(de)regulation nation: Trump's national monuments review was a sham

"All living things are not made for man."

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: Trump administration hyped logging, drilling, and hid the benefits of conservation, in national monuments review

  • In late July, the Washington Post discovered that while preparing a “national monuments review” of 27 protected areas created over the past two decades, top aides to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suppressed evidence for the economic, scientific, historic, and environmental benefits of protecting these federal lands.

  • “The thousands of pages of email correspondence chart how Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his aides instead tailored their survey of protected sites to emphasize the value of logging, ranching and energy development that would be unlocked if they were not designated national monuments,” the Post reported.

  • But analyses that undercut extractive uses, such as estimates of how much tourism revenues increased thanks to federal protections, were left out of the final report.

  • The Post discovered the duplicity when the Interior Department, responding to Freedom of Information requests about the review, dumped a load of documents to journalists and others on July 16…

  • …and a day later, on July 17, asked recipients to delete those documents and download a new set, which the agency had edited to remove incriminating materials.

  • (I attest to this double-dump of materials, because I received both document releases, too.)

  • In the wake of the Post’s story, dozens of conservation groups are calling on the administration to re-establish the larger boundaries of Bears Ears, as well as the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

  • Back in December, the Post reported that a uranium mining firm lobbied hard for opening Bears Ears to mining.

  • In March, The New York Times reported that according to internal emails the potential for big oil revenues helped drive Interior Secretary Zinke’s decision to slash the size of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, from about 1.4 million acres to 203,000 acres.

  • These reports put the lie to Zinke’s 2017 claim that shrinking “Bears Ears isn’t really about oil and gas.”

Related: A federal judge ruled in early August that the Trump administration can keep secret a dozen White House documents related to shrinking the national monuments. An Idaho-based law firm sued for the documents to discover the White Houses legal justifications for slashing the sizes of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante under the Antiquities Act, the law that empowers presidents to create national monuments.

“This decision shows how difficult it is to force sunlight on a government that flourishes in secrecy,” attorney Todd Tucci told the Associated Press.

better: Some of America’s most avid climate change denialists are feeling existential dread

  • At a recent “America First” energy conference sponsored by the ultra-conservative Heartland Institute, true believers were unexpectedly anxious, according to InsideClimate News.

  • “Contrarian scientists, policy professionals and lawyers affiliated with conservative interests contemplated the spread of the climate action agenda as if it were a malignancy,” ICN reported.

  • Some of the signs worrying Heartland and its adherents:

    • New carbon tax proposals and campaigns led by Republicans

    • The advance of the Juliana v US climate change lawsuit towards a fall trial date

    • The unlikelihood that EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler will seek to overturn the legal decision that affirmed his agency’s authority to regulate climate-heating pollution under the Clean Air Act.

    • The embrace of low-carbon and no-carbon initiatives by a growing number of cities, states, and big corporations

  • The Heartland Institute’s lobbying factored into the president’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

  • But no big names from the Trump administration turned up at “Energy First.” The highest-ranking administration official at the conference was Brooke Rollins, the assistant to the president in the Office of American Innovation.

  • E&E News, which also covered the event, noted that “The Heartland Institute, which has sought to discredit mainstream climate science, featured panelists … who explored how carbon dioxide was not a pollutant and how environmentalists allegedly colluded with Russia against the energy industry.”

Related: Taxing carbon is “a political fantasy,” argue two energy nerds in this opinion piece for The New York Times. Instead, they say, Congress is more likely to pass a national clean energy standard, which would drive investment and construction of low-carbon generation and storage. “More likely” is not “likely,” of course, and if Congress can’t muster the willpower to make this policy, then its advocates should take the campaign to the states.


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good—really good: Forest Service, Karuk tribe agree on return of controlled forest burns to Oregon-California line

  • In late July the U.S. Forest Service (part of the Department of Agriculture) agreed to a plan for controlled burns of federal forestland in the Klamath River watershed of the Pacific Northwest.

  • For centuries, the area’s Indigenous Karuk tribe managed the area’s forests with controlled burns, mimicking natural fires caused by lightening.

  • These managed burns cleared away undergrowth and killed pests that would otherwise infest trees (creating standing dead wood), reducing the chances of catastrophic wildfires such as California’s current Carr and Ferguson fires, which have burned hundreds of thousands of forest acres and caused several deaths,

  • A 1911 law made it a crime to set fires on federal forests lands, and ended that tradition.

  • Now the Karuk will be an integral part of the new managed burn project, in cooperation with non-profit organizations as well as state and federal agencies.

  • “To prepare the forest, Karuk and other local work crews will first saw away some brush and thick vegetation, lightening the load of flammable material, explains Bill Tripp from the Karuk Department of Natural Resources. They will also use heavy equipment to thin out some dense stands of conifer trees, opening up room for hardwoods that are being shaded out,” reported WIRED.

  • Fire is a natural part of Pacific Northwest forest ecology. Over the past few decades a consensus has been building among scientists and policymakers that suppressing all fires is the leading reason for unhealthy as well as fire-prone conditions in western U.S. forests.

Related: The Trump administration is using the Carr and Ferguson Fires to attack forest conservation activists, and build support for unsustainable logging of federal forests. For Outside Magazine, two environmental lawyers broke down how Interior chief Zinke misled the public about forests, fires, and local economies in his recent opinion piece for USA Today.

great: Court reverses EPA’s delay of ban on a neurotoxic pesticide

  • A federal judge last week voided the Trump EPA’s 2017 decision to allow use of chlorpyrifos on food crops, as reported in Bloomberg News.

  • Since 2007, environmental and public health groups have sought a ban on chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxin dangerous even in small exposures. Popular Science noted that it derives from a group of substances, called organophosphates, that became prominent in World War II chemical weapons development.

  • In 2017, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed the Obama-era EPA’s progress towards a ban, announcing that the agency would allow limited use of chlorpyrifos on crops, and would not reconsider a ban until 2021.

  • Several states sued EPA over this decision and won.

  • “The time has come to put a stop to this patent evasion,” Judge Jed Rakoff wrote in the majority opinion, adding that the agency “has itself long questioned the safety of permitting chlorpyrifos to be used within the allowed tolerances,” and had failed to offer any convincing arguments for why the ban should be delayed.

  • With millions of pounds of chlorpyrifos sprayed on crops every year, farmworkers and their families have faced poisoning and injuries from both acute and long-term exposures.

  • Chlorpyrifos is also implicated in mass die-offs of bees, because even small doses harm a bee’s memory and learning abilities, weakening its chances of survival.

  • Judge Rakoff ordered the agency to to cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos within 60 days.


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

This week’s quote is by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. I first heard it via this week’s must-listen episode of This American Life, “The Feather Heist.”

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