Did you know that climate change is already threatening public lands recreation? Mounting climate change impacts can be felt across the country. Just a few of those impacts include lengthened and more intense wildfire seasons that create poor air quality, decreased snowpack and ski season length, impacts on wildlife and fish populations, and decreased water recreation access. It gets worse: research shows that many of our public lands are being impacted more rapidly than the rest of the country.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to identify and consider the environmental impacts of major projects, from highways to new mining and drilling. Unfortunately, the Trump administration attempted to dramatically weaken how NEPA is enforced by limiting public input and tipping the scales towards new development. An analysis by the Center for Western Priorities (CWP) shows the public is overwhelmingly opposed to the misguided attempt to weaken America’s bedrock environmental law.
A new Center for Western Priorities analysis of millions of public comments submitted in response to 10 major Interior Department rule changes shows the extent to which the public has opposed policies proposed by the Trump administration. Although more than 95 percent of public comments opposed each of the proposed rule changes, Interior ultimately moved forward with 8 of the 10 proposals.
An analysis of lobbying disclosure forms finds that, since David Bernhardt’s nomination to become Deputy Interior Secretary on April 28, 2017, 36 clients have paid Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck a total of $11.96 million to lobby the Interior Department, including 19 clients that hired the firm after Bernhardt’s nomination. Of those 36 clients, at least 24 have seen their projects or policies advanced in some way by the agency.
The Winning the West 2020 poll by the Center for Western Priorities showed an “Outdoor Voting Bloc” in the Rocky Mountain West has cemented itself as an influential factor in election outcomes. The Winning the West poll reveals how issues involving public lands, parks, and wildlife play an outsized role in moving Western voters to the polls and influence how voters choose candidates.
During the Trump administration, changes were announced to weaken enforcement of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a bedrock environmental law that protects animals and plants that are nearing extinction. Changes by the Trump administration included weakening protections for “threatened” species, reducing critical habitat protections, and ignoring impacts of climate change or economic consequences.
In the absence of leadership at the federal level, many states in the West are moving to promote conservation and clean energy, while enacting safeguards on oil and gas development. Indeed, Western state legislatures used their 2019 sessions to pass landmark renewable energy and climate legislation, bills to celebrate our public lands, and measures that increase funding for recreation and wildlife conservation.
After cutting sage-grouse protections, Interior Department moving forward with oil and gas leasing in prime habitat
On his very first day as Deputy Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt was instructed by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to take charge of an effort to weaken landmark plans designed to conserve the sage-grouse. Bernhardt, an oil and gas lobbyist, faithfully carried out that effort by weakening protections for the imperiled bird to allow more oil and gas development across millions of acres in the West. Immediately after shredding conservation plans, the Interior Department moved forward with efforts to sell oil and gas leases in prime sage-grouse habitat.
Under the Trump administration, the Interior Department moved quickly to dramatically expand oil and gas drilling throughout public lands and waters, shrink national monuments, and reduce protections for threatened wildlife. Perhaps nobody represents the Interior Department’s swamp culture better than Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former high-powered oil and gas lobbyist installed as the agency’s second-in-command who then took charge after the resignation of Secretary Ryan Zinke. An analysis by the Center for Western Priorities finds that during Bernhardt’s tenure as Deputy Interior Secretary, the agency completed or moved forward with at least 25 policy actions that were requested or supported by at least 16 of his former clients.
Analysis: Bernhardt-linked oil and gas companies own more than 20 percent of all oil and gas leases in sage-grouse habitat
When the Interior Department moved to undermine the West’s landmark sage-grouse conservation plans, an analysis from the Center for Western Priorities found that oil and gas companies with ties to Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt owned a fifth of all federal oil and gas leases in sage-grouse habitat throughout five key Western states.