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Conservation Groups Blast Draft Forest Service Rule to Gut Bedrock Environmental Law

For Immediate Release
August 26, 2019

Contact: Susan Jane Brown, Western Environmental Law Center, brown@westernlaw.org, 503-914-1323
Randi Spivak, Center for Biological Diversity, rspivak@biologicaldiversity.org, 310-779-4894
Sam Evans, Southern Environmental Law Center, sevans@selcnc.org, 828-258-2023

WASHINGTON, DC  — Conservation and public interest groups today submitted formal opposition to a proposed Trump administration rule that would fundamentally change long-held environmental practices and allow for the sweeping destruction of national forests across the country.

In comments to the U.S. Forest Service, 177 groups said the proposed changes to the agency’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing procedures would gut this important decision-making tool by waiving requirements that the agency disclose environmental harm and involve the public. Among other things, the proposed rule would allow the agency to approve large-scale commercial logging and roadbuilding on up to 7,300 acres (11 square miles) of national forest land at a time without public input or comment.

The Forest Service’s sweeping draft rule broadens so-called “categorical exclusions” to exempt an alarming range of projects from public review, including logging, roadbuilding, oil and gas drilling, mining and power lines. Currently, categorical exclusions are reserved for routine projects that don’t harm the environment, such as hiking trail restoration or maintenance on a park building.

The Forest Service’s draft rule also proposes a sharp reduction in public input – under the agency’s proposed rule, the public would lose the right to comment on more than 93% of decisions affecting national forests and grasslands. Although the Forest Service has stated that the changes are needed to speed up project delivery, the groups’ comments point out that projects with public input and transparent scientific analysis are actually more efficient on a per-acre basis than projects developed behind closed doors.

Before finalizing its proposal, the Forest Service must consider the objections raised in these and the tens of thousands of other comments submitted in opposition. If the Forest Service does not abandon the proposal or fundamentally change course, the proposal’s fate will ultimately be decided by the courts.

The groups submitting comments today issued the following statements:

“The Forest Service’s proposed rule is deeply flawed, not only because it violates federal environmental laws, but also because it seeks to take the public out of public lands management,” said Susan Jane Brown, Attorney and Public Lands Director at Western Environmental Law Center. “Rather than building agreement around transparent science-based land management and restoration, the rule would shroud agency decision-making in arbitrary agency discretion. Instead of increasing efficiency, the proposed rule is guaranteed to result in controversy and litigation. The Forest Service should abandon this rulemaking effort.”

“The Trump Administration is rushing to hand favors to big oil, gas, logging, and mining interests once again with the Forest Service’s latest proposal to attack bedrock environmental law,” said Olivia Glasscock, Attorney at Earthjustice. “This proposal would shut the public out of over 90% of decisions affecting national forests and grasslands. The Forest Service should abandon it and instead concentrate on protecting our best tools in the fight against climate change – our forests.”

“This rule would streamline the destruction of America’s national forests,” said Alison Flint, Director of Litigation and Agency Policy at The Wilderness Society. “Under the guise of ‘modernizing’ forest policy, the rule would shut out the public while speeding up logging, road building and other assaults on wild lands that the public owns. In our comments to the Forest Service, we cite decades of data and science showing that roads are a leading cause of pollution to the forest rivers and streams that provide drinking water for millions of Americans as well as critical habitat for native fish and other wildlife.”

“This proposal would shut out the public – including nearby communities – from helping decide what makes sense for our publicly-owned forests,” said Matthew Davis, Legislative Director of the League of Conservation Voters. “This is yet another Trump administration attack on our public lands and our democratic process for the benefit of corporate polluters. The Trump administration’s Forest Service should abandon this irresponsible proposal and make sure the public’s voice is heard in decision-making.”

“Public involvement is fundamental to democracy, but this proposed rule seeks to silence local communities and move decision-making about our forests behind closed doors,” said Joro Walker, General Counsel for Western Resource Advocates. “We urge the Forest Service to abandon this misguided rulemaking process, which will deprive on-the-ground agency staff of a critical planning tool and put the West’s unique natural places, critical wildlife habitats, and scarce water resources at risk. It will also do nothing to alleviate the real cause of backlog at the agency, which is a lack of funding, rather than the public input and environmental review process.”

“Yet again the Trump administration wants to roll back vital safeguards and curtail public input. This rule will make it easier to log, drill and mine our forests– actions that will be doubly bad for our climate by both increasing pollution and limiting our ability to reduce it. Our forests must be managed as part of the climate solution,” said Kirin Kennedy, Sierra Club Deputy Legislative Director for Lands and Wildlife.

