Photo by Mike Dunn
WE THANK THOSE OF YOU WHO VOTE AND COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES AS IF THE FUTURE LIVES AND HEALTH OF OUR LOVED ONES, COMMUNITY, COUNTRY, AND THE EARTH DEPENDED ON IT !
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. President Joe Biden pledges to devote executive branch attention and priority for addressing the twin crises of Climate Change and Destruction of Natural Resources.
Those of us who care about the environmental health and well-being of our country and region now have reason for guarded optimism. We envision better times ahead "when hope and history rhyme." We acted in defense as the Trump Administration pursued 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 were attacked. The Trump administration's actions to diminish environmental protection and energy policies were dangerously short-sighted and caused long-lasting harm to communities and our natural heritage.
Fortunately public outcry often encouraged the US Congress to decline some of the worst of the Trump Administration's proposed federal budget cuts that would have imposed draconian cuts to most of our nation's environmental protection and conservation programs and agencies.
Our new US President, Joe Biden, even in his first months of executive administration is attempting to reverse some of the worst damages imposed by the past Trump regime, including immediately rescinding President Trump's unilateral withdrawal of the US from the worldwide climate accord. There is hope for a new era dawning as the incoming Biden/Harris administration lays out their conservation priorities that promise emerging opportunities to build and advance an inclusive, equitable, and resilient framework for protection of environmental resources and health and landscape conservation. But it will take years to remedy many of Trump's anti-environmental rules and policies. There are many environmental rollbacks still on the books that will need to be undone. Even during the final few "lame duck" weeks of the Trump Administration, those anti-environmental rollbacks of federal regulations and policies accelerated. Trump's widespread removals and transfers of career agency managers, and his appointments of anti-environment agency administrative heads, will take time to correct. See this article in the New York Times.
Restoring recent environmental rollbacks is urgent and cannot wait. Together, we must ensure that critical laws are fully reinstated and enforced, and savage anti-environment presidential executive orders are rescinded, including: The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Paris Agreement on Climate Change… and more. These laws and treaties are absolutely essential to protecting the natural world we all rely on. One by one, they've been eroded… making it easier for polluters, industry, and large-scale developers to operate unchecked and damage our planet.
Remember that the U.S. president sets the agenda of the federal government; Congress holds the "purse strings" and authorizes the budget.
We will alert you to opportunities and efforts to reverse environmental damages, and provide links to other partner organizations that are monitoring environmental federal proposals and actions, and are leading in response strategies. Many of our national and regional environmental protection organizations are leading efforts to reinstate essential programs and policies, and to remove bad ones. We recommend you stay abreast of these efforts, including those of the Southern Environmental Law Center.
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This is the opportunity to realize the future envisioned for landscape conservation. Environmental protection and landscape-scale conservation are recognized by the new Biden Administration as vital in addressing long-term ecological and economic recovery. Early indications are that the Biden administration is committed to advancing an agenda that prioritizes landscape level conservation, not only as an essential way to address pressing ecological issues, but also as a key path forward for: climate mitigation; building resiliency in natural and human communities; global bio-diversity protection; and as part of a commitment to inclusive conservation, shared management and equitable access to clean air and water and open spaces.
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.
MANY PERILS DEMAND RESPONSE
THIS SECTION OF OUR WEBSITE WILL BE EDITED AS THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION REFORMS, RESCINDS, REINSTATES, AND REFUNDS ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION PROGRAMS
Environmental Protection major priority of Biden Administration
In its first months the Biden Administration has demonstrated a dramatic watershed change in priorities that promise renewed emphasis on environmental protection, natural resources and land conservation, and mitigation of climate change consequences. Track these environmental actions at the Washington Post .
President Biden's Climate Change Response Executive Orders call for conserving 30% of land and waters by 2030
President Biden in his first month in office released an executive order calling for conservation of 30% of the U.S. land base and public waters by 2030. "This bold '30x30' vision is firmly rooted in science, given that protected land is key to a healthy and secure future for all Americans. It will provide pure drinking water, healthy food, clean air, habitat for wildlife, and places for people to reflect, recreate, hunt and fish. Conserved land also provides protection from natural disasters, such as floods and droughts, and absorbs and keeps carbon from the Earth's atmosphere." (Andrew Bowman, President & CEO of the Land Trust Alliance. More HERE.) After President Biden set the goal of conserving 30 percent of the nation’s land and waters by 2030, an interagency team in early May laid out broad principles — but few details — for achieving that vision. The Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful 22-page document from the Commerce, Interior and Agriculture Departments and Council on Environmental Quality highlights one of the Biden administration’s central challenges: having committed to bold environmental goals, agency officials now face the more uncertain and contentious task of figuring out how to follow through on those ambitions.
