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 ® 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.