“This rule would keep the public completely in the dark while the Trump administration bulldozes our national forests,” said Randi Spivak, Public Lands Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Forest Service is saying ‘trust us’ with public lands, but they’ve given us every reason not to trust them. This agency has a duty to protect public lands and we intend to make sure that they do, even if it means taking them to court.”

“Audubon and the public depend on NEPA to ensure that decisions affecting birds like marbled murrelets in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska and greater sage-grouse in the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho are based on sound science and made with public input,” said Nada Culver, Vice President for Public Lands, National Audubon Society. “But the Forest Service is letting all these fundamental concepts fly out the window in order to more hastily approve logging, energy development and road building. The Forest Service should abandon this ill-advised process.”

“Public input has saved countless acres of old growth forests, rare habitats, streams, trails, and scenic vistas by persuading the Forest Service to relocate or scale back logging projects, roads, and other infrastructure,” said Sam Evans, National Forests and Parks Program Leader for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Now, under tremendous pressure to meet climbing timber quotas, the agency wants to forgo those improvements and instead hide the impacts of its projects from public view. We won’t stand for it.”

“The proposed rule brings no comfort to the hundreds of imperiled wildlife species that depend on America’s national forests for their survival.  As the world wrestles with a biodiversity crisis, it is irresponsible and reprehensible for this administration to willfully ignore the negative impacts of logging and roadbuilding on America’s treasured wildlife and lands,” said Peter Nelson, Director of Federal Lands, Defenders of Wildlife.

“From Grand Canyon to Shenandoah National Parks, more than a dozen of our country’s most iconic parks border national forest lands. And what happens in forests adjacent to national parks can dramatically impact the environment inside the park itself. The U.S. Forest Service’s proposed rule not only threatens the lands, water and wildlife found in our national forests, but will also inevitably impact the irreplaceable natural and cultural resources within park borders,” said Ani Kame’enui, Deputy Vice President of Government Affairs for National Parks Conservation Association. “NPCA has long been a supporter of the National Environmental Policy Act and its facilitation of community engagement and commitment to landscape connectivity. The proposed rule cuts at the very heart of this bedrock law, undermining both national park landscapes and the millions of people who visit these treasured places each year.”

A copy of the organizations’ technical comments is available HERE.

In addition, the following organizations, state governments, and decision-makers also submitted comments in opposition to the Forest Service’s proposed rule:

Jim Furnish, a retired Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service
The Conservation Alliance, a group of 250 outdoor and related businesses
25 U.S. Senators opposing the Forest Service’s draft rule
27 U.S. Representatives opposing the Forest Service’s draft rule
54 law professors from across the country with thousands of years of experience in federal administrative, environmental, and natural resources law
Horst Greczmiel, former Associate Director for NEPA Oversight at CEQ, expressing deep concern with the Forest Service’s draft rule
Local elected officials from Eagle County, CO; Pitkin County, CO; Gunnison County (CO); the City of Aspen, CO; Boulder County, CO; county officials in Pima County, AZ; San Juan County Commission (UT); Grand County Commission (UT); and, King County, WA

Center for Biological Diversity * Defenders of Wildlife * Earthjustice * League of Conservation Voters * National Audubon Society * National Parks Conservation Association * Sierra Club * Southern Environmental Law Center * The Wilderness Society * Western Environmental Law Center * Western Resource Advocates

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Senate Advances Bill That Would Gut Environmental Review of Oil Pipelines, Other Large Infrastructure Projects

For Immediate Release
July 24, 2019

Contact: Paulo Lopes, (202) 849-8398, plopes@biologicaldiversity.org

WASHINGTON, DC (July 24, 2019)  — A Senate committee today approved a bill that would side-step environmental review to fast-track large infrastructure projects, including oil pipelines and natural gas export terminals.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved S. 1976, the Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act, by a voice vote. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), would exempt infrastructure projects from detailed environmental reviews and public input that are required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

“It’s shameful that senators are allowing more agencies to ignore the public’s voice and rubber-stamp oil pipelines and other dangerous projects,” said Paulo Lopes, a public lands policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The National Environmental Policy Act protects the health and safety of communities. But senators are falling for the bogus industry myth that it’s too burdensome. The best projects occur when the public and environment are fully protected.”

In 2015 Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which weakened environmental review and public input for highway projects. The law also established a permitting council that authorized even more limited environmental review on other projectsexceeding $200 million, including oil pipelines and nuclear plants. These provisions are set to end in 2022.

Portman’s bill would make these provisions permanent and expand them to include transportation and Army Corp of Engineers projects, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, which were previously excluded.

