Slashing two national monuments in Utah may have received the most attention, but Trump’s Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have been quietly, systematically ceding control of America’s public lands to fossil fuel, mining, timber, and livestock interests since the day he took office.
What’s at stake are 670 million acres of forests, canyons, rivers, wetlands, mountains, and high deserts. Native American sacred sites. Ancient migratory pronghorn paths and towering temperate rainforests. Pristine streams that feed wild salmon and endangered pikeminnow. Prehistoric artifacts.
These lands are being plundered at a terrifying rate under the Trump administration, which has kicked the door open and let in profiteers to mine, drill, frack, log, and bulldoze. Along the way, it’s worsening the climate crisis, endangering wildlife, and divesting our natural inheritance to fatten the dividends for massive corporations.
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Just this week, Trump launched a massive attack on imperiled wildlife, finalizing changes to the Endangered Species Act that could lead to extinction for hundreds of animal and plant species. The changes, which will make it harder to protect wildlife habitat from development, come in the face of urgent scientific warnings that humans have driven up to 1 million species worldwide to the brink of extinction.
Earlier this month, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt (a former oil and mining industry lobbyist) installed William Perry Pendley as acting deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management. Under Pendley, who has made it his life’s work to oppose federal authority over public lands, the ongoing fire sale of our children’s endowment is likely to worsen.
And last month, Trump’s Bureau of Land Management moved to allow fracking on millions of acres in Colorado―potentially tripling greenhouse gas emissions in a state that’s trying to scale back climate pollution―and his Forest Service announced plans to exempt large-scale logging projects in national forests from public and environmental review.
Sadly, it gets worse.
Trump also has relaunched proposals for three massive copper mines that had been idled during the Obama administration and would have disastrous consequences for wilderness, wildlife and water: Twin Metals near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness; Rosemont in the Santa Rita Mountains of southern Arizona; and Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, at the headwaters of the world’s most productive wild sockeye salmon fishery.
So far the Trump administration has leased more than 3.4 million acres of public land in the lower 48 states for fracking and drilling, saddling future generations with the potential of nearly 600 million more tons of greenhouse gas pollution.
All of this comes as scientific climate reports carry dark warnings that our planet is teetering on the breaking point and the world is becoming desperate for urgent action to avert the worst consequences of climate change.
The most recent report, from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, concludes that the land will be unable to sustain humanity because of being destroyed and manipulated by deforestation, industrial agriculture, and other development.
Among other things, scientists recommend that we restore ecosystems and stop burning fossil fuels to avoid “irreversible loss in land ecosystem services required for food, health and habitable settlements.”
But here’s the good news: We can start addressing climate change right here and now, by ending new oil and gas leasing on our public lands.
Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year.
Current laws give Congress and presidents authority to end new federal fossil fuel leasing. Hundreds of organizations—including the Center for Biological Diversity, the organization where I work—have already petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore leasing, and the proposal is endorsed by several presidential candidates.
And more good news: With increasing frequency, courts have been rejecting the efforts of Trump’s Interior Department to deny or minimize the climate consequences of its actions, including decisions for more oil and gas extraction on public lands.
These cases are part of a growing pattern of judicial rulings that say federal agencies must do additional environmental review to weigh climate impacts before these projects can move forward.
Even in these terribly divisive times, there’s broad agreement that preserving landscapes for wildlife and future generations is the wise and right thing to do. The fate of the planet depends on it.