Director’s Report

Appointing Foxes To Run The Hen House

–The Unprecedented Threat Posed By New Appointees Who Control Federal Environmental Agencies

Director’s Report – February 2017

By John Buckley, CSERC’s Executive Director

            Our non-profit environmental Center does not endorse political candidates, parties, or legislation. Even when our local Congressman over recent years has repeatedly attacked environmental regulations and has tried to make conservation groups the scapegoat for the drought, bark beetle attacks on forests, and wildfires, CSERC avoided any promotion of an opponent. Instead, because our non-profit organization is non-political, we simply pointed out the false statements made repeatedly by our Congressman and presented facts to counter his wildly inaccurate misinformation.

            For any organization that works to protect clean air, clean water, wildlife, wild places, and other vulnerable resources, it is extremely difficult to remain non-political in the current exceptionally political divisiveness of national politics. It would be easy to leap into the fray and begin stridently attacking prominent figures for spouting false claims day after day, misinforming the public, and boasting about inappropriate behavior.

            Instead, as a defender of the environment, CSERC focuses on the issues and threats that can cause harm to the Northern Yosemite region’s ecosystem and to the precious places, wildlife, and water that are so vitally important to millions of people.

            With that mission, without diving into politics, it is imperative that our Center point out the extreme threat to our nation’s environment (and the federal lands of our region) that comes from recent presidential appointments to incredibly powerful positions within federal agencies.

            Never in recent history has any political party chosen to appoint so many outspoken opponents of a federal agency to now actually run that agency. The phrase “hiring a fox to guard the hen house” is apt. Below are examples showing how new agency leaders openly align with interests that pose significant threats to the missions of their federal agencies.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Scott Pruit – Pruit was the attorney general for Oklahoma, where he took pride in being a long-time arch-enemy of the EPA. He has extremely close ties with oil, gas, and coal industries. He has repeatedly denied that climate change is real – yet Pruit now heads the agency responsible for combatting climate change and monitoring the oil, gas, and coal industries for pollution. His power as the head of the EPA could result in decisions to halt critical EPA work or to pull back from actually requiring businesses from complying with environmental regulations.

State Department (Secretary of State)

Rex Tillerson – Has been the CEO of Exxon – Mobil. Like Pruit, he is a climate change denier and a strong opponent of environmental regulations.

Attorney General (enforces national environmental laws)

Sen. Jeff Sessions – He is yet another climate change denier and has many close ties to the fossil fuel industry. Sessions has a lifetime national environmental scorecard rating of 7%, meaning that 93% of the time he voted against the environment. On top of his abysmal record, Sessions is a strong, outspoken opponent of government regulations

Secretary of Energy

Rick Perry, former Governor of Texas Perry sits on the Board of a company that owns the Dakota Access Pipeline. He campaigned for president with a commitment to get rid of the Department of Energy – and yet now he has been appointed to run it. Similar to all the previous appointees, Perry has extremely close ties to oil and gas industry. And similar to Pruit and Sessions, Perry also has a record of being a long time opponent of environmental protection measures.

Secretary of Commerce

Wilbur Ross – Ross is a billionaire who owns a major coal company with a mine that had 12 miners killed at it in 2002. As Secretary of Commerce, Ross will oversee the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s $189 million climate research budget, which could be gutted or eliminated.

Secretary of the Interior (oversees America’s national park system)

Ryan Zinke, - As a congressman, Zinke is one of the most anti-environmental lawmakers, with a 3% lifetime ranking from League of Conservation Voters. He is closely tied to the coal, gas, and oil industry. He has voted for legislation to allow roads, dams, and logging in designated wilderness areas, yet now as the Secretary of the Interior, he will be the ultimate decision-maker for supposedly protecting and enhancing America’s national park system.

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PRESIDENT’S RECENT EXECUTIVE ORDERS ALSO THREATEN THE ENVIRONMENT

            From approval of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil and gas pipelines to requiring gag orders on agency scientists so they are forbidden to explain their science to the public, President Trump’s executive orders so far have already undermined many of President Obama’s actions and caused federal agencies to shift dramatically.  

            One executive order mandates that for any new regulation approved, two existing regulations must be eliminated. That obviously would stonewall approvals of most new environmental policies. Trump has promised new executive orders to downsize the EPA and reduce its regulatory protections, especially related to climate change.   As with the travel ban, some orders are certain to end up in court.

WHAT DO THE POLITICS MEAN FOR THE NORTHERN YOSEMITE REGION?

            With so much of the Sierra Nevada made up of federal lands, the new President and the new Congress have the power to greatly alter management of those lands and to shape the policies and projects that affect water, wildlife, and wild places.

            Unlike many parts of the West, however, in the Northern Yosemite region there are no major oil and gas threats that would come from suddenly opening up roadless areas, pristine forests, vulnerable desert habitats, or other federal lands to oil and gas drilling.   There is less of a threat here in this region to anti-environmental forces prevailing in the debate over whether to protect or to shoot the wolf or grizzly bears. And there is less of a threat to politicians throwing up current wild areas, since the economic value of public lands across the Sierra Nevada is primarily as watersheds and as iconic tourist destinations for millions of people who recreate in the mountains.

            The greatest risk for this region from the new politics in Washington, DC may be when Congressional purse strings are used to gut federal programs opposed by the timber industry, the mining industry, the livestock industry, and other solidly pro-use interests. In addition, with new top leaders at the federal agencies, Forest Service officials or Yosemite Park officials will know without a doubt that their careers may be at risk if they make decisions on important plans and projects that rile up county supervisors or industry promoters who have ties to Congress or the White House.

            Up to this time, the political pressure on federal agency officials already strongly favored industry interests and historic policies. Now, more than perhaps at any time in the last 50 years, the odds will be stacked that much more against the environment. Now, more than ever, a dedicated citizenry of activists is needed to speak up for wildlife, water, and wild places. CSERC intends to join with our members, fellow advocacy groups, and concerned citizens to respectfully, but passionately, press for what’s right for nature and for what is essential to sustain our planet in a healthy condition for future generations.

John Buckley, executive director
CSERC