A Hundred Days Later, A New Reality Emerges Under the Trump Administration
In just the first one hundred days after taking office, President Trump and his administration have already created a tectonic shift in priorities and policies for natural resource conservation. A flurry of Executive Orders, memoranda and other actions have not merely broken with the policies of the previous administration, but rolled back decades of bipartisan lawmaking, purposefully impede or diminish public input in decision-making, and attempt to set new precedents for the power of the president to assert unilateral authority over conservation and management of public lands, waters and wildlife.
The convention of sizing up a president’s first one hundred days as a barometer of their administration extends back to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When he first ran for the White House in 1932, FDR leveraged the lack of swift action by the incumbent, President Herbert Hoover, to alleviate the severe and widespread poverty facing the nation in the wake of the Great Depression. FDR campaigned successfully on his New Deal vision and his promises to show measurable actions within the “first 100 days” of his administration. In July of 1933, FDR gave his own self-assessment of his first 100 days as part of his fireside chats, establishing the custom of grading this “honeymoon period” in our cultural consciousness.
President Trump and his administration have made no secret of their ambitions to reset the playing field to favor exploitive, extractive industries and other special interests over environmental protections. This deliberate shift in priorities could have perilous effects on wildlife, public lands, clean air and water, human health, and our ability to adapt to climate change.
Following is a brief timeline of the Trump administration’s actions during the first 100 days that could have major implications for our land, water, air and climate—and especially wildlife conservation.
All “Access” Pass for Pipelines
President Trump issues two separate memoranda on the contentious Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the Keystone XL Pipeline. The DAPL memo called for an expedited review and approval of the previously denied request to construct and operate the pipeline.
The Keystone XL memo invited TransCanada to re-submit its application to the Department of State for a permit to construct and operate the Keystone XL Pipeline, and directed that no further environmental review of the project be required.
President Trump also signs an Executive Order (EO) claiming that high-priority infrastructure projects “have been routinely and excessively delayed by agency processes and procedures,” and instructs the Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality to expedite procedures and deadlines for environmental reviews and approvals for these projects.
Constructing the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, and cutting down environmental review of massive construction projects would have major and irreparable impacts on both wildlife and human communities.
Walling Off Wildlife and Communities
As part of his larger strategy of immigration reform, President Trump signs an EO directing the Secretary of Homeland Security to begin planning, designing and constructing a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The construction of such a physical barrier could jeopardize the existence of at least 89 endangered or threatened species and 108 migratory bird species.
President Trump signs an EO that arbitrarily requires any executive department or agency that proposes a new regulation to identify two regulations to be eliminated. The order also requires agencies to offset the costs of any new regulation by reducing costs of other rules, without any consideration of the benefits the regulations provide to the public. This kind of thoughtless approach demonstrates the president’s lack of understanding of regulatory processes, and negates the public input and decision-making that contributed to the development of rules that could now be summarily dismissed.
We’ll Be the Judge of That
President Trump nominates Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court justice seat held by the late Antonin Scalia, and held vacant for nearly ten months by Senate obstruction. Judge Gorsuch’s record does not inspire confidence about his views of federal government’s crucial role in protecting our environment. (Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate on April 7.)
Rex Tillerson is confirmed as Secretary of State. Before taking the reins at the State Department, Tillerson served as the CEO of ExxonMobil.
Environmental Law Foe Heads Justice Department
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama is confirmed as Attorney General. Sessions, in addition to believing that carbon dioxide is “really not a pollutant,” built an impressive Senate record opposing many of the environmental laws that the Justice Department is charged with enforcing.
Moving Mountains (into Streams)
President Trump signs a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution rescinding the Stream Protection Rule, which prohibited mountaintop removal mining waste from being dumped into local waterways.
Industry Lapdog Takes Over as Watchdog
Scott Pruitt is confirmed as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt is the former Attorney General of Oklahoma who, while serving in office closely coordinated with major oil and gas producers, electric utilities and political groups to challenge and roll back federal environmental safeguards. He is a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, and previously sued the agency he now leads 13 times, publicly calling for the elimination of a number of its regulations to protect the public. He even referred to himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” on his LinkedIn page. Although he has attempted to temper his rhetoric a bit, Pruitt continues to publicly doubt the human contributions to climate change.
License to Spill
Trump issues an EO instructing the EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works to review the “Clean Water Rule: Definition of ‘Waters of the United States’” a rule that was developed to address the fact that what gets dumped into small streams like sewage, manure, pesticides and other pollutants is carried downstream to larger streams and rivers, degrading aquatic habitats and our sources of drinking water. Given that this was one of the rules Pruitt had sued to abolish, we don’t have much confidence that stronger protections will emerge from Trump’s ordered review.
Fox Reports for Duty at Henhouse
Ryan Zinke is confirmed as Secretary of the Interior. The former U.S. Representative from Montana has repeatedly favored increased logging, drilling, grazing and mining on federal lands at the expense of wildlife and habitat. He has also consistently supported harmful, anti-wildlife legislation that would severely undermine the Endangered Species Act and remove or block protections for hundreds of imperiled species.
