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FALL 2020

’ NATURE SVOICE For the 3 million Members and online activists of the Natural Resources Defense Council

IN THIS ISSUE

A refinery fire in Philadelphia, 2019

Trump Order Poses Grave Threats Three “Exhilarating” Wins in Pipeline Battles NRDC Fights to Stop Fossil Fuel Onslaught on Public Lands Morgan Stanley Walks Away From Pebble Mine

NRDC works to safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends.


Victory

DOGS, CATS, AND KIDS WIN

Thanks to a recent federal court order, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must now act on NRDC’s petition to ban the use of the toxic pesticide TCVP in flea collars. For years the agency has acknowledged that TCVP products—which leave chemical residue on animals’ fur—may harm children’s developing brains and nervous systems, but it has failed to protect consumers. The decision marks a significant win for public health and NRDC’s decade-long fight to get TCVP off the market.

Victory

ICELAND CANCELS WHALING

For the second year in a row, Iceland has canceled its commercial whaling season—yet another indicator that the business of killing whales is dying. Whale watching has boomed in recent years while sales of whale meat have plummeted, and a number of commercial whalers have chosen to permanently hang up their hats. The hopeful news comes amid dire warnings of a looming biodiversity crisis and a prediction that, without urgent climate action and conservation measures, one million species face extinction.

DEFENDING AN OCEAN MONUMENT NRDC and our allies have raced to court to reverse President Trump’s order allowing destructive commercial fishing in the only marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, the spectacular Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. Trump’s unlawful order strips vital pro­tections from the 5,000-square-mile monument off the coast of New England, a stunning underwater habitat teeming with ocean wildlife—like endangered whales and sea turtles—and featuring dramatic underwater canyons and mountains that rival both the Grand Canyon and the Rockies.

C OV E R A RT I C L E

TRUMP ORDER POSES GRAVE THREATS

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n an extraordinary abuse of emer­gency powers, President Trump has signed an executive order that en­­courages federal agencies to skirt the nation’s foundational environmental laws in order to ram through polluting projects. The stunning move, billed by the White House as an economic stim­ulus measure, stands to deprive local com­mu­nities of some of the most effective means for fighting to keep dirty industrial projects out of their midst. It comes at a time when our nation is confronting both the COVID-19 crisis and a devastating failure to address the systemic racism that has, among other things, put Black people, Indigenous peo­ple, and communities of color at high risk from dangerous levels of pollution. “Peo­ple across the country are crying out for leader­ ship to confront racist violence and stop the spread of a deadly pandemic,” says NRDC President Gina McCarthy. “This administration is not only ignoring those cries but piling on the burden.”

Trump’s order takes direct aim at bed­rock environmental laws—like the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act—that the fossil fuel industry and other heavy pol­luters have long sought to weaken or dismantle. Among the order’s most sweep­ing and alarming provisions is the direction it gives fed­eral agencies to use their emergency authority to bypass the environmental review process. By statute, those reviews must provide a thorough, trans­parent, and science-based assessment of the environmental and public health im­­pacts of proposed projects such as pipe­lines and power plants. The process also pro­ vides for the robust involvement of the com­munities that would be impacted by those projects. “These reviews are designed to force agencies to consider the threats to our health and our communities before they green-light any potentially dangerous industrial projects,” McCarthy says. “Getting rid of them will

hit those who live closest to polluting facilities and highways the hardest, in many of the same communities already suffering the most from the national emergencies at hand. We will not let this stand.”

S P E C I A L R E P O RT

The environmental campaigns and victories featured in Nature’s Voice are all made possible through your generous support. You can help NRDC defend the environment by making a special contribution. NRDC.ORG/GIVE

Three “Exhilarating” Wins in Pipeline Battles In what could mark a tidal shift in the battle to defeat dirty fossil-fuel projects and secure a climate-saving clean energy future, two major pipeline projects have suffered serious legal setbacks, and the backers of a third have abandoned their plans. The Supreme Court, siding with NRDC and our allies, re­­jected a push by the Trump adminis­ tration and pipeline builder TC Energy to barrel ahead with construction of the massive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline using a slapdash environmental per­mit for water crossings. The order came the day after the prospective builders of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipe­line announced they were throwing in

the towel after facing intense local opposition­, legal challenges, and cost overruns. The 600-mile pipeline would have cut across the Appalachian Trail. Meanwhile, a federal court ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline to shut down pending a new environmental review. This was a re­­sound­ing win for the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, who have waged a determined campaign to stop this reckless pipe­line pushed by the Trump administration. “Local communities are stand­ing up against these multi­billiondollar polluting projects, and with the support of strong courtroom action, they’re winning,” says Gillian Giannetti, an attorney with NRDC’s Climate & Clean Energy Program. “It’s exhilarating.”

