(de)regulation nation: Trump's D.C. attacks endangered species protection

"We got here by disengagement...we get out of this fix by engagement."

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era.

Each issue includes updates on Trump administration 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. I call the format is B2G2: Bad, Better, Good, Great.

This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m an environmental journalist, and 2018 Tow-Knight Entrepreneurial Journalism fellow at the CUNY Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. Send your feedback and story tips to emily@deregnation.com.

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bad: In Trump’s Washington, the Endangered Species Act is under attack from three sides at once

  • There’s a powerful offensive underway in Washington D.C. against the Endangered Species Act:

    1. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service have proposed major changes to how they apply the law.

      • One change would effectively reduce how much protection the agencies give to species listed as “threatened” with extinction, which is one level below “endangered.”

      • Another change would allow agencies to factor the cost of conservation into a potential species listing, even though Congress clearly stated in the original law that only scientific data should be considered.

    2. In Congress, bills targeting the ESA this year have ranged from measures to force the removal of protections for the gray wolf in Wyoming, as well as the American burying beetle (which burrows in lands that also contain oil deposits), to legislation that would proactively bar federal officials from ever listing the sage grouse as threatened or endangered.

    3. This October, the Supreme Court will hear a case challenging how federal wildlife scientists determined critical habitat boundaries for the world’s most endangered frog. If Congress confirms arch-conservative Brett Kavanaugh to the bench, the decision in that case may set new limits on how science is used in endangered species decisions.

  • There was overwhelming bipartisan support for the Endangered Species Act when Congress passed it (and President Nixon signed it) in 1973.

  • Today over 80 percent of Americans from across the political spectrum support the Endangered Species Act and its goals, undercutting arguments by its detractors that it is a “controversial” law.

  • Read more:

Related: Public invited to comment on ESA changes until 9/24

There’s information online via the Fish & Wildlife Service about the agency-proposed changes to endangered species protections (item 1 above). Links to where the public can comment on these proposals appear towards the bottom of the page. The comment period runs through September 24.

better: Colorado approves utility plan to curb coal, ramp up renewable energy

  • State energy regulators have voted 2-to-1 to allow Xcel Energy Colorado to reduce its reliance on coal-fired power by a third, while increasing the renewables in its mix to 55 percent.

  • The plan includes shuttering two coal-fired plants that produce 660 megawatts of power by 2026, about a decade ahead of their original shut-down date of 2035.

  • It also calls for investing $2.5 billion across eight counties into energy projects that will add “about 1,100 megawatts of wind, 700 megawatts of solar, 275 megawatts of battery storage and 380 megawatts from existing natural gas sources. One megawatt provides power to 1,100 Colorado homes.”

  • Xcel estimates that the plan will save ratepayers $213 million over the next eight years, given trends in energy prices.

  • Opponents of the plan, and even some supporters, are less convinced that the downward trend in renewable power prices will outpace the expense of closing the coal plants early.

  • An environmental group noted that Xcel’s moves will “dramatically cut carbon pollution, create hundreds of jobs and invest in Colorado’s rural economy.”

  • Xcel has said it will try to find new jobs for workers displaced by the coal-fired power plant closures.

  • Read more in the Denver Post

Related bad: The Trump administration has been quietly advancing its plan to bail out financially ailing coal and nuclear power plants, in part by placing political allies in key Department of Energy positions. Read a roundup of the situation at Greentech Media.

Good: An activist pastor is fighting pollution and climate change in low-income communities

  • North Carolina’s Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is working to revive the “Poor People’s Campaign” for economic equity that Martin Luther King Jr. began a half-century ago.

  • Barber’s update on MLK is emphasizing the links between pollution, including the pollution causing climate change, and racism.

  • Low-income communities are more often polluted, and more likely to be on the front lines of climate change-driven impacts, than communities in higher income brackets — even more so if they are Native American, Latino, or black.

  • Barber and politician-turned-climate-activist Al Gore recently visited impoverished North Carolina communities where people are battling to end the contamination of groundwater by heavy-metals-laden coal ash.

  • “Jesus said love your neighbor,” Dr. Barber told a gathering that a reporter attended. “I don’t care how many times you tell me you love me, if you put coal ash in my water you don’t love me. Because if there was nothing wrong with the coal ash, then put it in the wealthy communities.”

  • Read more about Barber, Gore, and the new Poor People’s Campaign in The New York Times

Related: Last week a federal court ruled that an Obama-era regulation on coal ash disposal is not strong enough to protect public health and the environment. The finding effectively blocked the Trump administration’s effort to weaken that rule. Read more at Governing.

Great: Video of Sonoma County cougar mom and her adorable cubs improves our day; might help save NoCal’s struggling big cats

  • A wildlife research group in Northern California is using awwww-inducing video of a female cougar and her tiny spotted cubs to advocate for the species’ survival.

  • The group, Living with Lions, hopes the up-close-and-personal views of the mother and young nursing and playing will help human residents of the area empathize and coexist peacefully with the region’s cougars.

  • Human-cougar conflicts can increase when people move further into cougar habitat. The big cats are protected by state law, but individuals that attack livestock can be hunted and killed.

  • Watch the video and learn more via HuffPost.

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

This week’s quote is by Rebecca Solnit, from her latest LitHub essay, “Why Trump Must Be Impeached,” which I recommend, even if you don’t agree that Trump must be impeached.

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email: emily@deregnation.com

twitter: @ejgertz & @deregtracker