Supporters of the end run around the environmental review process said it was intended to speed highway construction, but highway construction times have increased. A 2016 Department of Treasury report found that a lack of funding was the most common indicator delaying the completion of transportation projects.

“Further undermining environmental safeguards won’t move projects forward any faster,” Lopes said. “This is a flimsy excuse to avoid public input and shirk one of nation’s bedrock environmental laws. The government admits that it’s a lack of money that slows things down.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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Forest Service proposes regulatory rollbacks that would increase logging, mining on national forests and limit public input

For Immediate Release
June 12, 2019

Contact:
Alison Flint, The Wilderness Society, 303 802-1404, Alison_flint@tws.org
Susan Jane Brown, Western Environmental Law Center, 503-914-1323, brown@westernlaw.org
Sam Evans, Southern Environmental Law Center, 828-318-0925, sevans@selcnc.org 

WASHINGTON, DC (June 12, 2019)  — Today the U.S. Forest Service released an advance copy of its proposed rule to overhaul its environmental analysis procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which will dramatically curtail the role the public and science play in land management decisions on 193 million acres of national forest lands across the country.

These changes would create loopholes to increase the pace and scale of resource extraction, including logging and mining, all while limiting the scope of public awareness and input on proposed projects. The Forest Service has proposed several new categorical exclusions that would allow the agency to move project planning behind closed doors by cutting out the public out from the decision-making process.

The goal of NEPA is to foster better decisions to protect, restore, and enhance our environment and is based on three key principles: 1) transparency; 2) informed decision making; and 3) giving the public a voice. This is achieved through two key tools: public comment and requiring the Forest Service to “look before it leaps” by preparing environmental assessments (EA) and environmental impact statements (EIS). These documents provide agency decision makers, the public and outside experts with relevant information and require agencies to take a “hard look” at the potential environmental consequences of a proposed project before making decisions and taking actions.

The Forest Service’s proposed rule undermines these basic tenets by increasing the number and scope of “categorical exclusions” for nearly every type of land management action, and exempts those decisions from public comment. Only cursory public notice may occur.

“Balancing America’s many needs and uses on our public lands is hard work, but it’s the Forest Service’s most important job—today’s proposal makes it clear that the agency is turning its back on that responsibility,” said Sam Evans, leader of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s National Forests and Parks Program. “Instead of working to balance the many ecological, economic, and recreational demands of our National Forests, the Forest Service is proposing to cut the public out of decisions that could cause serious harms to these treasured places, and to return to back-room decision making without any transparency or accountability.”

“The Forest Service has used the mantra of ‘shared stewardship’ to describe its management goals for national forests with stakeholders such as states, tribes, and the broader public,” said Susan Jane Brown, staff attorney and public lands director with the Western Environmental Law Center. “But this proposed rule cuts the public out by authorizing nearly every land management action without detailed environmental analysis and public comment or administrative review. That’s no one’s definition of shared stewardship.”

“This proposed rule is an affront to our national forests and their owners – the American people. It would gut important procedural safeguards for our most sensitive forest lands and resources, including roadless and other wildlands that provide our drinking water, wildlife habitat, and unmatched recreation opportunities,” said Alison Flint, director of litigation and agency policy at The Wilderness Society. “The rule would shut the public out of the environmental review process by allow damaging logging and road-building projects in those areas to move forward with no public input or environmental analysis. This comes at the same time that the Forest Service is weakening substantive protections for those same roadless areas.”

To justify its proposed rule, the Forest Service argues that changes to NEPA are necessary to increase its efficiency and increase the pace and scale of land management decisionmaking. However, the Forest Service itself has acknowledged that a lack of internal agency capacity and training, as well as an agency culture that rewards “moving out to move up” (or, agency turnover), leads to delays in planning and implementation. The proposed rule does not address this fundamental problem.

“The proposed changes for planning under the National Environmental Policy Act is just the latest example of this administration ignoring its responsibilities to steward public lands for wildlife, watersheds, and recreation values in pursuit of increased development on national forests,” said Peter Nelson, director of federal lands at Defenders of Wildlife. “They would diminish the public’s ability to carefully examine the impacts of logging and roadbuilding projects on national forests or to hold the administration accountable for decisions that harm public lands, as well as the wildlife and communities that depend on them.”

“Yet again the Trump administration is rolling back vital safeguards and curtailing public input. These changes will not protect our forests from fire, but rather risk their future,” said Kirin Kennedy, Sierra Club deputy legislative director for lands and wildlife.

