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IN THIS ISSUE
Polar bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
NRDC Sues to Save the Arctic Refuge Frontline Communities Face New Polluter Attack Stunning Developments Shake Up Pebble Mine Fight in Bristol Bay 10 Environmental Victories, Thanks to You!
NRDC works to safeguard the earthâ€”its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends.
COURTROOM WIN FOR CLEAN CARS
Siding with NRDC, a federal court has reinstated a long-overdue increase in the penalties that automakers face for violating fuel economy standards. After the Trump administration worked to block it, the new inflation-adjusted rate raises penalties by more than 250 percent—motivating car companies to invest in fuel efficiency rather than be fined. The decision is a big win over the tailpipe pollution that fuels climate change and harms public health. The case may be the first in which three Trump-appointed judges invalidated an environmental rollback from his administration.
REDROCK COUNTRY IS SPARED
In the face of intense public opposition, the Trump administration canceled proposed lease sales for oil and gas drilling slated to occur in Utah’s redrock country—near natural treasures like Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The Interior Department was poised to hand over these prized wildlands despite calls to pause the process of public comment until after the pandemic. The administration used the COVID crisis to accelerate its giveaway of public lands in a thinly disguised attempt to benefit oil and gas companies that were ill equipped to survive the latest plunge in oil prices.
BOLD CLIMATE ACTION
Catapulting Michigan to the forefront of climate action in the Midwest, Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed an executive order to dramatically cut carbon pollution and achieve carbon neutrality across the entire state economy by 2050. Michigan now joins a small number of vanguard states, including California, New York, Hawaii, and Maine, that have committed to similar reductions of carbon pollution. NRDC continues to advocate for strong state-level action across the country as we counter the Trump administration’s policies and advance progress in the fight against climate change.
C OV E R A RT I C L E
NRDC SUES TO SAVE THE ARCTIC REFUGE
RDC has raced to court to stop the Trump administration from throwing open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to devastating oil and gas drilling. The administration’s fasttracked plan, which would allow destructive energy development across 1.5 million acres of the refuge’s biologically sensitive coastal plain, represents an egregious intrusion on lands vital to the Gwich’in and other Indigenous people. It also threatens to sacrifice the heart of the largest pristine wildland left in America for the extraction of climate-destroying fossil fuels. “The Trump administration never stops pushing to drill in the Arctic Refuge—and we will never stop suing them,” says Niel Lawrence, NRDC’s Alaska director. “America has safeguarded the refuge for decades, and we will not allow this administration to trample that commitment now.” At stake are lands the Gwich’in call “the sacred place where life begins.” The Arctic Refuge’s coastal
plain is the favored denning ground for the region’s polar bears in winter. In summer its verdant meadows teem with wildlife, from tundra wolves and shaggy musk oxen to Arctic foxes and brown bears, as well as millions of migratory birds. Of critical importance to the Gwich’in and Iñupiaq people who depend on the refuge, the coastal plain serves as the birthing ground for hundreds of thousands of caribou, which are a sustaining food source for Native communities across the region. As NRDC fights in court to save the refuge, tens of thousands of our Members and online activists have rallied in support of the Gwich’in-led campaign pressuring the Bank of America to commit to not funding Arctic drilling. Following similar public outcry, the five other top U.S. banks—Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo—have each pledged to keep their money out of investment in Arctic oil and gas
projects, including in the refuge. Says Lawrence, “Whether it’s by leveraging public pressure to choke off the money supply for Arctic drilling or holding the Trump administration accountable in federal court, we’re determined to keep the Arctic Refuge wild and free.”
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
Frontline Communities Face New Polluter Attack In an appalling display of callous disregard for the impacts of both the COVID pandemic and the country’s legacy of racial injustice, the Trump administration is steamrolling ahead with plans to gut the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The 50-year-old bedrock law enables communities to protect their health against new polluting projects in their neighborhoods. NRDC attorneys, representing a broad coalition of justice and environmental groups, have sued to block the dangerous move. Under NEPA, potentially destructive infrastructure projects such as oil refineries and chemical plants must undergo a thorough,
transparent environmental review process that includes public input. The Trump administration aims to severely restrict both the number of projects subject to review and the impacts that can be considered as well as limit public participation. Undoubtedly, those hit hardest by the move would be low-income communities and communities of color, the same communities that have long faced disproportionate levels of industrial pollution. Among the groups represented in the lawsuit are the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, and Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.
