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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.

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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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Court Ruling: Feds Illegally Approved Colorado Gas Drilling in Elk Habitat

For Immediate Release
March 27, 2019

DENVER― A federal judge ruled today that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service illegally approved two adjacent natural-gas drilling plans in western Colorado, finding that officials did not adequately analyze wildlife and climate impacts.

In today’s ruling U.S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock faulted the two federal agencies for failing to account for downstream emissions from drilling and faulted BLM for failing to adequately address potential harm to mule deer and elk. The judge said the agency must clarify the area it used when analyzing potential harms to elk and mule deer habitat.

“This is an important win for our public lands, the climate and the tenacity of the North Fork Valley community. Requiring the Bureau of Land Management to clearly and properly analyze all potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of this large-scale industrial oil and gas development project is absolutely critical to protecting the rare and irreplaceable ecosystem of the North Fork Valley and all those who rely on it,” said Natasha Léger, Executive Director, Citizens for a Healthy Community.

“High Country Conservation Advocates is thrilled with the court’s favorable ruling,” said Matt Reed, public lands director at Crested Butte’s High Country Conservation Advocates. “The Bull Mountain area is home to important populations of elk and mule deer, iconic species increasingly under threat from surrounding oil and gas development. Ensuring that impacts from this project are considered, analyzed, and adequately addressed is critical to maintaining their long-term vitality in the Upper North Fork.”

In January 2018 Citizens for a Healthy Community, High Country Conservation Advocates, Wilderness Workshop, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center filed suit to challenge the 146- well Bull Mountain Master Development Plan and an adjacent 25-well project.

“For too long agencies have ignored their obligation to consider and disclose the climate-related impacts of burning oil and gas they lease on our public lands,” said Peter Hart, Staff Attorney at Wilderness Workshop. “A slew of recent cases confirm that the law requires more. Public land managers must consider how their management of fossil fuels will affect our climate, and that information must be disclosed to the public prior to approving more development.”

“This ruling is welcome news,” said Laura King, attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center. “It joins a string of favorable rulings on downstream climate effects, helping to ensure that the federal government shares with the public and considers the true climate effects of its fossil fuel extraction approvals.”

The Bull Mountain project is in the headwaters of the North Fork of the Gunnison River, which provides drinking and irrigation water to residents and farmers who supply the Western Slope and the Front Range with some of the state’s highest-quality produce, meats and wineries.

“This ruling is a victory for everyone who wants Colorado’s wildlife, watersheds and most spectacular landscapes protected,” said Allison Melton, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Bureau of Land Management shouldn’t be forcing our state to sacrifice healthy deer and elk populations for Trump’s reckless drill-anywhere agenda. It’s wonderful to see the court recognize that the BLM can’t just ignore the significant harm to these animals that results from oil and gas development on public lands.”

In today’s ruling the judge said the Forest Service and BLM “acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner and violated NEPA by not taking a hard look at the foreseeable indirect effects resulting from the combustion of oil and gas” in their environmental analyses.

Background

The Bull Mountain Master Development Plan is a large-scale drilling project for the North Fork of the Gunnison River watershed in Colorado, proposed by Texas-based SG Interests. The Master Development Plan calls for 146 new gas wells, four new waste water disposal wells, and associated infrastructure in the Bull Mountain Unit — a nearly 20,000-acre area between Paonia Reservoir and McClure Pass, immediately adjacent
to the Thompson Divide.

This area is primarily private surface ownership with a majority of public minerals. The BLM approved the drilling project after preparing an environmental impact statement.

The 25-well project is adjacent to the Bull Mountain project and involves the construction of 25 natural gas wells. The BLM and Forest Service approved the drilling project after preparing an environmental assessment to analyze the environmental impacts.

Western Colorado’s North Fork Valley, roughly defined as the area around the three small towns of Crawford, Hotchkiss and Paonia, has been named “Colorado’s Farm-to-Table Capital” by Colorado Life Magazine and declared a certified creative district by former Gov. John Hickenlooper. Farmers across the valley produce much of Colorado’s apple, cherry and pear crops, and the state’s second largest grape and peach crops.

