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SPRING 2020

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

IN THIS ISSUE

Healthy corals surround a bleached white coral that has died due to rising ocean temperatures.

A New Decade Dawns for Climate Action NRDC Lawsuit Targets Proposed Alaska Mega Mine Talking With Gina McCarthy, NRDC’s New President NRDC Fights Procter & Gamble to Save the Boreal

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


Numbers don’t lie. A lawsuit challenging the Interior Department’s efforts to weaken protections for endangered fish species in California’s Bay-Delta watershed marked NRDC’s 100th legal action against the Trump administration in just over 1,000 days. More impressive still: We’ve scored victories in 56 of the 62 cases that have been resolved, defending our wildlands and wildlife, our climate, and our health from this administration’s sweeping anti-environment attacks. There’s been no time to celebrate, though. We’ve already filed our 101st suit.

Victory

WILDLIFE WINS IN NEW YORK

Thanks to NRDC advocacy, New York State has signed into law a landmark bill protecting wildlife from direct exploitation like poaching. The Save Our Species Bill allows the state to ban the sale of animal parts, such as pangolin scales, for any species that is threatened with extinction— a significantly stronger protection than those found in wildlife trade agreements or existing U.S. laws. The win comes on the heels of a bombshell U.N. biodiversity report that estimated one million species are at risk of extinction due to human activity.

COURT PROTECTS MONUMENT

A federal court has sided with NRDC and ruled that the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, designated by President Obama, will stay intact despite efforts by fishing industry groups to dismantle it. Roughly 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, the monument is a biodiversity hot spot offering habitat to rare and vulnerable marine species including whales, sea turtles, puffins, and more than 50 species of deep-sea cold-water corals. The win reaffirms the president’s authority to designate marine monuments and protect irreplaceable marine ecosystems like this one.

A NEW DECADE DAWNS FOR CLIMATE ACTION

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undreds of thousands of Members and online activists helped NRDC kick off the new year with a bang by pledging support for our 2020 Climate Action Plan, among the most ambitious and far-reaching campaigns in our 50-year history. The plan’s launch comes at a pivotal moment, as climate scientists warn that this decade likely marks the world’s last chance to avert a full-blown climate catastrophe. “There’s little doubt climate change will hit us harder and faster than pre­viously thought unless we take bold action now,” says NRDC’s new president, Gina McCarthy. “What often gets overlooked is that we know exactly what to do to avoid the worst of climate change. The solutions already exist.” McCarthy points to the U.S. power sector, for example, where carbon emissions have fallen 28 percent over the past decade while the cost of renewable energy has plunged 70 percent.

NRDC’s new campaign will accelerate that momentum toward a clean energy economy while promoting climate-saving innovations in greener buildings, transportation, and appliances. Our plan prioritizes the protection of healthy, intact forests as well, which cleanse a quarter of all carbon pollution from the air. It also advances our efforts around the world as we work directly with nations like China and India to help them achieve their climate-saving targets under the historic Paris Agreement. And, of course, NRDC continues battling, both in and out of court, to stop the Trump administration from unleashing a new wave of climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction. In rallying support for a decade of breakthrough action on climate, McCarthy emphasizes NRDC’s commitment to the long haul. “This fight demands we run a marathon at the pace of a sprint,” she says. “It’s not for the faint of heart who worry they can’t

see the finish line from the starting gate. We must put our faith in one another and just start running. We’ll gather speed as we go, one mile at a time, picking up energy from the millions of our supporters who run alongside us.”

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

Lawsuit Targets Proposed Alaska Mega Mine The environmental campaigns and victories featured in Nature’s Voice are all made possible through your generous support. NRDC.ORG/GIVE

The high-stakes battle to save Alaska’s magnificent Bristol Bay wilderness and its world-renowned wild salmon runs from being destroyed by a colossal openpit copper and gold mine is now in federal court. NRDC and our allies have filed suit to stop the Trump administration from illegally withdrawing safeguards intended to protect the salmon runs and the $1.5 billion sustainable fishery from being sacrificed for short-term mining profit. NRDC has been fighting for a decade alongside Alaska Native groups and local fishermen to block the mine. The EPA’s comprehensive, threeyear scientific review of the project found the mega mine

GINA MCCARTHY: NRDC’S NEW PRESIDENT What are your earliest memories of connecting with nature and the environment in your native Boston?

could have potentially “catastrophic” effects on the Bristol Bay watershed, a finding that prompted the agency under President Obama to issue the proposed safeguards. But under Trump, the EPA reversed course and moved to withdraw those restrictions, all but inviting Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty Minerals to forge ahead with its nightmarish project. “EPA’s reversal is mindboggling,” says NRDC senior advocate Taryn Kiekow Heimer. “The Trump administration’s backing of a foreign mining company over the people of Alaska in disregard of science-based safeguards is arbitrary, capricious, and illegal.”

