit a record high in 2019, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that thawing permafrost in the arctic region is already releasing massive amounts of carbon emissions.
2000-2019 DECADE SETS RECORD HIGH GLOBAL TEMP RECORDS
The NY Times reports that 2019 was the hottest year in global temperatures, only slightly exceeding 2017, and the past decade was the hottest in recorded global modern history. And the trends portend worse ahead. See informative maps and data in the article.
CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS on OCEANS "SWEEPING and SEVERE"
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in late September released on the state of the world’s oceans. It says the oceans are doing bad... REALLY BAD!
For decades, the ocean has been protecting us from ourselves. It’s been absorbing the vast majority of the heat we’ve added to the atmosphere through greenhouse gas emissions, essentially preventing the air from getting super hot. (We’ve known that for awhile, as this 2015 chart from Climate Central shows). But now, the new IPCC report says, the ocean’s health is utterly collapsing as a result of all the heat absorption. Worse, its capability for absorbing all that heat—and thus protecting us from living in an atmospheric hellscape—is running out. “The ocean has been acting like a sponge, absorbing heat and carbon dioxide to regulate global temperatures, but it can’t keep up,” IPCC vice chair Ko Barrett said on Wednesday. "The consequences for nature and humanity are sweeping and severe.” Read more in The New York Times.
FOREST RESOURCES IN JEOPARDY
The National Woodlands Owners Association reports the Trump Administration's proposed budget reductions in America's forest resources conservation and management will result in draconian reductions in funding for the National Forests system by $170 million, with severe limitation or even elimination of popular State and Private Forestry, Forest Legacy, Landscape Restoration, Community Forests and Open Space, Urban and Community Forestry, Landowner Education, and Cooperative Forestry programs. As our president likes to say, "SAD" !
MIGRATORY BIRD ACT UNDER ATTACK
The National Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation are defending the landmark Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, now under attack by radical-right elements of Congress and the Trump Administration, which are attempting to eliminate regulations and fines against corporate violators of that law. The U.S. hosts nearly 1000 species of birds. After a century of this critically important Migratory Bird Act and its defense of wildlife, the Trump administration abandoned the safeguards the law provides. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed a rule to exempt all “incidental takes”—bird deaths caused by industrial hazards—from MBTA enforcement. If this rule were in place in 2010, BP would have faced zero consequences for the more than one million birds killed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. With 3 billion birds lost in the past 50 years and two-thirds of North American species threatened by climate change alone, there’s never been a worse time to gut the MBTA. Read More.
There is promising news, though. National Audubon Society has filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Interior. Eight states joined the defense effort, filing suit against the administration to reinstate these vital protections. Their powerful efforts are lifting hopes for the future of this critical law—and for the 1,000-plus species it shields. In a significant ruling, a federal court rejected the government’s effort to dismiss the case, allowing it to move forward. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers recently introduced the new Migratory Bird Protection Act, which affirms decades of bipartisan practice and policy under the MBTA, upholds our international treaty obligations, and minimizes industrial hazards to birds by incentivizing best management practices. Learn More and Take Action!
Now is the time to deliver a message to your Congressional representatives that Americans care deeply about clean water and will not tolerate attacks to the Clean Water Act.