The North Fork Valley is home to the highest concentration of organic farms in the state of Colorado and to the West Elks American Viticultural Area, a federally recognized wine-growing region.

Contacts:

Natasha Léger, Citizens for a Healthy Community, (970) 399-9700
Matt Reed, High Country Conservation Advocates, (866) 349-7104
Peter Hart, Wilderness Workshop, (970) 963-3977
Allison Melton, Center for Biological Diversity, (970) 309-2008,
amelton@biologicaldiversity.org
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663
Laura King, Western Environmental Law Center, (406) 204-4852

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Lawsuit Challenges Utah’s New Green River Water Contract

For Immediate Release
March 21, 2019

WASHINGTON― Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today to challenge the Interior Department’s decision allowing additional water to be taken from the Green River below Utah’s Flaming Gorge Dam. The decision was made without a full accounting of reduced Colorado River basin flows or how the region’s persistent drought and climate change could harm endangered species and recreation.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., says Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation failed to consider other pending water contracts, including the Lake Powell Pipeline, which could further deplete the Green and Colorado rivers.

The agency claimed in its environmental assessment that the new Green River Water Rights Exchange contract, signed Wednesday, would have no significant environmental impact. But it did not consider climate change, drought or over-allocation of water.

“The water resources of the Colorado River Basin are already headed toward irretrievable decline in both quantity and quality,” said John Weisheit of Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “The environmental review ignored the reality of declining river flows in the Green River and the rest of the Colorado basin and the connected impacts of this contract and the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline water contract.”

“This review was appalling. The Green and Colorado river systems need a full accounting,” said Robin Silver, a cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Drought, climate change and over-allocation are sucking the Colorado River basin dry right in front of our eyes. But officials ignored declining river flows, pretended this new Green River contract stands alone and ignored multiple proposed water projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline. We’ll fight to defend these spectacular rivers.”

Four endangered fish could be harmed by changes to water flows and timing contemplated under the Green River Water Rights Exchange contract and other pending water deals. Changes to Flaming Gorge Dam operations necessary to accommodate the water contracts and drought-contingency planning could be devastating for these fish and other species. Endangered species at risk include the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail chub.

The river includes fragile riparian areas and wetlands, as well as breathtaking canyons popular with rafters. It winds through Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, Dinosaur National Monument, Ouray National Wildlife Refuge and Canyonlands National Park before joining up with the Colorado River.

“The Bureau’s Green River Block environmental review is a disingenuous facade that ignores the agency’s own climate change warnings and myriad scientific studies about water-supply shortfalls to advance the largest new proposed diversion of the Colorado River, the Lake Powell Pipeline,” said Zach Frankel, executive director of Utah Rivers Council.

The groups are represented by attorneys from the Center for Biological Diversity.
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Contacts:

Contacts: John Weisheit, Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper, (435) 260-2590, john@livingrivers.org
Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity, (602) 799-3275, rsilver@biologicaldiversity.org
Zachary Frankel, Utah Rivers Council, (801) 699-1856, zach@utahrivers.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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New Trump executive order threatens National Forests

December 23, 2018

Contacts: Andrea Alday, 818-512-7628, andrea_alday@tws.org

WASHINGTON— Just before Friday night’s government shutdown, President Trump quietly released an executive order, threatening America’s National Forests and public lands with increased logging and seeking to eliminate both public input and environmental regulations affecting federal forest management.

The order uses recent wildfires to undermine designated wilderness and roadless area protections, even though decades of data show these lands are the most likely to exhibit healthy fire behavior. In fact, commercial logging and road building have been found to increase wildfire risk.

The Wilderness Society issued this statement from Mike Anderson, Senior Policy Analyst:

“We are disappointed that the Executive Order calls for more logging and less public involvement to solve the nation’s wildfire problems. Instead of promoting divisive legislation to weaken environmental laws, the administration should work with the new Congress to give the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior the funding they need to reduce fire risks and properly manage the national forests and public lands.”

 

The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. Visit www.wilderness.org. 

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Federal Judge to Hear Border Wall Challenge in D.C.