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ina McCarthy, the fourth person chosen to lead the Natural Resources Defense Council since its founding 50 years ago, served as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama. During her tenure, from 2013 until 2017, she championed the Clean Water Rule, which strengthens protections for our health and environment. She also launched the Clean Power Plan, designed to slash emissions from coal-fired power plants and help steer the United States toward fulfilling its climate commitments made under the Paris Agreement. With these protections (and many more) now imperiled by the Trump administration, McCarthy joins NRDC to challenge the rollback of our critical health and environmental safe­guards; attacks on science and the law; polluters who disregard regulatory requirements and fail to meet their obligations to their neighbors; corporate bosses who seek to put profits before public health and the protection of our precious natural resources; and those local, state, and national leaders who deny or sow doubt about the threats posed by climate change. She brings to this fight 40 years of experience advocating for people and the environment at the city, state, and national levels. Here are excerpts from her recent conversation with NRDC’s Jeff Turrentine:

A: As a kid, I never stayed indoors—ever. There was nothing to do indoors other than watch a black-andwhite television with three channels. The attraction was all outdoors. I remember ice-skating on the pond near our house. We had to cut through farmland to get to the pond, and the farmer was always trying to shoot us with buckshot, but he never succeeded. We never really knew whether he was serious or just having fun watching us trip all over ourselves to get into the woods on the other side of his field. There was one place we could ride our bikes to go swimming and get some relief from the summer

“NRDC was the only advocacy organization I would have considered joining when I left the EPA.” heat. It was a small pond about a mile from our neighborhood, way off the beaten path in the woods. The water was clean, but it was a popular fishing hole so we had to be careful not to step on all the fishhooks. Maybe that was why our moms told us we couldn’t go there! Once in a while we would head to a beach on Boston Harbor when the summer heat got unbearable. It was in Dorchester, the neighborhood where my parents grew up. We loved to swim in the ocean. But when we got out of the water we would have tar balls stuck to our legs that we had to

peel off. Today, Boston Harbor is clean, swimmable, and one of the major reasons why the city of Boston is a world-class place to visit and live. But my favorite outdoor time was spent hiking in the Blue Hills Reservation, a beautiful urban state park just south of Boston. My dad would pack all the neighborhood kids into the car, and we’d go into the woods for hiking, exploring, turning over every log we could find to look at the bugs hiding below, making bows and arrows and shooting at one another when my dad wasn’t looking. When did you know that you wanted to make protecting the environment and public health your life’s work? A: I intended to go into the health field when I went to graduate school at Tufts. I was really interested in how we might better deliver health care services to communities that had been left behind—people struggling to make ends meet, find safe places to live, and keep food on the table. I worked in community health centers in Providence, Rhode Island.

Blue Hills Reservation, near Boston

There were a lot of folks coming in every day, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what was bringing them in the door. So many of these people who were sick were suffering from environmental impacts: kids who had eaten lead paint, families without access to nutritious food, seniors who didn’t have a safe place to live. I started to focus on how we can keep people from getting sick rather than just how to care for them once the damage is done. Soon I began working for a local board of health as its first full-time health agent. That was the start of my lifetime com­mitment to public health and environmental protection. For 40 years I have spent my workdays trying to figure out how to make sure that people have access to essential human needs—clean air and water, safe food, and clean and vibrant places to live, work, and play. What were some of the greatest challenges and takeaways from your years fighting for environmental and public health protections at the community level? A: Working as the local health agent in Canton, Massachusetts, back in the early 1980s was the hardest job I ever had. I was in my mid 20s, just out of graduate school, and all of a sudden I was dealing with contaminated wells, uncontrolled hazardous waste sites, a cancer scare, and the TV cameras that followed. Meanwhile I was responsible for overseeing perc tests for septic systems, conducting restaurant and housing inspections, developing civil defense plans, spearheading well regulations and right-toknow bylaws. I was the classic

