Judge Removes the Authority of Acting Bureau of Land Management Director

In early October, a federal judge in Montana removed the Bureau of Land Management Acting Director William Perry Pendley’s authority and indicated that actions under his leadership could be invalidated. Pendley has served as the acting director of the BLM for over a year. During Pendley’s tenure, he oversaw deregulatory efforts, unprecedented oil and gas leasing, and land-use plans that favored industry. 

The ruling by Judge Brian Morris occurred in response to a lawsuit by Montana Governor Steve Bullock and the Montana Department of Natural Resources. The plaintiffs contended that since the Senate had not confirmed Pendley, he has no authority to make decisions for the BLM. 

Management plans by Pendley leave public lands unprotected

Sixty environmental and conservation organizations sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt asking him to retract all management plans, decisions, rulemakings, and regulation influenced by Pendley. 

The plans and decisions the organizations asked Bernhardt to retract include the Lewistown Resource Management Plan and the Missoula Resource Management Plan. The Lewistown RMP covers 651,200 surface acres and 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate in central Montana. It allows oil and gas leasing on 95 percent of the Lewistown area. The Missoula RMP covers around 163,000 surface acres and 268,000 acres of federal mining interests between Missoula and Avon in Montana. The plan increases grazing and timber harvesting and removes protection for environmental areas of critical concern. Both plans govern the management of the land for the next 20 years. 

Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation, said that the Lewistown and Missoula RMPs are “another example of why William Perry Pendley is unfit to lead the agency that manages more than 245 million acres of public land.” She added that Pendley “has rejected what Montanans have asked for and is now advocating to hand them over to oil and gas companies at below-market prices.”

The management plans for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah are two other decisions the organizations asked Bernhardt to retract. The plans for the national monuments leave two million acres of public land unprotected. Within the two million unprotected acres are culturally significant sites for the Navajo, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe, such as rock art and cliff dwellings. Leaving them unprotected opens them to looting and vandalism. 

Pendley acted as the de facto head of the BLM for over a year. President Trump nominated him in June to serve as the official head of the federal agency but withdrew the nomination in August. In September, House Democrats demanded Pendley’s removal, and Senator Michael Bennet from Colorado spoke on the Senate floor against Pendley. Bennet characterized Pendley as “by far the most extreme, anti-public lands nominee in my lifetime.” He pointed out that Pendley does not believe in the concept of public lands but has argued that the founding fathers intended for the sale of all federal lands. 

Pendley refuses to step down despite the court ruling 

William Perry Pendley refuses to step down despite a court challenge to his authority. “News of my political demise has been greatly exaggerated,” he said at the Free Roaming Equids and Ecosystem Sustainability Network conference in Cody, Wyoming. During an interview with the Powell Tribune, he said that the court decision “has no impact, no impact whatsoever.” He added that he has “the support of the president.” 

 “Taxpayers are going to be on the hook as the administration tries to save face by blindly appealing this strong rebuke of its legal charade,” said Western Values Project director Jayson O’Neill. “Challenging this decision will not only cost taxpayers more but create additional layers of uncertainty for both industry and public land users.” 

What you can do

Are you tired of corrupt presidential appointees making decisions that destroy the nation’s public lands? Vote on November 3

Why Trump Must Be Voted Out To Save the Environment

Not too long after taking office, Trump issued an executive order that for every new regulation enacted, two must be eliminated. The Brookings Institute tracked the administration’s deregulatory actions and found 74 actions, as of August 2020, taken to weaken environmental protection. The Trump environmental record has at least been consistent.

President Obama established the Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using the Clean Air Act. The plan reduced carbon emissions from the power sector. The Trump administration replaced the Clean Power Plan with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which will only result in a one percent reduction in GHG emissions from power plants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Fuel economy standards are one way to reduce GHG emissions as transportation is the largest source of U.S. emissions. The Trump administration rolled back Obama-era fuel economy standards, which gave Americans $660 billion savings. The new standards take away $460 billion of those savings. The new standards increase GHG emissions by almost three gigatons of carbon, equivalent to nearly two years of emissions from the transportation sector.

