Conservation Column: Environmental Protections Necessary For Survival of Our Essential Ecosystems

The health of the natural environment is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It is not a liberal or conservative issue. It is what all of us, non-humans and humans alike, depend on for our very existence. Unfortunately, it has been politicized, resulting in a critical loss of environmental protection over the past few years. Although many environmental laws have already been weakened, there have been some attempts to halt the rollbacks.  

I’m happy to report that the administration’s attempt to reinterpret the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was struck down by the Southern District of New York with a ruling that included “[i]t is not only a sin to kill a mockingbird, it is also a crime.” Here’s a partial list of some environmental protection rollbacks that have been enacted by the current administration. 

  • Enacted an executive order instructing agencies to waive the required environmental reviews of infrastructure projects, like highways and pipelines. The order allows “action with significant environmental impact” without regard to the requirements of federal laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). Note: both these laws were passed under a Republican administration.
  • Made it more difficult to protect animals under the Endangered Species Act from long-term threats posed by climate change.
  • Overturned a ban on the use of lead ammunition on federal lands (lead ammunition kills raptors and other avian species or causes sub-lethal effects from lead poisoning). 
  • Reversed a ban on hunting predators in Alaska and using bait to lure and kill bears.
  • Loosened several fishing restrictions including harvest limits, fishing in protected areas, and regulations that limit by-catch of wildlife such as blue-fin tuna, sea turtles, and marine animals.
  • The US Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing “Categorical Exclusion” for post-disturbance (or post-fire) “salvage” logging and road building, which would exempt such projects from environmental review and public comment. 
  • The BLM has proposed eliminating the 15-day public protest period for NEPA reviewed projects. This does away with the protest process for timber sales in Oregon.
  • Authorized several environmental rollbacks to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act (Incongruously, recent research has established a link between air pollution and susceptibility to COVID-19).
  • Weakened a rule that required coal plants to cut mercury emissions and rolled back requirements for disposal of coal ash.
  • Revised the Clean Water Act to make it harder for states, tribes and the public to block pipelines and other projects that could pollute their waterways. 
  • Relaxed regulations on coal-fired power plants’ disposal of wastewater which contains dangerous pollutants, such as lead, selenium, and arsenic. 
  • In a series of moves, the EPA ordered the dissolution of advisory boards that offer external, apolitical science-based guidance. They have changed the composition of advisory committees to bar scientists but include more industry and anti-regulatory members. They limit the scientific research that the committees could consider. 
  • Eliminated or weakened regulations that limit greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Lifted bans on oil and gas exploration in wildlife refuges, coastal waters, and even a national monument.
  • Reversed decision to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that is known to harm birds, bees, and humans.
  • Weakened protections for wetlands.
  • Relaxed the rules on refrigerant leaking (considered to be a major culprit in climate change).
  • Weakened fuel economy laws for vehicles.
  • Directed agencies to not consider calculations of the social cost of carbon. 
  • Revised a program that protected communities from power plant pollution.

I could go on. Brookings Institute counts 74 actions as of August to roll back environmental protections; Harvard Law counts 81, and the New York Times tallies 100 (with 70 completed and 30 in progress).

A bit overwhelming but let’s try to pay attention. Contact your representatives and let them know you support strong environmental protections. And perhaps the most important thing you can do: Get out and VOTE!