Quantcast
Photo credit: Center for Biological Diversity

In response to recent scientific consensus on giraffes' vulnerability to extinction, five wildlife protection groups today petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Earth's tallest land animal under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The legal petition, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International, The Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Natural Resources Defense Council, seeks "endangered" status for the species. Facing mounting threats from habitat loss, hunting for meat and the international trade in bone carvings and trophies, Africa's giraffe population has plunged almost 40 percent in the past 30 years and now stands at just more than 97,000 individuals.

"Giraffes have been dying off silently for decades, and now we have to act quickly before they disappear forever," said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "There are now fewer giraffes than elephants in Africa. It's time for the United States to step up and protect these extraordinary creatures."

New research recently prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to elevate the threat level of giraffes from "least concern" to "vulnerable" on its "Red List of Threatened Species." Yet giraffes have no protection under U.S. law. Species designated as "endangered" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act receive strict protections, including a ban on most imports and sales. The U.S. plays a major role in the giraffe trade, importing more than 21,400 bone carvings, 3,000 skin pieces and 3,700 hunting trophies over the past decade. Limiting U.S. import and trade will give giraffes important protections.

"Previously, the public was largely unaware that trophy hunters were targeting these majestic animals for trophies and selfies. In the past few years, several gruesome images of trophy hunters next to slain giraffe bodies have caused outrage, bringing this senseless killing to light," said Masha Kalinina, international trade policy specialist with the wildlife department of Humane Society International.

"Currently, no U.S. or international law protects giraffes against overexploitation for trade. It is clearly time to change this. As the largest importer of trophies in the world, the role of the United States in the decline of this species is undeniable, and we must do our part to protect these animals."

Known for their six-foot-long necks, distinctive patterning and long eyelashes, giraffes have captured the human imagination for centuries. New research recently revealed that they live in complex societies, much like elephants, and have unique physiological traits, including the highest blood pressure of any land mammal.

"I was lucky enough to study giraffes in the wild in Kenya many years ago. Back then, they seemed plentiful, and we all just assumed that it would stay that way," said Jeff Flocken, North American regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

"Giraffes are facing a crisis. We cannot let these amazing, regal and unique creatures go extinct—it would be a dramatic loss of diversity and beauty for our planet. This listing petition is rallying the world to help save the giraffe."

The IUCN currently recognizes one species of giraffes and nine subspecies: West African, Kordofan, Nubian, reticulated, Masai, Thornicroft's, Rothchild's, Angolan and South African. Today's petition seeks an endangered listing for the whole species.

"I can't—and won't—imagine Africa's landscape without giraffes," said Elly Pepper, deputy director of NRDC's wildlife trade initiative.

"Losing one of the continent's iconic species would be an absolute travesty. Giving giraffes Endangered Species Act protections would be a giant step in the fight to save them from extinction."

The Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to review and respond to the petition and determine whether a listing may be warranted.

Like any arbitrary benchmark, the 100-day point of a new president's term normally tells us only so much about what's to come. In the case of President Trump's all-out assault on our environment and health, however, we've already seen more than enough.

In his first three months on the job, Trump has acted again and again to undo half a century of bipartisan progress in protecting our rights to clean water, air and lands. He's moved to part ways with longstanding American values of conservation in the public interest. And he's betrayed the covenant we've forged with our children to leave them a livable world.

That's not a plan to put America first. It's about putting industrial polluter profits first―and putting the rest of us at risk.

Presidents don't get to roll back generations of hard-won gains with the stroke of a pen. Working with his fellow Republicans in Congress, Trump has already killed rules to protect coal communities from mountaintop demolition that destroys forests and streams. And he may expose more public lands to the ravages of coal mining.

Much of what he's ordered, though, can be halted, slowed or turned back around―in the court of public opinion or in a court of law. To do that, we'll have to stand together and give real voice to truth against a president intent on using the full powers of his high office to try to eliminate the tools we need to protect our families and communities from ongoing harm.

From his first week in office, Trump and congressional Republicans have attacked the commonsense safeguards we all depend on to protect the water we drink, the air we breathe, the lands that grow our food and the wild places we share. He's put the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the thumb of Scott Pruitt, an avowed foe of the agency's mission, while proposing to gut the EPA budget and staff.

He's taken on the very notion of responsible public oversight with an unlawful and baseless order to scrap two existing regulations for every new one put in place―as though we can cope with emerging threats only if we pretend the old ones no longer exist.

And he's sounded an ignominious retreat from the essential progress we're making in the fight against global climate change.

Any one of these tacks would be cause for national alarm and public rebuke. Taken as a whole, the Trump broadside attack on the nation's environment and health demands the united and concerted opposition of every American, from red state and blue, who cares about our common future.

Whatever our political leanings, we all should be shocked at this radical campaign to roll back environmental safeguards, abandon important national goals and hobble our environmental steward, the EPA. Trump's reckless attempts to do just that run wildly at odds with the will of the people, as a raft of recent polling proves.