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GINA MCCARTHY © ALEXANDER SPACHER/NRDC; BLUE HILLS RESERVATION © BRIAN MACLEAN/PIXELS

100TH TRUMP LAWSUIT FILED

A CONVERSATION WITH

C OV E R A RT I C L E

CORALS © PLACEBO365/ISTOCK; BRISTOL BAY © ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM

G O O D N EWS


jack-of-all-trades and master of none. But I worked hard, learned a lot, and loved every minute of it. That job taught me that for every issue you tackle, there are many different constituencies, so it’s important to ask some key questions: Who will care most about this issue and why? How do I reach out and talk to people who have equity in an issue in ways that will be productive and encourage engagement? Years later, you would take these important lessons with you to the EPA. How will your experience there serve you in your new job as NRDC’s president?

NRDC Fights Procter & Gamble to Save an Ancient Canadian Forest

should also get engaged. They make it possible for us to expand NRDC’s support and the work we do. Membership carries a special obligation to keep driving the momentum forward and bringing new players to the table.

The world’s largest intact oldgrowth forest is under siege. A mil­lion acres of Canada’s boreal forest are clear­cut each year, in part due to soaring demand for throw­away paper products. As part of our campaign to save this natural trea­sure, NRDC has ratcheted up pressure against Procter & Gamble, the maker of Charmin toilet paper. P&G uses 100 percent vir­gin wood pulp for its tissue products—and sources more tissue pulp from the boreal than any other U.S. company. Shelley Vinyard, NRDC’s boreal corporate campaign manager, says the company must start making toilet paper from recycled materials. “The status quo is a disaster,” she says.

What, in your opinion, is unusual or unique about the environmental moment we find ourselves in right now? A: The progress we’ve made in environ­mental protection since I was a little kid jumping into Boston Harbor has been remarkable. But today

“When you deal with complex challenges that will take years, if not decades, to resolve, it’s important to not let yourself be frozen in place.”

NRDC has hundreds of the country’s best lawyers, scientists, and policy experts. But the heart of the organization is our Membership. How do you view the role of Member activism in tackling climate and other frontline issues? A: Membership signals commitment, not just to the organization but to the essen­tial outreach efforts that help to build new constituencies. Every Member is a represen­tative of NRDC. That person is signaling to family, friends, and colleagues that the organi­zation’s mission is important, it’s focused on work that’s relevant and meaning­ful, and others

that progress is under threat. Not only that, but the very science we’ve relied on to make that progress is being questioned and attacked at every level. Back then we were dealing with problems you could see—ones that were very clear and understandable. Today climate change is a fundamental threat but people can’t always see or feel or taste it directly, and no single individual can put their finger on a dial and turn it back. So it requires a level of com­munication and constituency building that we’ve never faced before. Meanwhile there are folks in Washington who simply deny that it exists. And big money from fos­sil fuel constituencies is fostering doubt in the science and outright denial in order to delay climate action domestically and inter­nationally. So we have to not only protect the progress we’ve made but also address issues that are much more complex than we have ever faced before. How do you believe NRDC can rise to this challenge in the months and years to come? A: I’ve worked and interacted with just about every advocacy group imaginable, and to be honest, NRDC was the only advocacy organization I

Glacier National Park, Montana. The park’s glaciers are rapidly shrinking due to climate change.

would have considered joining when I left the EPA. NRDC’s litigation team has an incredible track record. I was on the receiving end of many NRDC lawsuits myself. And while I can’t say I welcomed them, exactly, I recognized that they were a crucial part of the checks and balances that give voice to the public and hold government accountable. Through those lawsuits, NRDC helped move the country forward, and I fully expect litigation will continue to play a big role in meeting our mission. We are simply not going to stop the federal backsliding and meet our goals by communicating and cajoling alone. We have to implement rules and we have to enforce rules. We have to use the law to our maximum advantage if we hope to protect our future and our kids’ future. We also have to be smart about how we build constituencies. Who are your friends? Who are your partners? How do you get broader engagement

on these issues? NRDC has always thought and acted strategically, not just litigiously. Every tool is essential if we hope to drive the momentum we need to expand our base and meet our goals. Finally, what’s your favorite place to go in nature to recharge and reconnect? A:: It’s changed so much over time! My life’s a little too busy right now to think about big trips. So basically, when I’m in Boston, I spend time walking and biking along the Emerald Necklace, which is a beautiful, connected green space that lowers my blood pressure and reminds me why I care about protecting the natural world. When time allows, I head to Cape Cod to swim, bike, and kayak with family and friends. And I still find time on weekends to walk through the Blue Hills, where I took my own children every chance I could.

