Biden elected 46th President, poised to reverse Trump EOs, regulations

Joseph R. Biden, Jr., the former vice president and longtime U.S. senator from Delaware, has been elected President of the United States. The Associated Press declared on Nov. 7 that Biden and his running mate, California senator Kamala Harris, crossed the threshold of 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

According to Dave Leip’s U.S. Election Atlas, more than 75 million Americans voted for the Democratic ticket in the Nov. 3 election. The incumbent President, Donald J. Trump, and vice president, Michael R. Pence, won just over 71 million votes.

Aside from winning states that, in recent decades, have consistently voted Democratic presidential candidates, Biden and Harris returned Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to the Democrats after the Trump-Pence ticket won all three states by narrow margins in 2016. The Democratic candidates also carried Nevada and Arizona. At press time Biden and Harris also lead in Georgia.

A Biden-Harris administration is expected to act early to reverse Trump regime environmental policies. The President-elect has already indicated that he will re-join the Paris Agreement on climate change very quickly after being inaugurated. The U.S. officially exited the 2015 accord on Nov. 4. He may also restore the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, created by President William Jefferson Clinton in 1996, and Bears Ears National Monument, created by President Barack H. Obama in Dec. 2016, to those that existed before Trump dramatically scaled them back in Dec. 2017.

A Nov. 7 article in Bloomberg Law details other actions Biden can take early in his term to reverse Trump environmental policies.

The Electoral College will meet on Dec. 14 to cast the electoral votes that officially elect the President.

Logo by Jonathan Hoefler – https://joebiden.com/wp-content/themes/bexc/img/rm-logo-blue.svg via JoeBiden.com.
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93057139

Colorado voters order wolf reintroduction

Canis lupus – image courtesy Wikimedia

Voters in Colorado have enacted by initiative a statute that requires gray wolves to be re-introduced to the state by 2023. According to results available at the website of secretary of state Jena Griswold, Proposition 114 passed with 50.64% of the vote.

Wolves will be reintroduced only to the Western Slope. The initiative includes a mandate to compensate ranchers who lose livestock to Canis lupus predation. In addition, the voter-enacted law requires the state parks and wildlife commission to use “the best scientific data available” to develop the reintroduction plan, hold hearings around the state to gather information to be considered in making the plan, and help ranchers to prevent wolf-livestock interactions.

The particular areas on the Western Slope that will again be populated by Canis lupus is left to the commission to determine. Prior to 1940 the animal ranged not only west of the Rockies, but across the state. In more recent years there have been wolf sightings in western Colorado, including a wolf pack.

Despite being added to the U.S. list of endangered and threatened species in 1974, and although gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in January 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service never moved to return the species to Colorado.

The Trump regime eliminated Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf on Oct. 29, 2020.

The state parks and wildlife commission rejected a 2016 proposal to reintroduce wolves. Colorado has, however, re-introduced several other species: turkeys during the 1980s, lynx in 1999, and bison in 2015, for example.

New Mexico legislators introduce bill to protect wilderness in Rio Grande del Norte National Monument

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument – photo courtesy Wikimedia

Two members of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation have introduced a bill that would designate more than 13,000 acres within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Questa. The proposal would protect a volcanic caldera that provides a roadless corridor benefitting elk, bears, and mountain lions.

The bill aims to correct an omission in the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act, which became law as part of a broad public lands bill signed by the president in March 2019. That legislation established the 13,420 acre Cerro del Yuta Wilderness and the 8,120 acre Río San Antonio Wilderness.

Democratic Reps. Deb Haaland and Ben Ray Lujan are co-sponsoring the bill to establish the Cerro de la Olla Wilderness.

New Mexico’s two senators, Martin Heinrich (D) and Tom Udall (D), introduced similar legislation in January 2020. Their bill was given a hearing by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining, in September.

President Barack Obama designated the national monument in March 2013.

Great American Outdoors Act signed into law

President Donald J. Trump has signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law. The bill guarantees $900 million per year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and sets aside $9.5 billion over the next five fiscal years to address maintenance and repair backlogs in National Park Service and other public land agency facilities.