“The Trump administration is trying to stifle the public’s voice and hide environmental damage to public lands,” said Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These rules would let the Forest Service sidestep bedrock environmental laws. Logging companies could bulldoze hundreds of miles of new roads and chainsaw miles of national forests while ignoring the damage to wildlife and waterways. All of this would happen without involving nearby communities or forest visitors.”

Background: Changes in the proposed draft rule

Expands categorical exclusions. NEPA allows certain projects to be categorically excluded from detailed environmental review. In some cases, the public would only be notified of a proposed project, without an opportunity to review or comment on its environmental consequences. As a result, the federal courts will be the only way for the public to have their voice heard. The Forest Service also proposes to adopt any categorical exclusion created by any other federal agency as its own, without discussing the environmental effects or appropriateness of these potentially limitless exclusions.

Utilization of “determinations of NEPA adequacy.” This new proposed authority, based on similar Department of Interior authority, would allow the Forest Service to rely on its “experience” with past projects to authorize a proposed action of a similar nature without conducting site-specific environmental analysis. However, because the Forest Service rarely monitors the actual effects of its decisions, it is unlikely that the agency can rationally conclude that future projects will have no environmental impacts. Moreover, given the severely degraded condition of many of our national forests, it is arbitrary to suggest that past land management decisions have resulted in limited environmental impacts.

Embraces condition-based management. This authority allows the Forest Service to conduct land management actions, generally timber harvest, whenever the agency encounters a particular environmental condition, such as insect outbreaks or high fuel loads, on the ground. Site-specific analysis would not be required. The agency would not be required to consider a range of alternatives to addressing the environmental condition, even though alternative development is the “heart” of the environmental analysis process.
TAKE ACTION: Defend Your Right to Be Involved In Public Land Decisions at OurForestsOurVoice.org

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Appeals Court Throws Out Case Blocking Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline, Relying on New Permit Issued by President Trump

For Immediate Release
June 6, 2019

Contact:

Jake Thompson, NRDC, (202) 289-2387, jthompson@nrdc.org
Mark Hefflinger, Bold Alliance, (323) 972-5192, mark@boldalliance.org
Gabby Brown, Sierra Club, (914) 261-4626, gabby.brown@sierraclub.org
Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 310-4054, jmargolis@biologicaldiversity.org
Patrick Davis, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0744, pdavis@foe.org
Dustin Ogdin, Northern Plains Resource Council, (406) 228-1154, dustin@northernplains.org

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (June 6, 2019)  — The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a legal challenge to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, ruling the case was no longer active due to President Trump’s revocation of the permit at the center of the case. In March, Trump issued a new “presidential” permit for Keystone XL, in an effort to spur construction of the pipeline.

Previously, a federal district court in Montana determined the environmental review for the pipeline was incomplete and blocked construction until the government complies with the law. It was widely reported that President Trump took the extraordinary step of issuing a new permit to undermine the Montana court’s decision. Despite these moves, TC Energy (formerly TransCanada), the pipeline’s developer, recently informed investors that it was too late to begin construction of the pipeline in 2019.

The following are reactions to the decision:

“The Keystone XL pipeline is a disaster waiting to happen and we will not stop fighting it, or President Trump’s extraordinary misuse of executive power to disregard the courts and environmental laws. We will explore all available legal avenues to stop this dirty tar sands oil pipeline from ever being built and endangering our communities and climate,” said Jackie Prange, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Landowners and Tribal Nations in Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana will continue to fight in the courts, despite this decision that ignores our voices and our nation’s environmental laws in favor of the Trump Administration’s attempt to fast-track a risky tar sands export pipeline that threatens our land, water and climate. We know this ten-year battle is still far from over, and we’ll continue to stand together against Keystone XL at every opportunity,” said Mark Hefflinger, communications director for Bold Alliance.

“Despite today’s ruling, we remain confident that Keystone XL will never be built,” said Sierra Club senior attorney Doug Hayes. “This proposed project has been stalled for a decade because it would be all risk and no reward, and despite the Trump administration’s efforts, they cannot force this dirty tar sands pipeline on the American people.”

“The court is condoning blatant disregard for environmental laws and allowing regulators to put oil company profits over clean waterways and the people and species that rely on them,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration thinks it’s getting away with approving this dangerous project without adequate environmental review, but we’ll keep fighting Keystone XL to protect the people and wildlife in its path and prevent further harm to our climate.”

“Trump’s actions were a clear overreach to help corporate polluters,” said Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth. “Today’s decision attempts to foist an unnecessary and dirty project on communities while imperiling our environment. The Keystone XL pipeline is a direct attack on Americans’ right to safe, unpolluted resources.”