POLAR BEARS © STEVEN KAZLOWSKI/NATUREPL.COM; NEPA PROTESTER © TING SHEN/NRDC
G O O D N EWS
CA M PA I G N U P DAT E
STUNNING DEVELOPMENTS SHAKE UP PEBBLE MINE FIGHT IN BRISTOL BAY
“The Pebble Mine project would destroy one of the last truly wild places in America.”
Clockwise from top left: Brown bear catching red salmon in the Brooks River, Alaska; salmon swim up the Brooks River; Yup’ik woman with sockeye salmon she caught in Bristol Bay, Alaska; aerial view of Wood-Tikchik State Park in Bristol Bay
Indeed, Bristol Bay’s Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq tribes, backed by NRDC and our Members, came close to killing the mine in 2014. That’s when the EPA under President Obama, warning that the mine posed “catastrophic” risk based on a com prehensive three-year, twice-peer-reviewed scientific assessment, proposed tough restrictions to effectively block mega mines in the Bristol Bay watershed. Then came President Trump. His administration swiftly jettisoned the EPA restrictions and launched a fast-track review process for Pebble that effectively ignored the science as well as the voices of Native tribes and other local residents, an overwhelming 80 percent of whom oppose the mine. A month after the Army Corps’s sudden reversal, the project absorbed another serious blow—this
one almost entirely self-inflicted. The nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency sent a pair of investigators posing as potential Chinese investors to meet with the two top executives behind the Pebble Mine, Tom Collier and Ron Thiessen, the CEOs, respectively, of the Pebble Partnership and its Canadian parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals. The undercover videotapes released after those meetings landed like a bombshell. Collier and Thiessen are seen boasting about their political connections both inside the Trump administration and at the state level, including insider access to Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy. Worse, they shame lessly admit to what Pebble Mine opponents have long suspected: that their current proposal to build a limited, 20-year mine is nothing but a Trojan
Horse, the first step in a master plan to gouge a gargantuan 200-year mine out of the Bristol Bay wilderness that would generate a staggering 10 billion tons of mining waste laced with toxins. “So the likelihood is pretty much 100 percent almost?” one of the undercover investigators asks, referring to the possibility of expanding the mine. “Yes,” Collier replies, directly contradicting his sworn congressional testimony in 2019, in which he maintained that Pebble has “no current plans, in its [permit] application or in any other way, for expansion.” “Collier’s bald-faced duplicity is outrageous but not shocking,” says Reynolds. “We’ve long maintained that their proposal for a 20-year mine— which would be environmentally disastrous in its own right—was a ruse, a way to get their foot in the door. That’s because independent analysis by min ing industry experts has shown that a 20-year mine would actually lose money, to the tune of $3 billion. They need a much bigger mine to turn a profit, and they know it.” In the wake of the scandal, Collier was forced to resign from the Pebble Partnership, yet the battle goes on. As Bristol Bay’s Native tribes and NRDC fight to restore the EPA restrictions that would permanently block the mine, we also continue our ongoing campaign to choke off financial backing for the project. Undoubtedly one of the reasons [Continued on next page.]