In 2016, The Obama administration enacted a rule to reduce venting or flaring of methane from oil and gas production on public lands. The Trump administration rolled back the rule by releasing a replacement that rescinded most of it. Methane is a greenhouse gas with a warming potential far exceeding that of carbon. Methane accounts for 16 percent of climate change. 

The Trump administration rolled back rules designed to protect the air. One of those rules is the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) that limits the amount of mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants. Mercury is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the soil and water. Mercury concentrates in fish and is particularly toxic for pregnant women and children. 

The Trump administration refused to strengthen National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). Every five years, an independent science advisory committee reviews NAAQS. The administration packed the advisory committees with industry and anti-regulatory members, limited the scientific research the committees could consider and accelerated the process. 

In July 2020, the Trump Administration issued a rule to update the National Environmental Quality Act. The new rule aims to limit environmental reviews of projects to two years, limit climate change as part of environmental assessments, and excludes certain projects from the environmental assessment process. 

The Trump administration issued a rule that redefines and restricts the waterways the Clean Water Act protects. Under the rule, 51 percent of wetlands and 18 percent of streams lose federal protections. The streams and wetlands that lost protection serve as headwaters for rivers and lakes that provide drinking water for millions of Americans. 

The economic and health benefits of environmental regulation

The Trump administration deregulates environmental protections despite the benefits of protecting the nation’s air, water, and soil. The Office of Management and Budget looked at major regulations from 2005 to 2014 and found that the economic benefits greatly exceeded the costs every year. The benefits of environmental regulations exceeded costs by a ratio of more than 10 to one and provided net economic benefits to the U.S. of over $500 million a year. 

There are health benefits from environmental regulations. Fossil fuel-burning power plants discharge at least 5.5 billion pounds of pollution into bodies of water every year, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project. Wastewater from power plants contributed to more than 23,000 miles of contaminated rivers, polluted fish in 185 bodies of water, and the degradation of 399 bodies of water used as drinking water sources.

Perhaps the most iconic and far-reaching failure of the Trump Environmental Record rests with the Paris Agreement.

Trump and the Paris Agreement

President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, an agreement about 195 countries to reduce their GHG emissions to avoid the worst climate change impacts. The U.S. is the only major GHG emitter in the world to withdraw from the agreement and cannot withdraw until the day after the 2020 election in November. A poll taken right after the 2016 election found that seven in 10 voters (69 percent) said the U.S. should participate in the Paris Agreement. Two-thirds of voters also said that the U.S. should reduce its GHG emissions, regardless of what other countries do, and 62 percent wanted Trump and Congress to do more to address climate change.

During his announcement about the Paris Climate Agreement, Trump mentioned the “draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.” However, not doing anything to mitigate climate change will cost far more than the costs of complying with the Paris Agreement. A 2020 study found that delayed mitigation of climate change will reach 18 percent of global GDP in 2080 and further mitigation delay costs 0.5 trillion dollars a year. The damages due to delayed mitigation increase by 0.6 trillion dollars a year in 2020. In December, the House Committee On Oversight and Reform released estimates for the current economic effects of climate change. The estimates cite the data of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) which found that, as of December 2018, climate change cost U.S. taxpayers about $430 billion in disaster assistance since 2005. 

What you can do

You can do something to stop the environmental deregulation. Begin the hard road of reversing the Trump environmental record. Vote on November 3. 

Green Wave 2020 Aims To Put Environmentally Friendly Candidates In Office

President Trump’s environmental policies mostly consist of rolling back Obama-era policies dealing with climate change. Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. That action put the U.S. in the role of being the only country expressing intent to withdraw from the agreement. Trump can’t officially withdraw until the day after the 2020 election. That makes November 3 an important day for environmentalists. 

In early October, a coalition of environmental organizations launched a project to elect environmentally-friendly candidates. Green Wave 2020 is a joint project of Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, EDF Action, the NRDC Action Fund, and the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund to mobilize the members of the organization to help elect environmental champions in November. The organizations created a list of over 30 congressional races where the targeted candidate has a strong environmental track record or platform. Many of the candidates in the 30 prioritized races are running against someone how denies climate change. 

