environmental news
September 11, 2019

The House passed two bills on Wednesday that would ban drilling off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and Florida's Gulf Coast.

The Florida measure, which was approved by a vote of 248-180, extends a moratorium on drilling that will expire in 2022. The bills now head to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will likely block any votes on them.

Earlier this year, a judge ruled against President Trump's executive order that would have opened the Arctic up to more oil and gas development; soon after, the Trump administration said it was reevaluating its plan to expand offshore drilling. In coastal states, lawmakers on both side of the aisle oppose expanded drilling, with Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), a co-sponsor of the Florida bill, saying that drilling off the coast of his state "would create an industrial coastline less appealing to visitors, hinder our military readiness, and adversely affects our environment."

One adamant opponent of both bills is GOP Rep. Rob Bishop, who represents landlocked Utah. He called the measures "liberal legislation aimed at derailing our domestic energy production and strong economy," and said a Republican bill that would involve more drilling offshore and on federal land "will grow our economy, create more jobs, and give a logical standard of what we should do." Catherine Garcia

August 15, 2019

In a surprising reversal, the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Thursday it is walking back a recent decision to reauthorize use of M-44s, also known as "cyanide bombs," to kill coyotes, foxes, and other wild animals.

M-44s are spring-loaded traps filled with sodium cyanide, which Wildlife Services officials use when they kill animals for ranchers and farmers. Last year, the federal agency killed more than 1.5 million animals, with about 6,500 dying because of M-44s. These traps have also killed pets and injured people who stumbled upon them.

Last week, the EPA said on an interim basis, Wildlife Services would be able to use the traps again, but after public outcry, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced Thursday the "withdrawal of EPA's interim registration decision on sodium cyanide," adding that the issue "warrants further analysis and additional discussions by EPA with the registrants of this predacide."

The news relieved environmental groups. Predator Defense Executive Director Brooks Fahy said in a statement that it's obvious "somebody at EPA is paying attention to the public's concerns about cyanide bombs. ... Our phone has been ringing off the hook from concerned citizens regarding their greenlight to continue using these horrific devices. We'll have to see how this plays out." Catherine Garcia

January 2, 2019

With deforestation on the rise, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order just hours after his inauguration on Tuesday that lets the agriculture ministry, which is swayed by the agribusiness lobby, regulate and create new indigenous reserves.

The indigenous agency Funai handles demarcation of indigenous lands; as part of the executive order, Funai is being moved from the justice ministry to a new ministry for women, family, and human rights, led by an ultraconservative evangelical pastor. In a tweet on Wednesday, Bolsonaro defended himself by saying "more than 15 percent of national territory is demarcated as indigenous land and quilombos. Less than a million people live in these places, isolated from true Brazil, exploited and manipulated by NGOs. Together, we will integrate these citizens." Quilombos are settlements in rural areas for descendants of former slaves.

The right-wing Bolsonaro campaigned on reducing environmental restrictions and making it easier to mine and farm commercially on indigenous reserves. Dinaman Tuxá, executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous People of Brazil, told The Guardian this move will lead to "an increase in deforestation and violence against indigenous people. Indigenous people are defenders and protectors of the environment." Marina Silva, the former environment minister, tweeted that Bolsonaro "has begun his government in the worst possible way." Catherine Garcia

October 24, 2018

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has issued a conditional permit for the first oil and gas production facility in federal Arctic waters.

"Responsibly developing our resources, in Alaska especially, will allow us to use our energy diplomatically to aid our allies and check our adversaries," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in the announcement Wednesday. The Liberty Project is a proposal for production wells on a gravel island in the Beaufort Sea, The Associated Press reports. Hilcorp Energy will build an island 15 miles east of Prudhoe Bay, close to six miles offshore, developing federal leases sold in the 1990s. It will have room for 16 wells, with Hilcorp estimating it will extract 60,000 to 70,000 barrels per day, moving the oil to shore through an undersea pipe.

Federal officials said conditions will be in place to make drilling safe, which is cold comfort to the environmental groups that oppose the project. In 2017, Hilcorp Alaska LLC was fined $200,000 for violations at another site, and Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity, warned of the devastation that could happen if just one thing goes wrong. "An oil spill in the Arctic would be impossible to clean up and the region is already stressed by climate change," she told AP. Catherine Garcia

July 4, 2017

A federal appeals court ruled Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency can't suspend rules imposed by the Obama administration to restrict methane emissions from new oil and gas wells.

The decision marked a setback for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's effort to unravel Obama-era regulations. The Trump administration has suffered similar legal reversals as it tries to break with policies and regulations it inherited from President Trump's predecessor, former President Barack Obama. Courts blocked Trump's temporary travel ban on several Muslim-majority nations for months before the Supreme Court said it would review the case and let part of the ban take effect. A California judge blocked Trump's threat to penalize sanctuary cities that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation by withholding cooperation from federal officials. Other decisions, such as a rule lifting grizzly bears from federal protection, also could face court scrutiny. Harold Maass

January 31, 2017

A new piece of legislation introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) would direct the secretary of the interior to sell off 3.3 million acres of federal land across 10 states.

Chaffetz claims the land, maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, serves "no purpose for taxpayers," and selling it would provide "much-needed opportunities for economic development in struggling rural communities." Conservationists and sportsmen disagree. "Last I checked, hunters and fishermen were taxpayers," Jason Amaro, a representative for the southwest chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, told The Guardian. Amaro lives in New Mexico, a state that brings in $650 million annually due to hunting and fishing and could lose 800,000 acres of BLM land. He also noted that turning even just a tiny parcel of federal land private can cut off access to thousands of acres of public land.

BLM land is leased for oil, gas, and timber, open to nature enthusiasts, and home to wolves, grizzly bears, and big game species. The acreage identified in the bill was marked in a 1997 survey by the Clinton administration, and many of the thousands of parcels have cultural significance or host endangered species, The Guardian reports. Experts say the bill, which was introduced at the same time as another piece of legislation that would take law enforcement capabilities away from the BLM and U.S. Forest Service, could also be in violation of the Public Trust Doctrine, which requires the federal government to keep and manage national resources for all Americans. "It's not only an assault on our traditions," John Gale, conservation director for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in Montana, told The Guardian. "It's the idea that they're stealing that from our children." Catherine Garcia

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