Trump administration leaders tout that the United States can be both pro-energy and pro-environment, but their actions tell a different story. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Interior officials continue to undercut the long-standing laws and policies that have ensured economic development does not occur at the expense of public health and the environment.
On Dec. 22, Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt signed Secretarial Order 3360, effectively throwing out the agency’s handbook for minimizing environmental impacts from public land uses — of which oil and gas leases account for 90 percent.
The consequences of this are severe, especially in the west where the majority of public lands exist, as it sets the precedent that impact industries do not have to clean up after themselves.
The action also signals the administration’s false sense of security about the state of our ecosystems. Our wetlands, floodplains, prairies and forests provide critical services such as storm and flood protection, clean air and drinking water, pollinator and other wildlife habitat, and countless recreational opportunities.The more we impact these ecosystems, the less resilient we become to extreme weather events like the wildfires, floods and hurricanes that destroyed countless homes and lives in the last year.
Previous administrations have worked prudently to establish and strengthen mitigation policies that safeguard these vital ecosystems and public health. Beginning in the early 80s, the Reagan administration adopted a seminal mitigation policy to avoid and offset harms to fish, wildlife and plants.
It was under the George H. W. Bush administration that no net loss was first adopted as a national goal for mitigation policy. Every administration since has built upon the work of previous administrations to continue to bring effectiveness and transparency to mitigation practice and policies. That is, until now.
In stark contrast, the Trump administration has broken the cycle and is putting the short-term interests of a few over the long-term interests of us all. And the timing couldn’t be worse.
The president has set his sights on an infrastructure bill — one that will likely overlook the environment and, if anything, weaken environmental standards.
In fact, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has said he hopes the infrastructure bill will include changes to the Endangered Species Act, a bedrock environmental law that passed almost unanimously and has the support of 90 percent of voters.
It’s not difficult to see why the administration would want to throw out the environmental rulebook as it paves way for an infrastructure bill. But the move is manipulative, self-serving and simply reckless.
Taken together, weakening environmental policies while boosting development will be a one-two punch leaving the American landscape bruised and depleted. These irresponsible and short-sighted actions will bring at-risk wildlife even closer to the brink of extinction, and threaten countless communities access to healthy ecosystems.
Fortunately, western leaders like Colorado Governor Hickenlooper (D) and Wyoming Governor Mead (R) have continued to show great bipartisan leadership in conservation efforts across the west, urging the administration to keep federal plans for the imperiled greater sage-grouse intact and organizing workshops to improve tools and mechanisms for protecting endangered species. In light of the uncertainty coming out of Washington, citizens will continue to look to state and local policymakers to protect natural resources and public health.
Looking back at the nation’s bedrock environmental laws that were passed by overwhelmingly bipartisan majorities, state and congressional leaders must to come together, again, to reject the reckless trajectory of the current administration and ensure that industries are properly cleaning up after themselves.
We all have a moral obligation to care for the people, places, plants and animals that make our great nation “America the Beautiful.”