The funding will be provided by royalties paid by oil and gas, coal, and renewable energy companies to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The LWCF was created in 1965. It promised to dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars per year from oil and gas royalties to acquire new federal park lands and to support state and local park development. Actual appropriations have generally fallen far short of that contemplated level. A Ducks Unlimited report indicated that, before the authorization of LWCF expired in 2018, it had been fully funded only twice in 54 years.

The LWCF has financed the purchase of at least seven million acres of public land, either for outright ownership by governments or as easements, over the years.

The measure passed the Senate by a 73-25 vote in June and the House of Representatives by a vote of 310-107, almost all majority Democrats and about half of minority Republicans voting in favor of it. Nevertheless, Trump invited only GOP legislators to the bill signing ceremony at the White House.

According to a report by the Associated Press, the Great American Outdoors Act is “the most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century.”

Federal Court: States’ Case Against Trump ESA Changes Can Proceed

The wolverine (Gulo gulo) is among the species that would likely be affected by changes to Endangered Species Act regulations. Courtesy Wikimedia – User: MatthiasKabel – own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1493185

A federal judge refused Monday to dismiss a multi-state lawsuit aimed at blocking the Trump regime’s effort to administratively negate significant portions of the Endangered Species Act.

Judge Jon S. Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California rejected arguments by the U.S. Department of Justice that 20 states and the District of Columbia lack standing to challenge the ESA regulations and that the dispute is not ripe for judicial review.

Tigar cited Massachusetts v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a landmark 2007 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that granted states “special solicitude” to sue on behalf of their residents in environmental law cases.

Lawyers representing Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and other Trump apparatchiks claimed that the dispute cannot be adjudicated because the regulations, while final, have not yet been applied. The regime sought to persuade Tigar that he should use his discretion to refuse to hear challenges to any regulation that has not been specifically implemented to a particular set of facts. 

The three regulations in dispute were finalized in Aug. 2019. Together they will, if not blocked in court, fundamentally weaken federal wildlife conservation policy. Among the changes imposed by the regulations are:

  • species listed as “threatened” will no longer automatically receive the same protections as do species listed as “endangered;”
  • the meaning of the term “foreseeable future” will be determined in each case at the discretion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and/or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration;
  • FWS and NOAA will consider only threats to a species that are “likely” to occur during the “foreseeable future,” a change that may allow the agencies to ignore threats resulting from climate change; and
  • FWS and NOAA will be able to consider economic data when deciding whether to list a species as endangered or threatened.

Tigar has been a federal judge since 2013.

The states’ case is State of California v. Bernhardt, No. 19-cv-06013-JST. 

Advocacy Group and U.S. Government’s Wildlife Killers Reach Settlement to Limit Lethal Practices in Montana

A little-known federal agency that kills more than a million native animals every year, including cougars, eagles, grizzly bears, and wolves, will sharply limit its activities in Montana under a lawsuit settlement announced Thursday.

Wildlife Services, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, agreed to forego all operations in the state’s federally designated wilderness, wild and scenic river corridors, and Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.

The agency also agreed to cease the killing of black bears and coyotes on federal public lands throughout the state, to stop using poisons or gas cartridges to kill denning animals and their young on all public lands in Montana, and to forego statewide the use of sodium cyanide bombs as a tool of wildlife destruction.

WildEarth Guardians sued Wildlife Services last November, arguing that the agency has violated the National Environmental Policy Act by continuing to rely on a study of environmental consequences that is more than two decades old.

NEPA requires an agency to give a “hard look” to the environmental consequences of its actions even if it previously did so. The federal appeals court with jurisdiction over cases from Montana has explained that the existence of “significant new circumstances or information” triggers a requirement to prepare a new environmental impact statement or environmental assessment.

WildEarth Guardians argued that Wildlife Services has not met this requirement. It asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana to order the agency to prepare an environmental impact statement after considering studies from the past several decades suggesting that predator control is an ineffective method of managing wildlife populations. 

The United States government intentionally destroys a large number of animals each year. During Fiscal Year 2018, Wildlife Services personnel killed at least 22,655 beavers, 338 black bears, 1,002 bobcats, 68,186 coyotes plus an unknown number of coyote pups in dens, 3,349 foxes plus an unknown number of fox pups killed in dens, 357 gray wolves, 375 mountain lions, 515,915 red-winged blackbirds, 710 river otters, and 7,264 white-tailed deer.