“The Keystone XL pipeline would threaten the livelihoods of our farmers and ranchers and endanger drinking water for tens of thousands of Montanans,” said Dena Hoff, a Northern Plains member and Montana farmer. “Despite the Trump administration’s best efforts to upend the rule of law to serve a foreign corporation, we will continue the fight for clean water and the safety of Montanans every step of the way.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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350.org on Trump’s executive order to expedite pipeline permits

For Immediate Release
April 10, 2019

CROSBY, TX (April 10, 2019)  — Today, as Donald Trump touted backing the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement and ramming through dangerous pipelines like Keystone XL and Dakota Access, he signed two executive orders expediting the permitting process for risky and toxic oil and gas pipelines, and limiting states’ decision-making power on such projects. This comes a week after a KMCO chemical plant explosion killed one person and injured two more.

350.org Executive Director May Boeve issued the following statement in response:

“This is a massive abuse of power that does nothing other than line the pockets of Trump’s fossil fuel billionaire friends, all at the expense of our democracy and our safety. Trump can try to rewrite regulations in favor of Big Oil by spreading disinformation and lies, but he can’t stop people power and our movement. We will continue to fiercely oppose dirty projects like Keystone XL through the US heartlands, the Williams pipeline in New York, and many more across the country. Right now, a coalition of Indigenous leaders, farmers, ranchers, and climate activists, who have been fighting pipelines for years, are training people in 10 cities across the U.S. to strengthen our resistance. Any public official claiming to a be real climate leader must rebuke Trump’s latest order, and stand with communities pushing for a Green New Deal to ensure a just transition from fossil fuels to a 100% renewable energy economy.”

A coalition of Indigenous leaders, farmers, ranchers, and national organizations launched the ‘Promise to Protect’ training tour, bringing knowledge from the frontlines of the fight against Keystone XL to local fossil fuel resistance happening across the country. The tour, named for the commitment made by more than 25,000 people to mobilize against the Keystone XL pipeline, will stop in 10 cities across the U.S. and several reservations along the pipeline route.

A rigorous report released last month revealed Williams Company and utilities manufactured a false demand in attempts to fasttrack pipelines. On Thursday, April 18, New Yorkers will march over the Brooklyn Bridge demanding Governor Andrew Cuomo walk the talk on a Green New Deal, starting by rejecting the Williams fracked gas pipeline before Earth Day.

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Contact: Thanu Yakupitiyage, US Communications Manager, thanu@350.org

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Landmark climate victory: Federal court rejects sale of public lands for fracking

For Immediate Release
March 20, 2019

WASHINGTON― In a landmark victory for climate, health, and public lands, a federal judge late yesterday rejected the sale of public lands for fracking and ordered a halt to drilling on more than 300,000 acres in Wyoming.

“This ruling is a triumph for our climate,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program director. “To limit greenhouse gas emissions, we have to start keeping our fossil fuels in the ground and putting an end to selling public lands for fracking. This decision is a critical step toward making that happen.”

“Fracked gas is dangerous for people and terrible for the climate,” said Barbara Gottlieb, Environment and Health Program director for Physicians for Social Responsibility. “This latest court win is not only a victory for our health and future, but it reinforces that the oil and gas industry doesn’t get a free pass to pollute.”

While the ruling applies to Wyoming, it has implications for public lands across the American West and is a major rebuke to the Trump administration’s anti-environment, anti-climate agenda.

In 2016, WildEarth Guardians, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Western Environmental Law Center sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department’s Bureau of Land Management for failing to account for the climate consequences of selling public lands for fracking in the American West.

The suit targeted more than 460,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming that were leased to the oil and gas industry in 2015 and 2016. An interactive map of these lands is available here >>

When leasing, the Bureau of Land Management refused to calculate and limit the greenhouse gas emissions from future oil and gas development.

During the case, the judge decided to address 303,000 acres of leases in Wyoming first. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras held the Bureau “did not adequately quantify the climate change impacts of oil and gas leasing,” violating federal environmental laws.

“It’s high time the federal government was held accountable for the costs of sacrificing our public lands for dirty oil and gas,” said Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, managing attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “This win demonstrates the Trump administration can’t legally turn its back on climate change.”

Last fall, scientists with the Department of the Interior released an assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the production and consumption of fossil fuels from public lands. The report found these emissions, which come from federal coal, as well as offshore and onshore oil and gas, accounted for 25 percent of all U.S. climate pollution.

