Commentary: WASHINGTON, D.C. – A West-wide conservation organization today released a new report providing a year-end timeline summary and evaluation of the Trump administration’s environmental policymaking throughout 2017. The analysis concludes that the administration’s environmental policies in 2017 represent “a sweeping failure in environmental stewardship.”
“The Trump administration is clearly charting a course for maximizing the exploitation of the environment for corporate profit, at the expense of public lands, native wildlife, and public health and welfare,” said Erik Molvar, Executive Director with Western Watersheds Project. “The Trump administration has struggled to draw parallels to Theodore Roosevelt, a conservation icon. But Americans know and love Theodore Roosevelt, and Donald Trump is no Theodore Roosevelt where conservation ethics are concerned.”
During the early months of 2017, attacks on the environment were mostly limited to policy pronouncements and rollbacks of incremental improvements in environmental regulations adopted by the Obama administration. The standout exception was the reversal of the Obama administration’s long-delayed decision to halt approval for the Dakota Access Pipeline pending a full environmental impact review.
“At the beginning of 2017, President Trump and his allies in Congress made use of the Congressional Review Act to reverse many of the Obama administration’s environmental regulations, but much of the early environmental policymaking consisted of goal statements, filling political appointments in federal agencies, and setting policy direction,” said Molvar. “Major attacks on the environment take time, and typically require a formal rulemaking process, changes in legislation, or a formal environmental review, and that’s why the biggest attacks on the environment did not happen until the end of the year.”
The major attacks on the environment started in earnest at the end of 2017. First, President Trump ignored more than 2.8 million public comments and removed National Monument protections from more than 2 million acres in southern Utah, gutting the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monuments. He then signed into law a tax bill that included a provision opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, endangering the survival of the Porcupine caribou herd, which undertakes the nation’s longest land mammal migration. Finally, the Department of the Interior announced that it would stop enforcing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s ban on negligent killing of birds by energy companies.
“We’re in the fight of our lives trying to protect public lands and native wildlife under this administration, but environmental organizations aren’t alone in this battle,” said Molvar. “States, tribes, and the outdoor industry have stepped up like never before to file lawsuits of their own to block the destruction of our environment.”
Administration efforts to change course on sage-grouse protections that cover 56 million acres of western public lands, as well as major fossil fuel projects still on hold due to a glut in oil and gas and the resulting low commodity prices, loom in 2018.
“In the final analysis, if President Trump doesn’t want to go down in history as an enemy of conservation and environmental stewardship, his administration will need a major reset in its environmental policies,” Molvar concluded.