Conservation and Restoring America the Beautiful, the preliminary report to the National Climate Task Force, was developed by the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and was released in early May 2021 on directive by President Biden. It recommends a decade-long national conservation effort that emphasizes a commitment to collaboration, support for voluntary and locally led conservation, and honoring of Tribal sovereignty and private property rights. The report outlines a locally led and voluntary nationwide conservation goal to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 as an important part of the solution to the problems of the disappearance of nature, climate change, and inequitable access to the outdoors. The report outlines steps the U.S. could take to safeguard key areas on land and in the sea to restore biodiversity, tackle climate change and make natural spaces more accessible to all Americans. (Read a summary of the “America the Beautiful” Initiative and find a link to the full report here. And read more in this website's VIEWPOINT section.]
BIDEN'S PROPOSED NATIONAL BUDGET CALLS FOR INCREASED INVESTMENT IN ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
Greater federal investment is necessary to conserve and restore our lands, waters, coasts, and communities. The President's 2021 budget proposes increased funding for a variety of programs that will do just that. Read more from the National Audubon Society.
DURING TIME OF PANDEMIC PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS, OUR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT WAS UNDER ASSAULT
While the "foxes guarded our hen house," the Trump Administration to attacked and weakened environmental protection regulations and programs. The following actions are among many that have occurred during the pandemic and will take some time and effort to reverse:
BIDEN ADMINSTRATION MOVES TO RESTORE ENDANGERED SPECIES PROTECTION
U.S. officials in early June announced plans to restore protections for endangered species that were weakened under the Trump administration. In a joint statement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service said they would initiate processes in the coming months "to revise, rescind or reinstate" five Endangered Species Act regulations that were finalized late in 2020 under former President Donald Trump. The move is the latest by the administration of President Joe Biden to reverse Trump policies that loosened environmental regulations.
The reviews by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service are aimed at five Endangered Species Act regulations finalized by the Trump administration, including critical habitat designations and rules defining the scope of federal actions on endangered species. The Trump-era regulations opened the door to considering economic factors in decisions for species protections, weakened protections for critical habitat and left threatened species without guaranteed protections, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Speaking about the Biden administration's announcement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service principal deputy director Martha Williams declared that "the Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to working with diverse federal, Tribal, state and industry partners to not only protect and recover America’s imperiled wildlife but to ensure cornerstone laws like the Endangered Species Act are helping us meet 21st century challenges."
But changes to federal rules must undergo a public rulemaking process that can take months or years. Environmentalists applauded the move but implored the administration to move quickly.
COALITION DEFENDED WATER AGAINST TRUMP ADMINISTRATIONS' DIMINISHED REGULATIONS
More than a dozen environmental groups filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's rewrite of the rule defining waters subject to protection under the federal Clean Water Act in 2020. The Southern Environmental Law Center is regionally leading this defense team. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army in 2020 issued the final replacement rule defining and radically reducing what waters are federally regulated under the Clean Water Act. SELC on behalf of the coalition 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
The Trump administration made radical changes to America's landmark environmental protection policies and restricted procedures for environmental impact assessments. The Trump Administration 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, and if the Biden Administration cannot reverse course, we will have effectively lost one of our nation’s most important tools to ensure public oversight 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 with the National Environmental Policy Act Messaging Toolkit. Also Southern Environmental Law Center.
TRUMP ERA REVISIONS GUTTED 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 the National Audubon Society’s statement and more on Audubon's website.
CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY SUED 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 the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Center for Biological Diversity has taken legal actions to force US Fish and Wildlife Service to save imperiled species in the southern U.S. READ MORE.
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION GUTTED 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 dramatically reduces 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.
The Trump Administration's revised Clean Water rules made 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 rollback stripped 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 imperils advances to protect water quality of many of America's rivers and estuaries, including the Chesapeake Bay and many others. The Trump Administration restricted the scope of the law and removed protections from millions of acres of wetlands and nearly two million miles of streams nationwide. Nowhere is the threat greater than in the southern states, which are not only rich in water and water-dependent native species, but also have some of the weakest and most poorly funded water quality programs, making our region especially vulnerable to loss of federal clean water protection safeguards. President Trump by Executive Order directed EPA to dismantle the Clean Water Rule that protected small streams, up to 110 thousand acres of wetlands, and critical habitats for our nation’s wildlife.