At the same time, federal climate scientists released Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which sounded new alarms over the costs of climate change to the U.S. The report called for “immediate and substantial global greenhouse gas emissions reductions” to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

“With the science mounting that we need to aggressively rein in greenhouse gases, this ruling is monumental,” said Kyle Tisdel, attorney and Energy and Communities Program director for the Western Environmental Law Center. “Every acre of our public land sold to the oil and gas industry is another blow to the climate, making this ruling a powerful reality check on the Trump administration and a potent tool for reining in climate pollution.”

More than 25 million acres of public lands in the U.S. have been leased to the oil and gas industry for development. More than 20 million of these acres are located in the western states of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.

Under Trump, the pace of leasing public lands for oil and gas development has surged. In 2018, nearly 4 million acres were put up for sale to the oil and gas industry. So far in 2019, the administration auctioned off or proposed leasing more than 2.1 million acres.

Judge Contreras’ ruling today signals that unless the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management begin fully accounting for the climate costs of all oil and gas leasing in the U.S., the agencies will be running afoul of federal law.

The Judge stated, “[The] agency must consider the cumulative impact of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions generated by past, present, or reasonably foreseeable BLM lease sales in the region and nation.”
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Contacts:

Kyle Tisdel, Western Environmental Law Center, (575) 770-7501, tisdel@westernlaw.org

Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org

Barbara Gottlieb, Physicians for Social Responsibility, (202) 587-5225, bgottlieb@psr.org

Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, WildEarth Guardians, (505) 401-4180, sruscavagebarz@wildearthguardians.org

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During Shutdown, Trump Urged to Halt Fracking Permits, 2 Million-acre Lease Sale

For Immediate Release
January 17, 2019

Contacts: Rebecca Fischer, WildEarth Guardians, (406) 698-1489, rfischer@wildearthguardians.org
Kelly Fuller, Western Watersheds Project, (928) 322-8449, kfuller@westernwatersheds.org
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org

WASHINGTON― Conservation groups today called on the Trump administration to halt oil and gas drilling permits and cancel lease sales being developed during the government shutdown, saying they violate federal law. Auctions scheduled in February and March span six states and 2.3 million acres of public lands ― the largest quarterly lease sales in at least a decade.

“It’s absolutely outrageous, not to mention illegal, that Trump is rolling out the red carpet for the oil and gas industry while the American people can’t even reach an agency staffer by phone,” said Rebecca Fischer, climate and energy program attorney with WildEarth Guardians. “We’ve been completely shut out of decisions affecting our public lands, and we won’t stand for it.”

Issuing drilling permits during the shutdown violates the National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the groups said in a letter to acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. The public can’t view or provide feedback on new permits or environmental reviews since the Bureau of Land Management’s offices are closed and agency scientists furloughed.

The furloughs have also halted any work on whether environmental analysis should be required before issuing drilling permits or leasing public land for fracking. The BLM has posted public notice of at least 127 new drilling-permit applications in several states during the shutdown.

“The Trump administration is trying to use the government shutdown to do an end run around the laws that protect our air, water, and wildlife,” said Kelly Fuller, energy and mining campaign director at Western Watersheds Project. “But the Department of the Interior can’t hide forever. Sooner or later they are going to have to start talking to the public, and the longer they wait to do it, the more lawbreaking they’ll have to explain.”

Issuing drilling permits during the shutdown also violates the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits work without pay in the absence of congressional appropriations except to protect life or property. The BLM cannot require its employees to work without pay to approve drilling permits for the oil and gas industry, the groups said.

“The only thing trashier than our national parks during this shutdown has been the Trump administration’s coddling of the oil industry,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Furloughed federal workers can’t pay their mortgages, but Trump is hellbent on ensuring profits for fossil-fuel corporations. Not one new lease or drilling permit should be allowed under these conditions.”

The groups are calling on the BLM to halt February and March oil and gas lease sales in Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Montana. Furloughed biological- and cultural-resource specialists cannot evaluate public comments on those sales, conduct environmental reviews or consult with tribes as required by law.

Citing similar reasons, a second coalition of conservation groups today also called on Bernhardt to cancel those sales.

According to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity, if all the parcels offered in the February and March sales were developed, it would create up to 407 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution. That’s the equivalent of the annual climate pollution from 104 coal-fired power plants.

 
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit environmental conservation organization that works to protect and restore watersheds and wildlife throughout the West.
WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West. Guardians envisions a future in which communities are empowered to choose the kind of power, jobs, and local solutions that benefit current and future generations—solutions that will also enable us to confront the climate crisis.

