On Thursday, July 11th 2019–This past Monday, in the East Room of the White House, President Trump delivered remarks touting America’s environmental leadership under his administration. This new environmental announcement by the White House is, more than anything, an attempt by the President to embrace Americans’ growing concern for the environment. A March 2019 Gallup poll found that 47% of Americans feel a great deal of worry for the quality of the environment and 27% feel a fair amount of worry. The same poll also found that 59% of Americans feel that the President is doing a poor job at protecting the Nation’s environment and natural resources. So, it makes sense that the President is attempting to appear more environmentally-focused as his reelection efforts ramp up. However, his administration’s environmental record shows continuous efforts that are threatening America’s lands and waters.
As fly fishers, clean water is the blood that gives our passion life. Without it, our fisheries and ecosystems suffer–sometimes irrevocably. In his remarks, President Trump highlighted his administration’s record of having the cleanest water on the planet. While America is one of the top countries in the world for accessible, clean drinking water, this is a shared metric of many, many past administrations. The Trump administration’s attacks on our nation’s freshwaters are numerous and damning (quite literally). For example, the Trump administration has recently withdrawn support for the Klamath Dam removal project. Additionally, the administration is in the process of substantially weakening the Clean Water Act, which provides numerous protections for our country’s waterways. The administration is attempting to change the definition of ‘waters of the United States’. The proposed rule change would strip protections for millions of stream miles and wetlands across the country. For more, be sure to check out Trout Unlimited’s campaign on this issue from this spring.
In addition, back in February 2017, President Trump repealed the Stream Protection Rule, which was “designed to protect water sources and water quality in Appalachia from the destructive effects of mountaintop removal mining,” according to a House Natural Resources Committee report.
The attacks on America’s water resources by the Trump administration continue. Remember the Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay’s headwaters that was all but dead in the water during the Obama administration? Well, as many Flylords’ readers already know, the Mine’s permitting process was restarted, despite significant opposition from stakeholders in Alaska and throughout the United States. The majority of the scrutiny occurred after the Army Corps of Engineers released a rushed and inadequate Draft Environmental Impact Statement. For more on what the Pebble Mine project entails, check out these past Flylords articles: “Pebble Mine’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement Released….Grim Outlook For Bristol Bay” and “2017 Politics Going Pro-Pebble Mine“.
Similar to Bristol Bay, the 1.1 million acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota faces threats from looming mining operations. The proposed sulfide-ore copper mines would be located just outside of the Boundary Water region and could cause sulfuric acid, heavy metals, and sulfates to leach into surrounding waterways, leaving perpetual pollution and damage to this pristine region. Past administrations had worked to protect this national treasure; but “beginning in the early weeks of Mr. Trump’s presidency, the administration worked at a high level to remove roadblocks to the proposed mine, government emails and calendars show,” according to the New York Times. More on the Boundary Waters and its threats from can be found here.
In President Trump’s July remarks, he announced: “This year, I signed the largest public lands package in a decade, designating 1.3 million acres — that’s a lot of land — of new wilderness and expanding recreational access”. This is true and equally commendable. But, let us not forget that the Natural Resources Management Act (NRMA) had massive bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, leaving President Trump with few options other than signing the bill into law. To see all the great things this bipartisan bill will do, read more here.
However, President Trump and his administration’s agenda has less to do with preserving public lands and more to do with opening them up for natural resource extraction. Just months after President Trump signed the NRMA into law, a study by the journal Science found that under the Trump Administration, America has undergone the largest reduction of public lands in U.S. history. These once public lands are now being considered for oil and gas exploration and extraction. The most notable historic reduction of public lands was Bears Ear National Monument, which was originally 1,351,849 acres of public land in Utah. In December 2017, President Trump reduced the National Monument by 85%, leaving it at just over 200,000 acres. To make matters worse, Washington Post reporting discovered that the “rollback also followed a uranium firm’s concerted lobbying, an effort led by Andrew Wheeler, who now heads the Environmental Protection Agency”.
In reality, the environmental record that President Trump touted on Monday does not represent his administration’s consistent effort to weaken environmental protections and facilitate natural resources extraction. This administration’s environmental record exemplifies a concerning retreat in American environmental policy. Now, more than ever the preservation of natural, wild places must be safeguarded. As climate change continues to intensify and affect human life, these natural places act as important buffers. Public lands and waters are essential to not only those of us who are fly fishers and outdoor recreationists, but also Americans as a whole.
This article was written by Flylords’ Conservation Editor, Will Poston.