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, responded 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 TRUMP CUT FUNDING FOR CLEAN WATER & RESTORATION
President Trump tried to make massive cuts to many environmental protection and water-related agencies and programs, and his budget proposed no funding at all for many programs, including:
STATE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION PROGRAMS ALSO SUFFERED 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.
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.
Growing Climate Solutions proposed federal legislation
A new Congressional bill in the works in early 2021--the Growing Climate Solutions Act—would be a first step in giving farmers and foresters the resources and know-how to support common-sense conservation on their lands. A bipartisan group of senators is planning to introduce this important climate legislation in the very near future. The Growing Climate Solutions Act would provide technical assistance for the agriculture and forestry sectors to reduce air pollution and remove carbon from the atmosphere through natural processes, such as storing it in the soil. It would establish a set of nationwide protocols and standards that will help farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners adopt sustainable management practices like planting cover crops, prescribed grazing, and reforestation. These practices preserve and restore habitat for birds and serve as natural solutions to reducing greenhouse gas pollution.
President Biden in his first month in office released an executive order calling for conservation of 30% of the U.S. land base by 2030. This is an ambitious call to action — and we must rise to the challenge. Scientists have found we can slow climate change and protect nearly 75% of plant and animal species by conserving at least 30% of our land base by 2030. President Biden's new executive order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad aims to do just that. According to U.S. Geological Survey analysis, just 12% of land in the nation currently qualifies to meet this ambitious goal. That means we need to conserve another 18% of U.S. land — twice the size of the state of Texas — in nine years! This bold "30x30" vision is firmly rooted in science, in that protected land is key to a healthy and secure future for all Americans. It provides pure drinking water, healthy food, clean air, habitat for wildlife, and places for people to reflect, recreate, hunt and fish. Conserved land also provides protection from natural disasters, such as floods and droughts, and absorbs and keeps carbon from the Earth's atmosphere.
CLOSING THE CONSERVATION FUNDING GAP
Accelerating losses of Earth’s biodiversity is well documented. The Nature Conservancy states that from 1970 to 2016 there was a nearly 70% average decline in populations of birds, amphibians, mammals, fish, and reptiles. Research suggests that by 2070, the Earth could lose another third or more of its species if immediate steps are not to taken to stop the extinctions. Human survival too is dependent on such action. The Nature Conservancy, with the Paulson Institute and Cornell University, has produced a report titled Financing Nature: Closing the Biodiversity Financing Gap (2020), which documents a great gap between need and current investment in preservation and maintenance of the world’s biodiversity. As of 2019, somewhere between $124 and $143 billion dollars (U.S.) were spent annually worldwide for maintaining and conserving nature and ecological systems. That sum needs to be more than quadrupled! To close the annual financing gap, we need to expand to somewhere between $598 billion and $824 billion per year by 2030. The Financing Nature report sets global dollar investment needs to meet conservation goals: to increase protection of land and marine habitats, to manage healthier forests, to reduce harm on biodiversity from agricultural and fishing practices, and to reduce water pollution. The report outlines three ways to fix the finance gap: by increasing government spending, by producing new revenue streams in ways that promote environmental benefits, and by increasing investments in conserving more natural lands and infrastructure. Read/download the report.
BIDEN ADMINSTRATION’S EPA REVIVES CLIMATE CHANGE WEBSITE
The US Environmental Protection Agency has relaunched its climate change website under the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to take action on climate change and restore science, according to a news release. The website had been “archived” (i.e., deleted) in 2017 in the first year of the Trump administration. [The Washington Post reported that EPA’s climate change website deletion occurred within 24 hours of the People’s Climate March on the National Mall, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. That 2017 march was organized in opposition to Trump’s rollbacks of the Obama administration’s climate policies.]
EPA’s recently appointed director Michael Regan (formerly secretary of the North Carolina department of environmental quality) stated, “Climate facts are back on EPA’s website where they should be. Considering the urgency of this crisis, it’s critical that Americans have access to information and resources so that we can all play a role in protecting our environment, our health, and vulnerable communities. Trustworthy, science-based information is at the foundation of strong, achievable solutions.” READ MORE.