He has repeatedly called climate change an “unproven science,” though in his confirmation hearing he admitted he believes the climate is changing and “man has had an influence.” When pressed, he remained steadfast that the level of human contribution is unknown and that energy industry jobs need to be considered in balance with climate actions.
Energy Gets Its “Oops” Moment
Rick Perry is confirmed to head the Department of Energy. The former Texas governor famously proposed scrapping the department he is now charged with leading. Perry, who reportedly took the job believing his main responsibility would be as an “ambassador for the American oil and gas industry,” will actually be in charge of nuclear safety and energy development research.
Skinny Budget?! Try Starvation Budget
Trump issues his so-called “skinny” budget proposal for fiscal year 2018. While the President doesn’t actually control the purse strings, the budget proposal provides an annual glimpse at the administration’s priorities—and it’s an ugly picture. His wish list for federal spending proposes drastic and sweeping reductions across multiple departments and agencies, including draconian funding cuts to science, climate, and conservation programs. Although, Congress a budget to fund the government for the remainder of FY 2017 that spares these popular and vital programs, President Trump’s desire to slash federal agencies to their core remains on the table for 2018.
That Just Happened
Trump signs a permit for TransCanada to build the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Putting Public Lands Back in Dirtied Hands
Trump endorses a measure revoking the Bureau of Land Management’s “Planning 2.0” rule, an inclusive, science-based, landscape-level approach to planning for and managing our nation’s largest system of public lands. The repeal was supported by and favors the fossil fuels industry and other special interests that benefited the old planning process first created in the 1970s.
Courting Climate Chaos
President Trump signs an EO that cripples America’s ability to do take the urgent action needed to address the global threat of climate change. The EO immediately rescinds the Climate Action Plan, the Obama administration’s overarching blueprint for both reducing emissions and improving resilience to impacts like extreme weather events. The EO also takes aim at numerous of policies and regulations that individual agencies had adopted: it directs the EPA to rescind or rewrite the Clean Power Plan, orders the Council on Environmental Quality to withdraw its guidance for addressing the impacts of climate change under the National Environmental Policy Act, and revokes existing presidential direction supporting mitigation and climate change adaptation.
In addition, Trump’s order directed the Department of the Interior to end its moratorium on the federal coal leasing program, threatening wildlife and their habitat with new coal mining on public and other land ownerships out West, and as far east as Pennsylvania.
Wolves and Bears in the Crosshairs
President Trump signs a CRA resolution (H.J. Res. 69) rescinding a vital rule that helped protect bears, wolves and other native carnivores from extreme hunting practices on 76 million acres of national wildlife refuges in Alaska. Throwing out the rule is also a disturbing attempt to give away federal control of our public lands and resources to misguided state interests.
Good Thing Climate Never Impacts Agriculture!
Sonny Perdue is confirmed as the Secretary of Agriculture. The former Georgia governor has not only questioned climate change science, but has specifically railed against the link between climate change and extreme weather.
Perdue received campaign funding from the timber industry when he ran for governor of Georgia. He also developed deep ties with the chemical industry during his tenure and fought the EPA over clean air standards.
Making Antiquities a Thing of the Past
Trump issues an EO that directs Secretary of the Interior Zinke to “review” at least two dozen national monuments designation under the Antiquities Act since 1996—and potentially dozens more—that might hinder resource development. This order seeks to undermine the Antiquities Act and threatens the protected status of more than a billion acres of national monuments in the interest of allowing oil and gas industries and other special interests broader access to public lands and waters.
Mixing Oil and Water
In one of the last actions of his first 100 days, President Trump withdraws protections for areas in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans previously off-limits to oil and gas drilling and paves the way for potential oil and gas drilling in these vital wildlife habitats. The order specifically instructs the Department of the Interior to revise the current five-year schedule for oil and gas leasing in federal waters in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and directs the Secretary of Commerce to “review” all marine national monuments and national marine sanctuaries designated or expanded within the last decade.
This order illegally revokes President Obama’s actions withdrawing sensitive areas in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans from oil and gas leasing. President Obama withdrew those areas using the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and there is no provision authorizing a subsequent president to reverse such a ban under the Act.
Preparing for the Next Hundred Days and Beyond
President Trump’s first 100 days have demonstrated a zealous commitment to expand fossil fuel and other development across the country, without any apparent concern for the environment, our public lands and the wildlife that depend upon them. His administration appears driven to appease special interests and prioritize profits over our natural heritage. In doing so, they have shown a dangerous willingness to silence government scientists, remove important data from agency websites, and exclude important public values in decision-making.
The standard President Trump has set in his first hundred days is nothing short of alarming as his multiplying orders, directives and actions seek to not only sidestep Congress, but to expand the authority of the office of the president and eliminate public input from federal regulatory processes. We urge President Trump to change his course and embrace his responsibility to protect our air and water, conserve public lands, and restore healthy ecosystems for wildlife.
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