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Court Win Protects Free Speech, Activism

And while California’s commitment to achieve the same goal by 2045 might not come as a surprise, the clean energy revolution appears poised to transform unexpected places as well. For instance, NRDC is working with a grassroots coalition to advocate for a 400-megawatt solar energy farm proposed for the Appalachian region of Ohio. The project would make the state a solar energy leader in the Midwest and bring 4,000 jobs to an area long reliant on coal. No less impressive has been the progress toward greater energy efficiency. In 2017 America’s public utilities invested more than $7.8 billion in energy efficiency programs, and 2018 saw substantial commitments as well: States like Virginia and New York each unveiled plans to spend $1 billion or more on such programs, and Pennsylvania adopted revised building codes that will make new construction 25 percent more energy efficient. In other big climate news, a coalition of nine Northeast and mid-Atlantic states and Washington, D.C., have come together to fast-track a plan to develop cleaner transportation systems for one of the most heavily populated regions of the country. The initiative, strongly supported by NRDC, aims to dramatically reduce transportation-related carbon emissions while creating better transportation options for all communities and could serve as a model for other regions. “If 2018 felt like the year when climate change became impossible to ignore,” says Hwang, “we’re working hard to tip the fight toward hope over despair.”

Atlantic spotted dolphins

NRDC Goes to Court to Stop Seismic Blasting NRDC and our partners have sued the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service for issuing five new permits that allow seismic blasting in the Atlantic from Delaware to Florida. A first step toward offshore drilling, seismic blasting uses deafening air guns to search for oil and gas reserves under the ocean floor. Akin to dynamite explosions, the underwater booms—occurring every 10 seconds for weeks or months on end—will harm hundreds of thousands of marine mammals that rely largely on sound to find food, mate and navigate the sea. Scientists have warned that seismic blasting alone will push some critically endangered species, like the

Sage Grouse Lose Out to Big Oil and Gas

Sage grouse

Bowing to the fossil fuel industry, the Trump Administration has moved to throw out a landmark conservation plan to protect the greater sage grouse, an iconic western bird. The Interior Department proposed sacrificing critical sagebrush habitat across multiple western states to boost industrial activity like oil and gas drilling and mining. A keystone species, the spiny-feathered bird once numbered 16 million, its range stretching from Alberta, Canada, to Arizona. But because of habitat fragmentation, wildfires and invasive weeds, only an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 remain.

North Atlantic right whale, closer to extinction. Michael Jasny, the director of NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project, says the practice clearly violates bedrock environmental laws like the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. “It’s essentially a license for companies to kill marine life and harm our oceans,” Jasny says. “And it’s all part of an irresponsible quest for more fossil fuels that speed up climate change.” The Obama Administration had agreed with NRDC’s position, denying similar permits just before leaving office. But the Trump Administration reversed course, pursuing aggressive plans to open up America’s coastal waters to drilling and the seismic testing that precedes it. “It’s reckless. It’s illegal. And we’re going to fight it,” Jasny says.

The 2015 plan, advocated by NRDC, was the culmination of years of talks among states, ranchers, conservationists and public officials. By protecting the sage grouse, the plan also helps protect the 350 other species that depend on healthy sagebrush habitat—like elk, mule deer, pronghorn and golden eagles. “The reversal has no basis in science. It’s a bald-faced giveaway to the oil and gas industry,” says Bobby McEnaney, senior director of NRDC’s Western Renewable Energy Project. This is hardly surprising: Trump’s Interior Department has sought to shrink monuments, weaken wildlife protections and open our coasts to drilling, all for the sake of boosting polluters’ profits.

Siding with NRDC and our partners, a federal district judge has ruled Wyoming’s “data trespass” laws are unconstitutional—a win for both environmental advocacy and free speech. The laws threatened harsh civil penalties and even jail time if anyone crossed private lands, even accidentally, while gathering data on things like pollution levels or illegal hunting practices. With the state’s patchwork of public and private land, often with unmarked boundaries, it effectively banned citizen-led investigations into potential environmental misconduct. “The state tried to criminalize environmental advocacy,” says NRDC Litigation Director Michael Wall. “That’s un-American. And as the federal court ruled, it violates our First Amendment rights.” Cousins of infamous “ag gag” laws that prohibit so much as taking photos of factory farms, the Wyoming laws impeded inves­ti­gations that have, in the past, found evidence of health code, environmental and labor violations. NRDC itself had to cancel a multiyear air pollution study in Wyoming’s oil and gas fields due to the increased risk of jail time and penalties. As the judge concluded, the laws’ intentions were clear from the get-go: an “attempt to punish individuals for engaging in protected speech that at least some find unpleasant.”

Photographer in Yellowstone National Park

SAGE GROUSE © JEANNIE STAFFORD/USFWS; DOLPHINS © RODRIGO FISCIONE/CORBIS; YELLOWSTONE © JULIA CHRISTE/ALAMY

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Nature's Voice Spring 2019  

Nature's Voice Spring 2019  

Profile for nrdc