American Rescue Plan legislation reforms Climate Justice Policy reforms (from Interfaith Power & Light)
The $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill, the American Rescue Plan, approved by the Democratic majorities of the US House and Senate and signed into law by President Biden, contains much needed relief for struggling Americans, funding for vaccines and testing, and investment in stimulating our economy. It is the greatest expansion of the social safety net in decades; it is projected to lift 13 million Americans out of poverty, nearly half of them children. It also contained several climate justice priorities:
President Biden's "Civilian Climate Corp" public jobs program -- another element of the American Rescue Plan Act -- is reminiscent of President Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corp's "Tree Army" of the 1930s. READ MORE.
Great American Outdoors Act Approved by US Senate & House; Enacted Aug. 4, 2020!
While we've been preoccupied with the current global pandemic, a major legislative achievement has occurred with U.S. House of Representatives passage (310-107 bipartisan vote) of the Great American Outdoors Act on July 22, following the U.S. Senate’s passage in June (by bipartisan 73-25 vote) of this landmark bill that will secure full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and allocate millions to protecting public lands in each state. President Trump signed the legislation into law on August 4th. This is the realization of 50 years of endeavor by the conservation community: securing full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The Great American Outdoors Act represents the greatest federal investment in land conservation seen in many decades. It comes at a surreal and surprising time in the midst of pandemic and polarized politics, with the confluence of the support from President Trump, Senate and House leaderships and overwhelming bipartisan support in both the Senate and House.
Why is the Great American Outdoors Act so important? Because it will permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which derives from a portion of federal revenues from fees on offshore oil drilling. LWCF funds projects that protect important land, water, and recreation areas that benefit all Americans. It will permanently commit $900 million per year to acquire land for federal, state, and local parks and forests and also provide $9.5 billion over the next five years for desperately needed repairs and facilities maintenance in national parks and forests and in other public lands.
Millions of Americans turned to nature for respite during the last few months. This legislation will be instrumental in keeping our lands and waters resilient for generations to come. This bill has now gone to President Trump's desk to sign into law. He has promised to sign and enact the law.
We thank the bipartisan leadership who have contributed to securing the most significant investment in our lands and waters in 50 years. We're deeply grateful to the Senators and Representatives that voted in favor of the Great American Outdoors Act.
Many dedicated advocates and conservation and community partners have worked together for years to champion the permanent reauthorization and full funding of LWCF.
CONTROVERSIAL ATLANTIC COAST PIPELINE PROJECT HALTED
In a surprise move on the 2020 July 4th weekend, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy announced that they are abandoning the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project following growing opposition, spiraling costs, and a series of legal defeats. This is considered a tremendous victory for the people and communities that were in the 600-miles path of this risky project, for public lands, for landowners, and for all North Carolinians and Virginians who are no longer on the hook to pay for an $8 billion pipeline. The Southern Environmental Law Center and dozens of other organizations coalesced in opposition to the proposed pipeline construction. The editorial board of the Raleigh (NC) News & Observer newspaper hailed the decision, calling it a "new independence--a breakaway from the tyranny of fossil fuels in generating electricity, "saving us from a doomed investment in energy's past rather than its future, and providing the electric power corporations the opportunity to embrace a future in which generating electricity and protecting the planet are one and the same." See this engaging account of Virginians' battle against the proposed pipeline:
MIGRATORY BIRD ACT RESTRICTED - BUT DEFENSE MOUNTED
BIDEN ADMIN MOVES TO RESTORE AMERICA’S MIGRATORY BIRD PROTECTION (from National Audubon Society)
There is encouraging news for saving America’s best bird protection law. The Biden administration in March 2021 announced intent to revoke a Trump-era rule that gave a free pass to industries for bird deaths under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). On the same day when the rule of the Trump Administration formally went into effect, which guts the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by preventing the federal government from penalizing companies for arguably unintended but preventable killing of birds, the Biden Administration’s US Department of the Interior also announced that it would move quickly on a new rulemaking process to reinstate and strengthen protections for migratory birds. If the Trump Administration’s new rule had been in effect at the time of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill that killed over 100,000 birds and many other species of marine wildlife, none of the $100 million settlement payment would have been paid by the culpable industries. Read more HERE and HERE.
The MBTA has protected birds for more than a century. Passed in 1918 as a result of advocacy from Audubon chapters and supporters like you, the law serves as the foundation for bird conservation in our country. But the current rule implemented in the final weeks of the Trump Administration means that any “incidental” death—no matter how predictable, avoidable, or devastating to birds—is now exempt from enforcement under the law.