Green Wave 2020 involves more than 70 professional organizers in 15 states who mobilize environmental group members volunteering to help elect environmentally-friendly candidates. The organizers provide members with remote phone and text banking opportunities, along with other online tools. The project mobilizes thousands of environmental group members. 

“The stakes for the environment, for our climate, and for communities suffering the worst consequences of toxic pollution across the nation have never been more stark than in 2020,” said Sierra Club President Ramon Cruz. “This unprecedented mobilization of our collective membership, including millions of members nationwide, will also help build lasting infrastructure in key states and districts that environmental champions running for office can rely upon for future election cycles.”

Turning a red state green

Arizona is typically a red state where Republican candidates tend to flourish. The state’s three congressional races each make the priority list of the Green Wave 2020. Those three races include a senate seat. Mark Kelly (D) hopes to unseat incumbent Senator Martha McSally (R) to win John McCain’s former seat. A glance at the websites of both candidates shows why the project focuses on Arizona. McSally’s site does not even mention her environmental views, while Kelly’s site contains information on his views on climate change and the environment.

McSally’s site states that she supported Trump’s repeal of the 16 Obama-era regulations. The League of Conservation Voters gave her a six percent on its National Environmental Scorecard. That ranking put her on the organization’s Dirty Dozen that targets the most anti-environment candidates. McSally voted against the Clean Power Plan, efforts to boost Arizona’s clean energy economy, and clean air protections. Phoenix has one of the worst air basins in the country. The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2020 report ranked Phoenix among the top 10 most polluted cities for ozone, year-round particle pollution, and short-term particle pollution.

Kelly wants to boost Arizona’s clean energy economy. His site points out that the sector employs 10,500 people in the state. He wants to triple that number by “making massive investments in research and development of technologies that make renewable energy more competitive and accelerate the transition to a renewable economy.” The LCV endorses him for the senate. 

Green Wave 2020: What you can do

Join Green Wave 2020. Vow to vote for candidates that champion the environment and work to mitigate climate change. As EDF Action President Joe Bonfiglio said, “The stakes in this year’s elections are incredibly high.” 


Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

Leading Experts Make the Case for Climate Action in the United States

A new, cross-disciplinary white paper authored by three prominent international climate experts for the US-based Universal Ecological Fund refutes the notion that taking proactive actions to mitigate and adapt to rapid climate warming runs contrary to U.S. domestic economic interests.

It was precisely that contention that President Donald J. Trump used to justify his intention to back the US out of its commitment to the Paris Climate Accord, to which then President Barack Obama committed the US in December 2015.

In contrast to numerous other studies that have sought to assess the multitude of impacts and effects climate warming has and will continue to have over the course of the 21st century, the FEU-US study, “The Economic Case for Climate Action in the United States,” zooms in on economic losses resulting from extreme weather events, and on health costs of exposure to air pollution that result from burning fossil fuels. Continue reading “Leading Experts Make the Case for Climate Action in the United States”

The Sea is Confused

A Harbormaster’s Reflection on a Life Watching the Sea

From Doc Ricketts to Mack to Dora Flood, Monterey is the stuff of legend, the iconic fishing town hugging the Pacific Coast of central California.

Brought to life by the characters of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, the abundance of Monterey Bay fueled Steinbeck’s imagination. More than just characters in a novel, Monterey is quintessentially a community of people and their relationship with the sea.

Continue reading “The Sea is Confused”

The Failure of U.S. Climate and Environmental Policy and Why There is Still Hope

Writing to a  class of international students “Climate Change Mitigation in the Developing World” about “climate policy where I live”

It is, of course, hard news from the United States with Donald Trump signing his “energy independence” executive order.   Among other things, the order calls for a “rewrite” of former president Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP is (was) the cornerstone of the U.S. INDC commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Continue reading “The Failure of U.S. Climate and Environmental Policy and Why There is Still Hope”