(de)regulation nation: big oil's got its grip on public lands, incl. Bears Ears

"America, born of a colonial imperative, is yet dressed with a moral narrative that aspires to the highest ideals of equality and fairness."

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era. Each issue features updates on rollbacks of conservation, environmental, and public health protections, as well as news from across the political spectrum about what’s going right and who’s fighting back.

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In a late-breaking bit of news, the House Natural Resources Committee will meet to consider several bills tomorrow. One of these, sponsored by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), reads to me like it would:

  • Make it much more difficult to give federal wilderness protections to public lands in Wyoming.

  • Force agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to lease federal public lands for development, regardless of their wilderness quality.

  • Read Cheney’s bill, H.R. 6939, the “Restoring Local Input and Access to Public Lands Act,” and see what other bills she’s sponsored during the current session of Congress at congress.gov.

It’s potentially relevant to tomorrow’s consideration of this bill that Republican lawmakers, today, elected Cheney to the number-three leadership position in the House of Representatives, as reported by The Hill and other outlets.


bad: the petroleum industry is in charge of federal public lands

  • Under Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, many top management roles at the agency have gone to people cozy with the oil and gas industry.

  • These political appointees meet with industry advocates more than twice as much as with conservation advocates. Sometimes these meetings violated ethics rules.

  • They’ve put 20,000 square miles of public lands up for drilling since Trump took office in January 2017, a breakneck pace of leasing compared to the prior four presidential administrations.

  • Interior also serviced fossil energy and mining industry requests to delay or defund protections for endangered species, such as the multi-state protection plan for the sage grouse. When it couldn’t get Congress to act, Interior re-wrote the rules instead.

  • Read more about the industry’s capture of the Interior Dept. in The Guardian.

  • “The open spaces, clean air, wild rivers — this is all part of fabric of the American West, and it is being torn apart, acre by acre, by this unfettered oil and gas leasing,” a conservation advocate told a reporter for The New York Times.

  • The Interior department now routinely ignores statements in opposition to drilling that are submitted during public comment periods, High Country News reported in January.

Related: Thurs. Nov. 15 is the final day to comment on the Trump administration’s plans to mine and drill at the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

  • Last year President Trump reduced the size of the Utah national monument (created by President Obama in Dec. 2016) by 85 percent.

  • Trump’s move ignored objections by local county commissioners, the state of Utah, and five Native American tribal nations that worked together for the creation of the monument’s original borders: the Hopi, Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni.

  • Interior Secretary Zinke claimed that “everyone’s voice” was heard ahead of his 2017 recommendation to slash Bears Ears’ borders.

  • The New York Times exposed that oil, uranium, and other industry asks dominated Interior’s review.

  • Environmental conservation and archeological value were ignored, along with Native American spiritual interests.

  • High Country News mapped out how Bears Ears’ new boundaries aligned with likely drilling and mining sites.

  • To comment on the Trump administration’s plans for Bears Ears:

better: Xochitl Torres Small campaigned on protecting New Mexico public lands. Now she’s going to Congress.

  • A first-time Democratic candidate, she narrowly beat her Republican rival to represent New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District.

  • Torres Small ran on a platform of immigration reform, health care, education, and protecting the area’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, created in 2014 by President Obama.

  • Interior Secretary Zinke’s 2016 “national monuments review” evaluated the 776-square-mile mountain wilderness for potential reduction or elimination.

  • “Please, don't interfere with our hard-earned source of local pride. Let us keep our Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument,” Torres Small told Zinke in an open letter earlier this year.

  • Read more about Torres Smalls in Outside Online.

good: Americans mostly agree on solutions to climate change

  • Despite decades of fear-uncertainty-doubt campaigns against climate science and policies by the fossil fuel industry (abetted by the Republican Party), about 7 in 10 Americans recently polled by Yale University accept that climate change is real, and being caused by human activities.

  • Americans agreed in even larger numbers on climate solutions:

    • 85 percent of Americans support funding for research into renewable energy.

    • 82 percent agree that people should get rebates for purchasing solar panels as well as energy-efficient cars and light trucks

    • 63 percent agree that utilities should get at least one-fifth of their energy supply from renewable sources.

    • 68 percent of Americans oppose drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Related: A Democrat who ran for Congress in Illinois’ 6th Congressional District campaigned big time on climate change, and beat a six-term Republican incumbent by five percentage points. “I’ve never run for any office before,” Sean Casten told New Republic’s Emily Atkin. “But what I have done is spent the last 20 years doing something about climate change. So I wasn’t going to suddenly turn into a different beast on the day I ran for office.”

great: judge halts keystone pipeline, because climate facts

  • On Thursday a federal judge in Montana nixed the Trump administration’s attempt to permit construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

  • The 1,179-mile-long Keystone XL would carry Canadian crude oil from Alberta across parts of Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, before connecting to other pipelines that would transport the oil east and south.

  • In 2015, President Obama nixed a permit for Keystone as not in the national interest, after analysis showed it would likely increase the use of climate-heating petroleum-based fuels.

  • Trump reversed Obama’s denial of the permit with an executive order on Jan. 24, 2017 (less than four days after he took office). Since then, the administration has not produced any facts that back up that decision.

  • Judge Brian Morris rebuked the Trump administration for breaking the federal law that mandates rational, fact-based foundations for environmental policy decisions.

  • “An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past, any more than it can ignore inconvenient facts” that have come to light since,” wrote Morris in his 54-page ruling.

  • Read more:

Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m an environmental journalist. Learn more about me and see some of my work at my web site.

If you’ve received (de)regulation nation from a friend and like it, please subscribe.

This week’s quote is by Jacqueline Keeler, from her Powells.com essay “Trump vs. Bears Ears.” Keeler is a Diné/Ihanktonwan Dakota journalist, and the editor of Edge of Morning: Native Voice Speak for the Bears Ears.

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