BROWN BEAR © DESIGN PICS INC/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC; SALMON © MLHARING/ISTOCK; YUP’IK WOMAN © MICHAEL MELFORD/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC; BRISTOL BAY © RYAN PETERSON
or years the Pebble Mine saga has been like a horror movie franchise that churns out a seemingly endless stream of nauseating sequels. But now, the latest twists in the drama have the mine’s legions of opponents asking, “Will this finally be the end?” In a dramatic about-face, President Trump’s Army Corps of Engineers recently imposed new conditions that threaten to derail the proposed monster mega mine in Alaska’s magnificent Bristol Bay wilderness, just a month after the agency signaled it was all but ready to approve the mine. What happened in between? There was a massive public outcry led by the local Native tribes who have been fighting to stop the mine for decades, joined by hundreds of thousands of citizens in the Lower 48, including NRDC Members and online activists. In a sign of how extraordinarily unpopular the project has become, even the president’s son Don Jr. tweeted his opposition to the massive openpit copper and gold mine. The project would destroy the world’s most productive wild salmon fishery and one of the last truly wild places in America while imperiling the livelihoods of the region’s Native communities and local fishers who depend on the salmon. “What the Army Corps has now asked Pebble to do is to come up with a plan to mitigate what the Corps says is the ‘significant degradation’ the mine would cause to Bristol Bay’s waters and marine life,” says NRDC Western Director Joel Reynolds. He notes that, at minimum, the mine threatens to destroy thousands of acres of pristine wetlands and more than 100 miles of streams. “But real, bona fide mitigation is the death of Pebble Mine, because it’s impossible to mitigate the damage this project would inflict on Bristol Bay, its tribes, its fishery, and the communities and wildlife that it sustains. Still, there’s a very good chance the Corps will cave and rubber stamp a bogus mitigation plan,” Reynolds continues. “Ultimately what we need in order to drive a stake through this nightmare project once and for all is a veto of the mine by the Environmental Protection Agency.”
Thiessen and Collier were so eager to meet with the undercover investigators posing as investors is because of the remarkable success of NRDC’s campaign, which has helped prompt each of Northern Dynasty’s major global mining company partners— Mitsubishi, Anglo American, Rio Tinto, and First Quantum Minerals—to abandon the project, leaving increasingly cash-strapped Northern Dynasty the sole remaining member of the Pebble “partnership.” Global financial backers BlackRock and, most recently, Morgan Stanley have walked away as well in the face of pressure from NRDC and our Bristol Bay partners. Now we are appealing to Cantor Fitzgerald, Northern Dynasty’s chief fundraiser, urging that global financial services firm to sever ties with the Pebble Mine. “Time and again, when we’ve presented the economic and scientific facts about the Pebble Mine to stakeholders, in contrast to Northern Dynasty’s self-serving spin, they see the fundamental problem: This is the wrong mine in the wrong place,” says Reynolds. “It’s been a long fight, but, working with our Bristol Bay partners, we’ve succeeded in transforming what was once considered a done deal into a deal that’s gasping for air. Now it’s time to finish the job.”
Your Membership Support of NRDC Made a World of Difference in 2020
Thanks to your generous donations, here are some of the landmark environmental victories we won, in and out of court, over the past year.
NEW YORK DEFENDS WILDLIFE
CALIFORNIA BANS PESTICIDE
REDROCK DRILLING CANCELLED
BOON FOR MIGRATORY BIRDS
COURT BLOCKS MASSIVE KXL
ICELAND CALLS OFF WHALING
PROTECTION FOR POLLINATORS
TROPHY HUNTING TAKES HIT
COURT SIDES WITH SCIENCE
Thanks to NRDC advocacy, the state passed a landmark wildlife bill enabling bans on the sale of animal parts from species threatened with extinction.
The courts overturned the Trump administration’s radical reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which let industry completely off the hook for killing birds.
STATES REJECT PIPELINE
Both New York and New Jersey rejected permits for the proposed fracked gas Williams Pipeline, which threatened communities and waterways from Pennsylvania to New York.
Thanks to an NRDC legal win, the EPA must expand its assessment of risks that the toxic chemical 2,4-D—found in the pesticide Enlist Duo—poses to monarch butterflies.
California outlawed nearly all uses of the brain-harming pesticide chlorpyrifos, beginning in 2021. As the nation’s biggest user, the state is already influencing policy elsewhere.
The Supreme Court affirmed that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline cannot be built across hundreds of waterways while the legal fight against it plays out.
Under NRDC legal pressure, the Trump adminis tration disbanded its so-called International Wildlife Conservation Council stacked with trophy hunters and gun enthusiasts.
Please help us win even more victories in 2021 by making a special, tax-deductible contribution at NRDC.ORG/VICTORIES.
The Trump administration caved in to intense pressure, canceling proposed lease sales for oil and gas drilling slated to occur near Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
For the second year in a row, Iceland has canceled its whaling season—the latest indication that the business of whaling is dying.
