By Tim Manns
There was no summer pause in the administration’s rollback of environmental regulations. Weakening application of the National Environmental Policy Act to exclude considering cumulative effects and global warming and to limit public comment on major federal projects was a very significant blow. Here in Washington, Secretary of the Interior Bernhardt halted work on the environmental impact statement begun in 2014 for restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades, completely reversing his Republican predecessor’s decision. More than 130,000 public comments in favor of restoration had no weight in comparison with the opposition of eastern Washington Congressman Newhouse and his supporters. There are many more examples of setbacks cutting to the heart of the Audubon mission.
But all is not gloom and doom. Election year deals can cut the other way too. Colorado Senator Cory Gardner and Montana Senator Steve Daines, both Republicans concerned about their reelection, persuaded the President to sign the Great American Outdoors Act on August 4th. This bipartisan bill, introduced in the House by Representative John Lewis and for which our own Senator Maria Cantwell deserves much credit, passed House and Senate with veto-proof majorities. The bill provides permanent full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which since 1964 has used offshore oil and gas lease money to buy local, state, and federal park land. The new bill eliminates the need for annual appropriations for this fund, which in many years were far below the authorized $900 million. It also dedicates funds to address the huge backlog of infrastructure repairs in national parks and on other nationally-owned lands.
Another positive example of how things can go even in these dark days was the August 20th decision by Judge Valerie Caproni of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Judge Caproni negated the administration’s attempt to severely weaken application of the 102-year old Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). National Audubon joined other conservation groups and states bringing suit. Since 2017 the administration has been trying to exempt non-deliberate injuries to birds from this act. Under this interpretation, the estimated million birds killed by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill would have resulted in no penalty to BP. Here in Skagit County, Puget Sound Energy would not have to equip powerlines with devices to warn away swans. To ensure that inadvertent as well as deliberate injury to birds continues to be covered by the law Representative Lowenthal and 18 bipartisan original co-sponsors have introduced the Migratory Bird Protection Act (H.R. 5552). For more on this and to add your support: https://www.audubon.org/news/a-new-bill-aims-counter-rollback-bedrock-bird-law. For over a century, the MBTA has been the most important law protecting birds in the U.S. We need this additional legislation to cement that protection for all time.
At every level of government this November’s ballot will include candidates with distinctly different stands on crucial environmental issues such as climate change. It’s essential to stop the rollback of what has been accomplished over the last many decades and to stop ignoring the very serious challenges we now face.