REFINERY © MATT ROURKE/ASSOCIATED PRESS; PROTESTER © ELVERT BARNES VIA FLICKR

G O O D N EWS


CA M PA I G N U P DAT E

NRDC FIGHTS TO STOP FOSSIL FUEL ONSLAUGHT ON PUBLIC LANDS

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“Some producers will only have to pay 25 cents per barrel, meaning they’re basically using—and destroying—our public resources for free.”

Clockwise from top left: Sequoia National Park, California; Pueblo Bonito ruins in Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico; snowy owl in the Arctic; Jacob Hamblin Arch in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.

acres for drilling and mining across five states from Mississippi to Montana, inviting companies to snap up leases for as little as $2 per acre. The agency laid plans for another bargain-basement sale of 150,000 acres in Utah’s beautiful redrock country, including sites within a mile of spectac­ular natural treasures like Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The scale of the onslaught is staggering. NRDC is currently waging numerous courtroom battles to defend our priceless natural treasures from fossil

fuel plunder. Our efforts include challenging Trump’s illegal downsizing of Utah’s Grand StaircaseEscalante National Monument, which would pave the way for coal mining, oil and gas drilling, and other development across this land of spectacular cliffs and sweeping redrock vistas. We’ve also sued to stop the Trump administration from throwing open more than a million acres of public lands and mineral rights in California to drilling and fracking, a disastrous plan that could impact some of the

state’s most cherished sanctuaries, including wildlife refuges, national forests, and even Sequoia National Park. The administration’s assault extends off­shore as well to some of America’s last truly wild coastlines. NRDC is fighting in court to uphold a victory that blocks President Trump’s illegal attempt to reverse a ban on offshore drilling in more than 128 million acres of pristine ocean. At stake are vast stretches of Alaska’s wildlife-rich Arctic coastline as well as sensitive marine environments up and down the Atlantic coast. Meanwhile, the Interior Department is poised to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, America’s premier denning ground for polar bears, to oil and gas development. NRDC is prepared to fight back in court when the agency forges ahead. In New Mexico, the Trump administration is pushing to increase drilling and fracking on the doorstep of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The World Heritage site is home to extensive ruins and artifacts that date back more than a thousand years to the ancestral Pueblo culture, and it remains sacred to Native Americans throughout the region. Yet even as nearby Indigenous communities suffer from disproportionately high [Continued on next page.]

SEQUOIA © DAVID NOTON PHOTOGRAPHY/ALAMY; CHACO © JOHN FOWLER VIA FLICKR; SNOWY OWL © ISTOCK; GRAND STAIRCASE © SCOTT WILSON/ALAMY

n early March, as the daily count of new coronavirus cases in the United States topped 200 for the first time, President Trump offered this assessment of the burgeoning pandemic: “We’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” Of more pressing concern to the Trump administration, it seemed, was the precipitous fall in oil prices. The same day the president made his remarks, the Washington Post reported that the White House was “strongly considering” pushing for a federal bailout of the oil and gas industry. Perhaps wary of being seen as grasping for public assistance as tens of millions of struggling Americans were filing for unemployment, the CEOs of two of Big Oil’s most influential lobbying groups both denied the industry was seeking any sort of handout. They got far more than that. On April 21, the day oil prices effectively bottomed out, Trump tweeted: “We will never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down.” Six weeks later, the president signed an executive order calling on the Interior Department and other agencies to exercise extraordinary emergency powers to speed up polluting projects, including oil and gas development on public lands (see “Trump Order Poses Grave Threats”). By then, oil prices had recovered by 60 percent. George Floyd had been murdered the week before, and the nation was reckoning with the crisis of racist violence. States were girding for a new surge in coronavirus infections. But for the fossil fuel industry, the future was looking brighter each day, thanks to its allies in the Trump administration. Indeed, Trump’s executive order props up one of the world’s dirtiest and most financially reckless industries and sets the stage for a massive post-virus resurgence in oil, gas, and coal that could shackle us to climate-wrecking fossil fuel for decades. NRDC is fighting on every major front to make sure that doesn’t happen. During the first month of the COVID-19 crisis, the Interior Department offered up more than 200,000


[Continued from previous page.]