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Otsego 2000 Challenges FERC Decision to Ignore GHG Impacts

Contact: Ellen Pope, director@otsego2000.org, 607-547-8881

COOPERSTOWN, NY (November 26, 2018) — On Monday, November 26, Otsego 2000 filed an appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decision permitting Dominion Transmission Inc.’s New Market Project to proceed. Otsego 2000 argues that in permitting this project, FERC violated the Natural Gas Act, NEPA, and binding legal precedent, when FERC refused to consider upstream or downstream GHG impacts wrongfully deciding that these impacts were not foreseeable or quantifiable. FERC also announced a significant policy change stating that for the same reasons, it would no longer consider GHG impacts in future cases. By announcing a significant policy change in a single docket, FERC also violated the Administrative Procedure Act which requires agencies to give notice of proposed policy changes, and allow public comment. By its action, FERC denied due process to citizens and stakeholders across the nation who had no notice of FERC’s plan until it was too late to intervene.

“At a time of surging concern for climate change and growing scientific evidence of its causes, FERC’s announcement of a new ‘policy’ to refuse to even consider GHG emission impacts, in defiance of existing law, must be rejected,” said Nicole Dillingham, President of Otsego 2000’s Board of Directors. She added: “The fact that FERC attempts to announce such a policy in a single docket denies all other others of their due process rights. Otsego 2000, as the only party with standing to appeal, simply cannot let this go unchallenged.”

Otsego 2000, an environmental and preservation advocacy organization based in Cooperstown, NY, is represented by Michael Sussman, Esq., of Sussman & Associates, Goshen, NY.

To read the brief and keep up-to-date on the case as it moves forward, visit .

 

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Rebuilding Stronger: National Wildlife Federation Outlines 12 Recommendations to Protect America from Hurricanes, Worsening Extreme Storms

For Immediate Release, September 27, 2018

Contact: Mike Saccone, National Wildlife Federation, SacconeM@NWF.org, 202-797-6634 

WASHINGTON, DC (October 3, 2018) — In the wake of yet another record-breaking hurricane, the National Wildlife Federation urged Congress to act on a series of urgent, comprehensive steps to prepare America for rising oceans and worsening storms. Rebuilding Stronger: 12 Priority Policies to Better Protect our Nation from Extreme Storms documents lessons learned from Hurricane Florence, which dumped up to 36 inches of rain in parts of North Carolina and about nine trillion gallons of water total on the Carolinas. The storm took more than 40 lives, cut off power for hundreds of thousands, and polluted rivers with spills from coal ash and pig waste lagoons.

“America needs a national commitment to protecting communities from the staggering destruction of extreme storms, like Hurricane Florence. Our communities and wildlife are at-risk because of decades of inaction, but we have highlighted concrete ways Congress can safeguard communities, protect wildlife, promote resilience and adapt to worsening storms, exacerbated by climate change,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “We’re asking Congress not just to fund damage repair for this storm, but to take a series of low-cost or even cost-saving steps to better prepare communities across America for future storms.”

Rebuilding Stronger recommends that Congress:

Prioritize Natural Infrastructure Solutions for Hazard Risk Reduction
Reform the National Flood Insurance Program
Increase Investment in Resilience and “Pre-sponse”  
Reinstate the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard
Ensure Clean Water Act Safeguards Protect Existing Wetlands, Waterways, and Natural Floodplains
Ensure Meaningful Public Input and Environmental Review 
Improve Stormwater Management 
Address Dangerous and Outdated Infrastructure 
Ensure Climate-Resilient Siting and Design of Toxic Pollutant Storage Facilities
Ensure Climate-Resilient Siting, Design, and Management of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
Ensure Full Funding for Farm Bill Conservation Programs
Advance Climate and Clean Energy Solutions

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Lawsuit Challenges Oil, Gas Lease Sales on Public Lands near Dinosaur National Monument

For Immediate Release, September 27, 2018

Contact:  Matthew Sandler, Rocky Mountain Wild, (303) 579-5162, matt@rockymountainwild.org
                Diana Dascalu-Joffe, Center for Biological Diversity, (720) 925-2521, ddascalujoffe@biologicaldiversity.org
                Alison Heis, National Parks Conservation Association, (202) 384-8762, aheis@npca.org
                Becca Fischer, WildEarth Guardians, (406) 698-1489, rfischer@wildearthguardians.org
                Stuart Gillespie, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9616, sgillespie@earthjustice.org

DENVER, CO (September 27, 2018) — Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today for leasing more than 115,000 acres of public land in western Colorado and northern Utah for oil and gas development without adequate environmental protections. These lease sales, offered by the Bureau of Land Management, violate federal environmental laws and will worsen air quality in a region already laden with harmful levels of ozone pollution.