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK © JEAN MARIE BIELE/ISTOCK

A: I have grown to understand how govern­ment at all levels can work well, and I have seen times when government has fallen short. I want to share those lessons learned. When you deal with complex challenges that will take years, if not decades, to resolve, it is important to not let yourself be frozen in place. You have to take action based on the best science and be transparent about what you know and don’t know. Progress can lead to more progress, the problem can become more manageable, and solutions arise.

An NRDC report, The Issue With Tissue, has laid bare the con­sequences of poorly sourced toilet paper on Canada’s boreal. Runaway logging fuels climate change because the boreal stores nearly twice as much carbon as all the oil reserves in the world. It also jeopardizes the imperiled boreal caribou and the cultural traditions of more than 600 Indigenous communities. After publishing the report, we took the fight to P&G by attending its share­holder meeting in the com­pany’s home­town of Cin­cin­nati. Protesters amassed outside P&G’s headquarters while NRDC hand-delivered a letter to its executives—backed by more than 116 partner organi­

zations and 220,000 petition signers. The letter demanded an immediate, forest-saving change in the com­pany’s pulp sourcing. Every major news outlet in the city cov­ered the protest. In response, P&G announced it would increase its purchases of certified-sustainable fiber. “It’s not nearly enough, but it’s a signal that our message is penetrating,” Vinyard says. NRDC will mobilize more sup­port for saving the boreal and protecting Indigenous com­munities’ rights by fighting P&G’s blatant greenwashing. The com­pany has long touted its tree re­­planting efforts but fails to men­tion that replanted forests often don’t grow back, store less carbon, and often provide unsuitable hab­itat for threatened species like the endangered boreal woodland caribou. As for swapping to re­­cycled content, P&G claims that its products’ texture would suffer too much, even though there are plenty of recycledcontent options on shelves today. “We’re facing a climate crisis and a biodiversity cri­sis,” Vinyard says. “We need giant corporations like P&G to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Our job is to hold their feet to the fire.”

N R D C VO I C E S

EPA Flunks Science 101 With Dirty Water Rule Jon Devine, Director, Federal Water Policy

The Trump administration’s plan to radically­restrict which water bodies are protected by the Clean Water Act “does not incorporate best available science.” It would exclude some waters whose contamination can pose “a documented and serious risk to public health and safety...” That’s not me or some other environmental advocate talking. Those quotations are from the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, including scientists appointed by Trump’s EPA leaders. That’s right. Former administrator Scott Pruitt and his successor, Andrew Wheeler, purged a number of members from the EPA’s independent panel of science advisors and handpicked their replacements. After doing so,

the agency must’ve been expecting the new board to rubber-stamp its rollback agenda. Instead, its members gave EPA’s Dirty Water Rule a flunking grade. A recent draft letter from the board to Wheeler is the most damning evidence yet of how dangerous the EPA’s scheme is and how far the agency is willing to go to help oil and gas operators, mining companies, factories, and other industrial polluters—at the cost of the clean water we all rely on. The board’s draft review of the proposal concludes that it has no basis in the available evidence and goes against the core purpose of the Clean Water Act. As proposed, the regulation “decreases protection for our Nation’s waters.” The prior rule, adopted under

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Protesters outside P&G headquarters in Cincinnati during the company’s shareholder meeting

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President Obama in 2015, relied on thousands of scientific publications to demonstrate how different types of small and seasonal waters and wetlands can affect conditions in downstream rivers, lakes, and bays. The Obama rule protects those critical waters; the Trump rule wouldn’t. Now Trump’s own advisors are poised to say there is no scientific justification for abandoning the protections. So there you go. A disregard for science, a carve-out for water bodies that can sicken you, and a simplistic approach that will cause more confusion. Does this sound like a plan that’s in the best interests of Americans? It doesn’t to me, and that’s why we are going to keep fighting this illegal regulation.

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Nature's Voice Spring 2020  

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