TAKE ACTION

nrdc.org/publiclands

Morgan Stanley Walks Away From Pebble Mine Global investment firm Morgan Stanley has unloaded virtually all its shares in Northern Dynasty Minerals, dealing another financial blow to the Canadian mining company and its reckless bid to build a gargantuan open-pit copper and gold mine at the pristine head­ waters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The news comes after Bristol Bay Native groups, supported by NRDC and our Members, called on Morgan Stanley to uphold its strong commitment to environmentally and socially responsible investing by dissociating itself and its clients from Northern Dynasty and the proposed Pebble Mine. The project threatens to destroy the region’s world-class wild salmon runs and a $1.5 billion sustainable fishery.

NRDC Sues to Save Clean Car Standards NRDC and our environmental partners have sued the Trump administration for illegally gutting clean car standards that curb planet-warming pollution and save consumers billions at the gas pump. “It’s an illegal rollback of commonsense protections,” says NRDC expert Luke Tonachel, “but it’s particularly egregious right now, while we’re facing a pandemic from a respiratory illness.” The standards set mandatory benchmarks for fuel efficiency and limits on tailpipe emissions. And since their implementation in 2012, they’ve been a huge success: Automakers have spared the climate 475 million metric tons of carbon pollution and saved

drivers $90 billion in refueling costs, all while achieving record sales. Despite the clear benefits, the Trump administration finalized its weak replacement standards in March, which now allow automakers to improve fuel efficiency at a snail’s pace of 1.5 percent annually rather than the achievable 5 percent required previously. It also loosens limits on tailpipe emissions. “The law mandates that the federal government must set the ‘maximum feasible’ standards and protect the public’s health and welfare,” says Tonachel. “The administration is failing on both counts, so we’ll take it up with them in court.”

Fighting to Reverse the Dirty Water Rule

Jemez Falls, Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico

ELECTRIC CAR © ISTOCK; WATERFALL © RON REZNICK/ASSOCIATED PRESS; BRISTOL BAY © JASON CHING

rates of COVID-19 infection, the administration refuses to change course. “The Trump administration’s plan is nothing less than an assault on the lungs and health of tribal communities already reeling from the pandemic,” says NRDC senior attorney Alison Kelly, who is working with a coalition of Indigenous and environmental advocates in Greater Chaco to oppose the plan. The Trump administration and its allies in Congress are also lavishing fossil fuel giants with an enormous, taxpayer-funded bailout under the guise of economic recovery. By June, nearly two-thirds of U.S. oil, gas, and mining companies had snapped up almost $4.5 billion in Paycheck Protection Program funds that were intended for struggling small businesses. What’s more, the Interior Department has invited oil and gas companies to apply for relief from the royalties they owe taxpayers for drilling on our public lands, which could slash royalty payments by 80 percent or more. “Some producers will only have to pay 25 cents per barrel, meaning they’re basically using—and destroying—our public resources for free,” says NRDC senior advocate Josh Axelrod, who has been sounding the alarm about the Trump administration’s largesse. “The future will not run on fossil fuels. Taxpayer funds should be invested in the clean energy of the future, not a fading fossil past.”

NRDC and our allies are taking the Trump administration to court for nixing critical Clean Water Act protections for many streams and wetlands all across the country. Released in April, the administration’s new plan, dubbed by many the “Dirty Water Rule,” will make it easier for polluters to dump sewage, oil, toxic chemicals, and the like into millions of miles of rain-dependent rivers and streams. It will also allow millions of acres of wetlands, which help filter groundwater and offer flood protection, to be destroyed and paved over. “Science shows that our waterways are deeply interconnected,” says

NRDC clean water expert Jon Devine. “This move will impact not only these vulnerable streams and wetlands but also larger bodies of water like lakes and the drinking water supplies for tens of millions of Americans.” The administration’s rollback isn’t just reckless—it’s illegal too. “The agencies failed to do the required work of justifying what is a radical change to the Clean Water Act or meaningfully assessing the extent to which it would harm wild­life, our health, industries, or floodprone areas,” Devine says. “It’s terrible public policy, plain and simple, and we are fighting it in court.”