Today’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, aims to invalidate the leases granted to oil and gas companies by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s BLM due to the agency’s failure to properly analyze risks to public health and the environment, as required by federal laws.

“Zinke’s playing a dangerous game by skipping environmental reviews at the risk of human lives,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s appalling that he’d push for more fossil fuel extraction on public lands and then ignore how much damage fracking would do, particularly to kids with asthma. The Trump administration’s drilling and fracking agenda is a disaster for people and wildlife alike.”

Oil and gas operations are the largest human-made source of air and climate pollution in the Uinta Basin, plaguing this once-pristine region with significant air pollution comparable with densely populated cities like Los Angeles and Denver. Elevated levels of ozone pollution endanger public health, causing asthma attacks, cardiovascular disease and premature death. It’s particularly dangerous for vulnerable populations, including children, seniors and people with respiratory conditions.

The BLM had a legal duty to analyze and address potential harms to human health and landscapes before leasing the 115,000 acres in December 2017 and June 2018. The agency skipped this analysis, instead prioritizing the interests of oil and gas companies over public health and environmental protection. Today’s lawsuit claims these leasing decisions violate the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

“Prioritizing economic benefits over public health and the environment is wrong,” said Matt Sandler, staff attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild. “This is especially so when the BLM has failed to comply with the laws that would have ensured the public knew the full impacts of these leasing decisions.”

The leased area includes land near Dinosaur National Monument, where more than 300,000 visitors a year come to experience the expansive views, untouched landscape and dark night skies. Air pollution from oil and gas drilling in the region already worsens visibility, stunts vegetation growth and harms delicate ecosystems. More oil and gas development in the area will only make matters worse.

“Our national parks offer millions of people each year the opportunity to connect to the great outdoors and learn about our country’s past, but the protection of our parks can only be assured when their adjacent lands are well-managed,” said David Nimkin, NPCA senior southwest regional director. “NPCA is deeply concerned about the deteriorating air quality in this region due to oil and gas development that directly affects national parks like Dinosaur National Monument, as well as the health of park visitors, who come here to experience the striking views, dark night skies and exceptional biodiversity of this unique place. As a recent national study found, park visitation drops by at least eight percent when ozone pollution is high — a clear indicator that air quality is an important issue for the public and directly impacts their enjoyment of our national parks.”

“Not only are we moving to protect our communities, public health and national parks by addressing ozone pollution head on, we’re also moving to protect our climate by ensuring that Trump and Zinke account for the cumulative impacts from federal oil and gas leasing,” said Becca Fischer, climate guardian for WildEarth Guardians. “The federal government has ignored these costs for too long.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed by Rocky Mountain Wild, National Parks Conservation Association, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians. The groups are represented by Earthjustice.

“This case is about enforcing our environmental laws, which are designed to protect public health, the environment and treasured places like Dinosaur National Monument,” said Stu Gillespie, staff attorney with Earthjustice. “BLM cannot circumvent these laws in its headlong rush to lease our public lands for oil and gas development. We’re asking the court to hold the agency accountable and set aside these illegal leasing decisions.”

Public lands oil and gas development and fracking near Utah’s White and Green Rivers. Photo by Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity. Overflight by EcoFlight. This image is available for media use.
Rocky Mountain Wild is a nonprofit organization based in Denver, Colorado, that works to protect, connect, and restore wildlife and wild lands in the Southern Rocky Mountain region. www.rockymountainwild.org

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its 1.3 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.

WildEarth Guardians is an environmental nonprofit that works to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West. We envision a future in which communities are empowered to choose the kind of power, jobs, and local solutions that benefit current and future generations — solutions that will also enable us to confront the climate crisis.

Earthjustice is the nation’s premier environmental law organization. We believe that everyone has the right to a healthy environment. Since our founding more than four decades ago, we’ve defended that right by using the power of the law to fight for the earth and its inhabitants.

 

Rocky Mountain Wild is a nonprofit organization based in Denver, Colorado, that works to protect, connect, and restore wildlife and wild lands in the Southern Rocky Mountain region. www.rockymountainwild.org

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its 1.3 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.
WildEarth Guardians is an environmental nonprofit that works to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West. We envision a future in which communities are empowered to choose the kind of power, jobs, and local solutions that benefit current and future generations — solutions that will also enable us to confront the climate crisis.
Earthjustice is the nation’s premier environmental law organization. We believe that everyone has the right to a healthy environment. Since our founding more than four decades ago, we’ve defended that right by using the power of the law to fight for the earth and its inhabitants.

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