Environmental Issues to Pay Attention to in 2017

The question of how to care for wilderness has permeated US history since the nation’s beginning. In 2017, there will be no shortage of environmental issues to keep your eyes on.

bears earsBears Ears
At the end of 2016 and his presidency, President Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate two new national monuments-Bears Ears in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada.

Utah Representative Rob Bishop (R) is leading the charge to overturn Bears Ears National Monument. According to Rep. Bishop, the creation of this new national monument denies local interests.

Proponents of Bears Ears believe that protection is vital to ensuring that future generations can access the wilderness and rich history of the region.

Overturning President Obama’s Proclamation would be a challenge for opponents. In fact, no sitting president has ever overturned a former president’s designation.

House Joint Resolution 46 Overturning Rules on Drilling in National Parks
Some national parks exist in a “split estate” ownership agreement. While the federal government operates parks on the land’s surface, private rights exist for minerals and other resources below the surface. In November, President Obama strengthened the rights of the national parks to regulate activities such as drilling and mining within park borders.

Arizona congressman Paul Gosar would like to see those changes rescinded, arguing that they represent a last-minute attempt by the federal government to interfere with private enterprise. Supporters of HJ Res. 46 argue that it restores that public-private balance.

For environmentalists and parks supporters, the resolution is an attempt to weaken necessary protections and observe the true spirit of the park system: to keep wild places beautiful for the enjoyment of the people.

Endangered SpeciesRepeal of Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act sets criteria for protecting animals and plants considered to be at risk. The act’s implementation has never been simple: deciding how best to support ecosystems in balance with human interests is a tricky prospect.

Created in 1973, the ESA is credited with protection of more than a thousand species. Ten species protected by the act have gone extinct within its history. Among the 394 national parks in the US, 204 are home to at least one endangered species.

Opponents of the ESA argue that the act is excessively strict and that few species list are ever de-listed, regardless their success.

photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tarsandsaction/

Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines
Two previously halted, contentious pipeline projects are back on the agenda.

In November 2015, President Obama rejected TransCanada Corporation’s Keystone XL project, a portion of oil pipeline intended to stretch 1,200 miles from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to an existing pipeline in Steele City, Nebraska.

In December of 2016, following months of protest, the Army Corps of Engineers halted construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, a proposed four-state route of pipeline from North Dakota to Southern Illinois, to consider alternative routes.

Through executive action, President Trump has promoted the approval of both projects.

Environmentalists fighting Keystone XL have cited concerns about the extraction process—oil pumped from tar sands produces greenhouse gases at a level 17% higher than standard crude extraction—and about the potential for leaks, especially where the project’s route would run through the Ogallala Aquifer, a primary Midwest water source.

Dakota Access Pipeline activists opposed the pipeline’s route, which crosses beneath Lake Oahe, a local tribal water source and sacred site. Fears of leaks and other hazards are among primary concerns.

From the foxes, cranes, and grouse who inhabit the areas surrounding the Keystone route to the nine threatened and endangered species who roam in and near the Dakota Access route, construction of either could impact  wildlife habitats.

Supporters of the projects contend that transporting oil via rail is more hazardous than sending it through pipelines. And more than 2.4 million miles of energy pipeline already exist in the US. For opponents, each new project reasserts US dependency on oil.

Federal vs. Local Control
Most of the environmental controversies that will arise this year will deal with two opposing perspectives.

Supporters of federally administered land will argue that strong protection for nature and wildlife maintain the nation’s beauty and ecological health, while advocates for states’ rights and local control argue federal regulations don’t account for economics and diverse management solutions.