The obscure agency also unintentionally kills many more thousands of other animals. In FY 2018, they included at least 2,700 bears, bobcats, foxes, marmots, muskrats, porcupines, raccoons, and turtles.

Wildlife Services’ annual kill also takes the lives of many birds, including numerous chickadees, cardinals, crows, doves, ducks, eagles, egrets, falcons, geese, grackles, gulls, hawks, herons, larks, meadowlarks, owls, pelicans, ravens, robins, sparrows, starlings, swallows, swans, turkeys, and vultures.

 

 

 

 

House passes bill to protect more than one million acres of wilderness

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would add more than a million acres of land to the National Wilderness Preservation System. The Protecting America’s Wilderness Act would extend preservation to public land in California, Colorado, and Washington.

The bill would designate more wilderness than any other bill passed by the House in more than a decade. “We have been working on this legislation for more than 20 years,” Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and the bill’s sponsor, said. “The areas that will be protected under this bill are some of the most beautiful and pristine landscapes that our country has to offer.”

Among the public lands that would be added to the nation’s inventory of designated wilderness are:

  • 660,000 acres in 36 areas across Colorado, including  the Handies Peak, Dolores River Canyon, Little Book Cliffs, Diamond Breaks, Papoose Canyon, North Ponderosa Gorge, and South Ponderosa Gorge areas;
  • 312,500 acres in Northwest California, by means of expanding nine existing wilderness areas and creating eight new ones;
  • 30,700 acres of newly-designated wilderness in Southern California; and
  • 126,544 acres of newly-designated wilderness on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

H.R. 2546 would also add nearly 1,300 river miles in the three states to the National Wild and Scenic River System.

The bill was approved on a 231-183 vote. It is not expected to receive consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate this year.

Environmental groups sue EPA over efforts to block California from limiting vehicle contribution to climate change

Traffic on I-5 in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, 2012 (photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).

Eleven environmental organizations have challenged the Trump administration’s move to set uniform national fuel economy standards that would effectively prevent California from maintaining its unique tight limits on motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.

The groups filed a petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Nov. 22, alleging that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulation violates the Clean Air Act.

NHTSA, an agency of the Department of Transportation, finalized the so-called Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule on Sept. 19.

The Environmental Protection Agency simultaneously announced that it was revoking California’s waiver of preemption under the Clean Air Act.

The agencies’ regulation asserts that a 1975 law called the Energy Policy and Conservation Act revoked California’s power to set pollution limits more restrictive than the rest of the nation, a power granted the Golden State by a 1967 statute and incorporated into the Clean Air Act of 1970.

EPA has also claimed that California’s Clean Cars Program forces motor vehicle manufacturers to adopt technology that is not feasible.

California’s autonomy to address motor vehicle pollution has been attacked by a Republican presidential administration before. In 2008 EPA, then under the leadership of a George W. Bush appointee, denied California the ongoing waiver of preemption specified by CAA for the state’s unique regulatory program. The Obama administration later reversed that decision and granted the waiver.

The most current assault on California’s program, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from the state’s huge number of motor vehicles, was signaled by secretary of transportation Elaine Chao and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler in August 2018.

Motor vehicles are the nation’s second-most prolific source of greenhouse gas pollutants. Fourteen states, including the District of Columbia, have adopted California’s motor vehicle emissions standards. Together, these jurisdictions account for more than forty percent of the nation’s population and more than one-third of U.S. light motor vehicle sales. Their choice to incorporate the Golden State’s low emission vehicle criteria into their law is permitted states by section 177 of the Clean Air Act.

The Trump regime’s argument that EPCA precludes California from establishing its own pollutant limits was rejected by two federal courts in 2007 – one in Vermont, one in California. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has indicated skepticism of the argument:

[T]hat DOT sets mileage standards in no way licenses EPA to shirk its environmental responsibilities. EPA has been charged with protecting the public health and welfare . . . a statutory obligation wholly independent of DOT’s mandate to promote energy efficiency. The two obligations may overlap, but there is no reason to think the two agencies cannot both administer their obligations and yet avoid inconsistency.