Salmon fishing in the Bristol Bay watershed

“We applaud Morgan Stanley for doing the right thing and recognizing what so many others have, which is that the Pebble Mine is the wrong mine in absolutely the wrong place,” says NRDC Western Director Joel Reynolds. Indeed, fierce local opposition and a sustained international public outcry have succeeded in driving four multinational mining companies to abandon the project, leaving Northern Dynasty as the sole—and increasingly cash-strapped—backer. Yet under the Trump administration, the EPA has dropped the restrictions it previously proposed that would have effectively killed the mine—a reversal that has spurred Northern Dynasty to intensify its search for a new partner and apply for a federal permit. “We will continue to stand with the people of Bristol Bay and fight—both in and out of court—to block this wildlife-wrecking mega mine,” says Reynolds.


NRDC Campaigns to Shut Down Wildlife Trade, Protect Public Health Nearly 25,000 NRDC Mem­ bers and online activists made their voices heard recently, demanding that the Trump admin­ istration take immediate steps to end wildlife trade. The mass action built on a sweeping plan put forward by NRDC and the Center for Biological Diversity to crack down on the trade, widely believed by ex­­perts to be responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 likely originated from a live wildlife market in China. In fact, most global pandemics over the past 40 years— including HIV, SARS, avian flu, and Ebola—have been zoonotic, meaning that they jumped from wildlife to people. “The current pandemic has tragically underscored what we’ve known for far too long, which is that wildlife trade is not only a threat to biodiversity, but also a threat to global public health,” says Elly Pepper, deputy director of NRDC’s International Wildlife Conservation project. “China responded to the COVID-19 crisis by taking quick action to restrict wildlife trade. In contrast, the United States has failed to take a single step toward mini­mizing this threat, despite the fact that

the U.S. accounts for almost a quarter of the global wildlife market, including the import of 224 million live animals every year.” The comprehensive action plan unveiled by NRDC and the Center for Biological Diversity calls for a swift end to that trade, stronger wildlife conservation laws, and increased funding to enforce wildlife trade bans both within the United States and around the world. It also urges our government to resume its role as a global leader in conservation,

starting with the ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity and other key international wildlife protection treaties. “Last year the U.N. raised the alarm that we’re on track to lose a million species, many within decades,” says Pepper. “Now we’re in the middle of a global pandemic likely caused by zoonotic transfer. We need tough, across-the-board action to save imperiled wildlife and protect public health, and that starts by shutting down wildlife trade.”

Baby howler monkey

Confronting Racism With Justice and Truth by Mitchell Bernard, NRDC Executive Director & Chief Counsel

This spring and summer brought one horrific reminder after another of the structural and systemic racism that is literally choking the lives out of Black people. Outrage is necessary, but it’s not enough. To say “I’m not racist” is not enough. We have an affirmative duty to speak out for justice, to work to bring it into being, and to confront and actively oppose racism in all its forms. These latest tragedies—the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd—come as the coronavirus pan­demic has laid bare yet another example of the real and often deadly impact of generations of systemic racism in our country. In state after state, we’ve seen Black people dying from the coronavirus at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts—a stark indictment of the way social and

economic disparities rooted in race have put millions of people at increased risk solely because of their skin color. In the work we do at NRDC through partnerships with Black communities and other communities of color, we see firsthand how these groups suffer disproportionately from industrial pollution, toxic waste, and other forms of environmental hazard and harm. NRDC will continue to vindicate the people’s rights under the law as we partner with frontline individuals and groups to demand environmental justice. The abiding egalitarian promise of our democracy is that we’ll all be held to the same standards and receive the same protections, regardless of race or station. Current events place in bold relief our failure to achieve that promise. The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but only if we bend it that way. That means making clear that Black Lives Matter—in fact as well as in spirit. Our justice system has a critical role to play. Justice will not bring back the lives we’ve lost, but it has the power to hold people to account, deter future homicidal behavior by law enforcers, and break the pattern of heartbreaking loss and violence against Black communities.

MITCH BERNARD © REBECCA GREENFIELD FOR NRDC; LEAVES © ISTOCK; SEA OTTER © SHUTTERSTOCK; MONKEY © ANGELA N/FLICKR

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Nature's Voice Fall 2020  

Nature's Voice Fall 2020  

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