In a victory for science, a federal judge sided with NRDC and rejected an EPA ban that kept scientists affiliated with universities from sitting on agency advisory boards.
VICTORIES: ELEPHANTS © SARA WINTER/ISTOCK; CROP DUSTER © ROGER SMITH; WARBLER © ISTOCK; KXL PROTESTER © ELVERT BARNES/FLICKR; CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK, UTAH © WOLFGANG STAUDT; MINKE WHALE © NATURE PICTURE LIBRARY/ALAMY; PROTEST ON BROOKLYN BRIDGE © ERIK MCGREGOR; BUTTERFLY © ISTOCK; LIONS © JTGRIFFIN07; EPA © PUBLIC DOMAIN
[Continued from previous page.]
Enjoy the Silence: Atlantic Marine Mammals Spared Dangerous Blasts Here’s one big victory we’re happy to say won’t be creating a lot of noise. Thanks to NRDC’s courtroom action, the companies that had hoped to use deafening air guns in the Atlantic for oil exploration were not able to get their boats in the water before their federal permits expired. That’s great news for whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals that have now been spared the threat of seismic blasting for at least another year. The litigation advanced by NRDC and our allies had already deterred harmful seismic exploration in the Atlantic for the past two years. To locate deposits of oil and gas beneath the ocean floor, the industry relies on arrays of high-powered air guns that produce explosive-level noise as often as every 10 seconds, day and night, for weeks and months on end. The relentless blasts are disastrous for marine animals that depend on sound for almost every vital activity, from finding food and selecting mates to avoiding predators. The presence of air guns can mean the difference between life and death for individual animals—and perhaps for certain critically threatened
species. Scientists warn that, when added to existing threats like ship strikes and entanglement in commercial fishing gear, seismic activity could drive the endangered North Atlantic right whale to extinction. Citing such risks, the Obama administration determined that the practice was too risky and denied these same permits. But the Trump administration, with its drill-at-all-costs fossil fuel agenda, moved to issue permits to allow seismic air gun blasting across a vast area of the Atlantic stretching from Delaware to central Florida. Not only would the seismic
exploration harm tens of thousands of marine mammals in defiance of wildlife protection laws, but it would threaten to usher in a new era of offshore drilling in the Atlantic, which would further exacerbate the climate crisis. “The good news is that there will be no seismic blasting this year, and none of the senseless harm that would bring to whales, fish, and coastal communities,” says Michael Jasny, director of NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project. “Now we’re fighting to end the threat for good and to permanently prohibit offshore oil and gas exploration.”
October 12: Indigenous Peoples’ Day By Gina McCarthy NRDC President
The observance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day reminds us that change is people-powered and can happen from the ground up. While our nation has long celebrated Christopher Columbuson the second Monday of October, we are rightfully and increasingly shifting away from honoring the man responsible for the death of so many Native Americans and instead mourning and remembering the lives lost. At least 10 states now celebrate some version of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, as do more than 100 cities, towns, and counties across the country. The momentum is building. The day is coming that all Americans will commemorate Native American peoples and their resilience, histories, and cultures. This is crucially important, because a truly just, sustainable future is impossible without centering the leadership, vision, and knowledge of Indigenous peoples. While policymakers have failed to rein in the
industries driving unsustainable ecosystem loss and climate change, Indigenous peoples have led the way on managing and stewarding the lands they have called home for millennia. NRDC is proud to partner with Native peoples and work to amplify their voices as they fight fossil fuels and forest loss, threats that are sickening their communities and accelerating climate change. At the same time, Native Americans and Alaska natives, like Black and Latino communities, are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, being 3.5 times more likely to be infected than are non-Hispanic whites. The crises we’re facing are interlocking, so the solutions have to be as well. That’s why NRDC has signed on to the THRIVE Agenda, a strong economic renewal plan that puts millions of people back to work building a more just, healthy, and equitable society while driving forward solutions to climate change. It will help protect public health at a critical moment and get the economy humming again by creating jobs in every community in the country. By focusing on investment in Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities and strengthening tribal sovereignty so that Indigenous peoples can determine the outcome of all decision making that affects them, THRIVE creates a road map for a durable, equitable recovery.
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