Media Advisory, December 17, 2018

Contacts: Paulo Lopes, (202) 849-8398, plopes@biologicaldiversity.org
Mary K. Reinhart, (602) 320-7309, mkreinhart@biologicaldiversity.org

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups will present arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s border-wall construction in New Mexico.

U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is presiding over the case. The judge will hear arguments from both sides during the proceeding and could issue her ruling at any time following the hearing. The lawsuit challenges the administration’s use of a long-expired waiver to sweep aside 25 laws that protect clean air, clean water, public lands and endangered wildlife.

“Trump can’t ignore dozens of bedrock environmental laws, no matter how desperate he is to build his destructive border wall,” said Jean Su, a Center attorney. “It’s time to stop Trump’s reckless executive overreach before he inflicts more damage on people and wildlife in the borderlands. We look forward to arguing the merits of this case.”
What: Federal court hearing challenging Trump’s border wall.
Where: U.S. District Courthouse, 333 Constitution Ave. N.W., Courtroom 17 – 6th Floor.
When: Tuesday, Dec. 18, 10:30 a.m.
Media Availability: Attorneys and conservation advocates will be available for interviews outside the courthouse, before and after the hearing.
Background

The Department of Homeland Security exempted itself from dozens of laws to rush border-wall construction in New Mexico. But the waiver authority, granted by Congress more than 10 years ago, no longer applies.

The border-wall project includes 20 miles of new 18 foot-high steel bollard walls, which obstruct the natural migrations of wildlife. Dozens of rare wildlife species, including the aplomado falcon and Mexican gray wolf, make their homes in this region of New Mexico, as do kit foxes, bighorn sheep and ringtail cats. The area is also within historic jaguar habitat.

A 2017 study by the Center identified more than 90 endangered or threatened species that would be threatened by proposed wall construction along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

Beyond jeopardizing wildlife, endangered species and public lands, the U.S.-Mexico border wall is part of a larger strategy of ongoing border militarization that damages human rights, civil liberties, native lands, local businesses and international relations. The border wall impedes the natural migrations of people and wildlife that are essential to healthy diversity.

 
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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Farm bill rejects majority of attempts to undercut forest conservation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 10, 2018

Contact: Michael Reinemer, Deputy Director, Communications Strategy, michael_reinemer@tws.org, 202.429.3949
Chris Rackens, Senior Representative, Government Relations, chris_rackens@tws.org, 202.429.2643

SAN FRANCISCO (December 10, 2018) — In spite of efforts by the Trump administration to weaken forest protections by exploiting the California wildfires, congressional leaders have agreed on a bipartisan farm bill that provides some improvements to forest policy.

Today, the House and Senate Agriculture Committee chairs and ranking members announced a conference report for the farm bill. The agreement rejects proposals to undermine the environmental laws that protect forests and ensure public participation in forest management decisions.

Statement by Jamie Williams, President, The Wilderness Society:

“Thankfully, common sense prevailed and this farm bill rejects efforts to weaken protections for our national forests, including attempts to cut the public out of decisions for our public lands. Instead, it embraces bipartisan proposals to restore forests, protect drinking water and preserve wilderness for future generations.”

“From day one, Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow and Chairman Pat Roberts committed to passing a bipartisan farm bill. We applaud this commitment and, on behalf of farmers, families and our public lands, we urge the House and Senate to now pass the farm bill without delay.”

Among the forestry provisions in the final bill, positive developments included: 

Tennessee Wilderness Act – Protecting 19,556 acres in the Cherokee National Forest as wilderness.
Water Source Protection Program – Authorizes the Forest Service to enter into water source investment partnership agreements with end water users to protect and restore the condition of national forest watersheds.
Watershed Condition Framework – Establishes criteria to evaluate and classify the condition of watersheds, and to identify drinking water sources across the National Forest System for protection and restoration.
A reauthorization and doubling of funding for the successful Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) which encourages communities to work together on science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes.
Provisions to facilitate tribes playing a greater role with forestry management on public lands adjacent to tribal lands.
Provisions to promote cross-boundary and landscape scale restoration efforts.

The Wilderness Society, founded in 1935, is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. With more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org.
 

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