The National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation and others have been defending the landmark Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, now under attack by radical-right elements of Congress and the Trump Administration, which eliminated 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.
The Trump Interior Department gutted enforcement of the MBTA, giving companies a free pass from responsibility for bird deaths from industrial hazards, including major oil spills. The Trump Administration moved through altered regulatory rules to make this bird-killing policy permanent. When the pandemic broke out across the United States, they rejected requests to postpone this unnecessary and harmful process, and shut down the public comment period. If and when another oil spill disaster occurs, similar to the BP Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster (ten years ago) which resulted in the deaths of an estimated one million birds and untold other marine species, under the Trump Administration's alterations of wildlife protection regulations NO penalties or remediation will be charged against the corporate polluter.
The Trump Interior Department fast-tracked its bird-killing policy.
Despite the health emergency and amidst national turmoil of the Covid19 pandemic, the Department of the Interior moved ahead to cement the elimination of bird protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The Trump Interior Department ignored widespread concerns and ramping up its attack on the MBTA. In its draft Environmental Impact Statement, the agency completely failed to address how devastating the rollback of the MBTA will be for birds, especially when recent studies have shown that we’ve lost 3 billion birds since 1970, and that two-thirds of our birds are threatened by climate change.
National Audubon Society, several other conservation groups, and eight states filed lawsuits challenging the U.S. Department of the Interior’s elimination of longstanding bird protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). 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.
Defense Mounted: the Audubon Society, several other conservation groups, and eight states filed lawsuits challenging the U.S. Department of the Interior’s elimination of longstanding bird protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). In early August 2020 a federal court ruled on the National Audubon vs. US Dept. of Interior lawsuit and threw out the administration's rollback of the MBTA, ruling the policy is contrary to the foundational 100-year-old bird protection law. The Department of the Interior's attempt to overturn decades of bipartisan precedent would say that the MBTA’s protections apply only to activities that purposefully kill birds. The federal court ruled that this interpretation was “contrary to the plain meaning of the MBTA.” For context, if the administration’s legal opinion had been in place in 2010, BP would have faced no consequences under the MBTA for the more than one million birds killed in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
This reality is underscored by the judge’s own words from the opening of the ruling: “It is not only a sin to kill a mockingbird, it is also a crime. That has been the letter of the law for the past century. But if the Department of the Interior has its way, many mockingbirds and other migratory birds that delight people and support ecosystems throughout the country will be killed without legal consequence.”
The long fight isn’t over yet—Congress needs to respond to this attack on America's birds and pass a permanent legislative fix to protect the MBTA from being weakened through administrative and regulatory changes. A proposed Migratory Bird Protection Act has been introduced in Congress to reinstate bird protections that were removed under this administration, and a key Congressional committee has quickly endorsed the vital legislation, voting to advance the bill in the U.S. House. Take action today by asking your U.S. Representatives to defend the MBTA from further rollback attempts by passing the Migratory Bird Protection Act. Urge your U.S. Representative to reverse this attack on bird protection.
Federal Tax Deduction Incentives for Land Conservation Reduced
The IRS and U.S. Treasury Department during the Trump Administration significantly reduced the incentive of federal income tax deductions available to people who donate to charitable organizations and then receive state or local tax credits. This includes the donations of conservation easements and even gifts of land. These reductions eliminate — or substantially shrink — an important incentive for donors and would slow the rate of land conservation. That is why the Land Trust Alliance submitted comments on behalf of the land conservation community on the proposed regulations. Sixteen states (NINE southern) — Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia — provide state tax credits or enhanced deductions to encourage conservation donations. To learn more about this issue, please read this blog post. To receive updates on this issue and subscribe to the Conservation Defense e-newsletter contact Leslie Ratley-Beach, Land Trust Alliance Conservation Defense.
WILDLIFE CONSERVATION CRISIS RESPONSES
We are facing a historic conservation crisis for birds and other wildlife. The widespread species decline could alter future opportunities for Americans to enjoy and benefit from these species, and the places they need to survive. The proposed Recovering America’s Wildlife Act responds to this crisis by directing much-needed financial resources to proactively conserve at-risk species identified by state fish and wildlife agencies. More than one third of all species are at risk of extinction, many within decades. With degraded habitat, invasive species and a shifting climate driving global biodiversity loss,
that's why Congress must pass the Recovering America's Wildlife Act (RAWA) to fix drastic underfunding of local and state efforts to save struggling wildlife before it's too late. The Nature Conservancy appeals that if you agree, add your name to urge lawmakers to take action now. Read more, Take Action.