The technological feasibility argument also appears likely to run into judicial doubt. A 1979 decision by the DC Circuit suggests that the burden would be on the regime to prove, after five years of manufacturer compliance, that the Clean Cars Program forces the manufacturers to make products for which technology is not available.

On Nov. 15 a coalition of 23 states and several cities asked a federal district court to nullify the revocation of California’s Clean Air Act preemption waiver. Those same jurisdictions separately filed, on Sept. 20, a petition for review in the DC Circuit to challenge the NHTSA fuel economy standards regulation.

Environmental groups have also challenged the revocation of the preemption waiver in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Several automakers intervened in the states’ DC Circuit case on Oct. 28.

The environmental organization’s DC Circuit case is Sierra Club et al. v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency et ux.

 

 

Outdoor gear maker Patagonia says it will sue Trump regime over ESA regulatory changes

 

Changes to regulations that implement the Endangered Species Act of 1973 will be challenged in court by one of the world’s most well-known outdoor equipment companies.

Patagonia Works announced on Oct. 31 that it would sue the Trump regime in sixty days on grounds that the new rules contravene the ESA itself.

“Rather than heed the alarm sounded by scientists around the world . . . the Trump Administration has promulgated amendments to regulations implementing the ESA that not only violate the plain language of the statute, but will make it more difficult to protect plant and animal species and their habitats,” the letter – called a Notice of Intent to Sue – declared.

The regulations at issue were finalized on Aug. 12, 2019.

According to Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental advocacy organization that focuses on biodiversity conservation policy, the new regulations will:

  • allow economic impacts of listing decisions to be considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration;
  • allow the killing of threatened species; encourage agencies to ignore long-term threats to the survival of species (including climate change),
  • create an obstacle to the designation of critical habitat for listed species; and
  • reduce the number of federal actions that require consultation with USFWS or NOAA.

Defenders of Wildlife, along with the environmental advocacy organizations Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians, and the animal welfare organization Humane Society of the United States, filed suit to challenge the new ESA regulations on Aug. 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

In addition, 17 states, the District of Columbia, and the city of New York challenged the new regulations in the same court on Sept. 25, 2019.

A July 2018 poll conducted by Ohio State University showed that about 80 percent of Americans support the goals of the ESA.

 

 

Army announces it will grant easement for DAPL, terminate further environmental review

army-notice-re-dapl-feb-7-2017
This excerpt from a filing in a federal court in Washington, D.C. indicates the Trump regime’s determination to remove the last obstacle to completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday that it will grant Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., the developer of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, the easement required to build beneath North Dakota’s Lake Oahe.

Further study of environmental impacts of DAPL will also be jettisoned.

A memorandum from a senior official temporarily serving as assistant secretary of the Army said that Donald Trump’s Jan. 24, 2017 executive memorandum demanded the move.

Opponents of DAPL denounced the Trump regime’s move to short-circuit further study of the $3.8 billion dollar pipeline’s impacts on the water supply of native Americans in the Dakotas.

“The Obama administration correctly found that the Tribe’s treaty rights must be respected, and that the easement should not be granted without further review and consideration of alternative crossing locations,” Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice who is representing tribal opponents of the project, said. “Trump’s reversal of that decision continues a historic pattern of broken promises to Indian Tribes and a violation of Treaty rights. Trump and his administration will be held accountable in court.”

The decision removes the last hurdle to completion of the fossil fuel infrastructure project.

Work on the project was stopped by the Obama administration last September. Then the Army Corps of Engineers had decided in on Dec. 4, 2016 not to grant the easement beneath Lake Oahe. The agency instead determined that preparation of an environmental impact statement on DAPL was necessary to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The period in which the public could comment on that EIS began on Jan. 18 and was not set to expire until Feb. 20.

Trump, the real estate developer and reality television star who occupies the White House despite losing last November’s popular vote by nearly 3 million votes and despite Russian interference in the Presidential election, owned Energy Transfer Partners stock worth at least $500,000 in 2015.