Thousands of species depend on the Endangered Species Act for survival (from Center for Biological Diversity)
The Endangered Species Act has been severely underfunded for decades and desperately needs more funding to combat the climate crisis, habitat loss, wildlife exploitation and pollution, which are pushing more animal and plant species to the brink. We call on Congress to double its funding for endangered species conservation to $592 million per year. We can't curb the extinction crisis without giving every species what it needs.
One million animal and plant species face extinction in the coming decades — and there simply isn't enough budgeted for their survival. The Endangered Species Act saves 99% of the species that are granted its powerful protection. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hundreds of endangered animals and plants receive less than $1,000 a year for their recovery. Many species receive no funding at all. Our proposal calls for every species listed under the Act to receive a minimum of $50,000 per year for recovery.
Wildlife can’t wait. Please tell Congress to fight the extinction crisis with all the tools available. Tell Congress to save life on Earth by fully funding species conservation. Take Action!
Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 3742) was introduced in the US House as proposed legislation with more than 60 sponsors in 2019, that would have provided $1.4 billion in dedicated annual funding to state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies. We hope that similar legislation will be reintroduced in 2021. This funding would go toward conservation and monitoring of at-risk species, known in states as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). Since 2000, state and tribal wildlife agencies have pulled from a much smaller funding stream known as the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program. This program is vulnerable to the whims of congressional appropriators each year, and is typically only funded at about $60 million annually. Such limited funding only provides state agencies with the ability to address a few of the SGCN-related projects deemed necessary within their conservation action blueprints, known as State Wildlife Action Plans. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act aims to drastically change this dynamic. This legislation would:
PLANT CONSERVATION NATIONAL LEGISLATION TO BE RE-PROPOSED
Legislation to enhance protection of American's native plants in 2020 was introduced in both houses of Congress but was not not enacted. A new legislative proposal must be made in the current Congressional session. The proposed legislation has been endorsed by nearly two thousand conservation groups. The Native Plant Conservation Campaign coalition submitted testimony on the proposed Botanical Sciences and Native Plant Materials Research, Restoration, and Promotion Act. The legislation would support:
AMERICA'S CONSERVATION ENHANCEMENT ACT and WETLANDS CONSERVATION ACT LEGISLATION MUST BE REINTRODUCED IN NEW 2021 CONGRESSIONAL SESSION
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act came a half-step closer to reauthorization in 2020– it passed out of the US Senate as part of the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act, but it was not enacted into law. A new effort will be launched in the 2021 Congressional session. For background, a stand-alone bill to reauthorize NAWCA passed out of the House and was amended in the Senate to add the other provisions in the America’s Conservation Easement Enhancement Act and passed on unanimous consent.
America’s Conservation Enhancement Act has been bipartisan legislation reauthorizing several important wildlife conservation programs, including The North American Wetlands Conservation Act, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Establishment Act and Chesapeake Bay Program. It also addresses the threats of emerging wildlife diseases and invasive species, and addresses protection for livestock from predators.
WILDLIFE CORRIDORS CONSERVATION ACT APPROVED BY US HOUSE IN 2020; BUT SENATE TOOK NO ACTION - TRY AGAIN!
In early July 2020 a major step in efforts to to secure protection for wildlife corridors in the United States was achieved when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act as part of a package designed to help America move forward from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation includes $300 million in funding for infrastructure projects, such as wildlife highway bridges and tunnels, to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions on America’s highways, and would stimulate the U.S. economy in a way that works for both people and wildlife. But the legislative package faces an uncertain fate in the U.S. Senate in the current session. These legislative efforts may need to be renewed in the next Congressional session.
Can red wolves in eastern North Carolina come back from the brink of extinction again?
Once a US conservation success story, numbers in the wild have plummeted. Now a court decision that condemned the Trump-era US Fish and Wildlife Service's inaction has given hope for their survival. Read in The Guardian. In response to the court order and successful lawsuit by Southern Environmental Law Center and Network for Wildlife Conservation eight red wolves bred in captivity were added to the beleaguered remnant population in the USFWS Pocosin Lakes NWR in coastal North Carolina in the spring of 2021.