A solid 61 percent of the country disapproves of Trump's big polluter agenda, an April poll by Quinnipiac University found. Just 19 percent want the EPA weakened or eliminated, according to a January Reuters poll, with 61 percent saying the agency should be strengthened, expanded or kept at its current strength. Trump, though, has proposed slashing the agency's budget by 31 percent, taking it back to 1990 funding levels and cutting staff by 20 percent.

In one policy area after another, in fact, the disparity between Trump's actions and public opinion is striking:

Protecting Our Waterways

  • Drinking Water: Nationally, fears over water pollution hit a 16-year high in March, with 63 percent of Americans telling the Gallup polling organization they worry "a great deal" about drinking water pollution. Who could blame them? Trump has directed Pruitt to dismantle the Clean Water Rule, put in place to protect wetlands and streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans.
  • Great Lakes: Trump's cuts would end federal funding to reduce industrial and municipal waste, toxic contaminants and other pollution in the Great Lakes, the largest surface freshwater ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. Who's with Trump on that one? Not the people who understand it the most. In Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and nearby states, 86 percent of the public supports the federal effort to clean up the Great Lakes.
  • Chesapeake Bay: Trump has proposed killing, also, a multi-state plan to clean up the nation's largest natural estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, which is being strangled by the toxic runoff from a 64,000-square-mile watershed that reaches nearly to Canada. That flies directly against the interests of those who live at the mouth of the bay: 94 percent of Virginians support the federal bay cleanup program, according to an April poll by Christopher Newport University.

Energy Development

  • Dirty Energy: Fully 59 percent of survey respondents say environmental protection should come ahead of fossil fuel development, with just 23 percent preferring dirty energy to clean water and air. The 26-point gap between the two, by the way, is the largest margin since Gallup began asking the question 15 years ago.

Fuel Economy

Trump has directed the EPA to weaken or eliminate standards to clean up the cars and dirty power plants that together account for 60 percent of the U.S. carbon pollution that's driving global climate change. That's a stone-cold loser in the public mind. Drivers like saving billions of dollars a year at the pump, and an April poll by Quinnipiac found that 76 percent of the public is "somewhat concerned" or "very concerned" about climate change, with 62 percent saying Trump should not backtrack on standards and rules put in place to fight it.

Climate

  • Climate Action: Far from supporting Trump's retreat from the climate fight, 59 percent of poll respondents say the country needs to be doing even more to fight the carbon pollution that's causing seas to rise, turning croplands to deserts, and contributing to raging wildfires, flooding, droughts and storms.
  • Jobs: Fully 68 percent of Americans understand that we can fight climate change and support economic growth, like the gains that have put three million Americans to work helping us to become more efficient, building all-electric and hybrid cars and getting more clean power from the wind and sun.
  • Research: The Quinnipiac poll found that 72 percent of Americans say it's a "bad idea" for Trump to slash funding for the scientific research we need to better understand climate change and other threats to our environment.

A hundred days into Trump's presidency, we've already seen more than enough. It's time to gather as one and speak out against his senseless campaign to turn back the clock on 50 years of environmental gains and stanch the promise of more progress to come.

On Saturday, April 29, I'll travel, along with thousands of others, to Washington, DC, to march with the People's Climate Movement. I hope you'll join us, in the nation's capital or in any of dozens of sister marches across the country, to show Trump just how far out of step his policies are with the will of the people he serves.

Let's put Donald Trump on notice. Let's show him what we believe. We won't back down from this challenge. We won't back down from this fight. We'll defend our health and environment. We'll hold fast to the values we share. We'll stand up for our children's future and their right to a livable world.

Sponsored
Chicago from the air over Lake Michigan. Photo credit: OZinOH via Flickr

By Henry Henderson

President Trump clearly doesn't like Chicago. He takes a swipe at the city every chance he gets. But the latest salvo in his war on Chicago is likely to impact a lot more than just the Second City.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed had an item summarizing a rumor we have been hearing a lot of lately: that beyond the massive cuts already in store for critical protections of clean air, water and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there may be a plan afoot to close the agency's Region 5 office in Chicago and merge it with operations in Kansas City.

The administration denies that there is a plan in place … sort of … calling press reports unsubstantiated rumor, but admitting that they may merge some offices.

But even in this world of #FakeNews, sometimes rumors aren't just coming out of nowhere. In this case, leaked EPA budget documents include some salient passages (bold formatting is mine) that imply this move is already indeed under consideration:

"Funding levels incorporate rent cost avoidance from several regional and headquarters offices Potomac Yards North, Region 1, Region 5, and Region 9), the decommissioning of part of the Las Vegas laboratory, and the release of the headquarters warehouse in Washington, DC.

Workforce:

The budget includes significant reductions in FTE. The hiring freeze will remain in place while the agency develops a comprehensive workforce reshaping plan. The agency will chart a workforce path that seeks to align capacity with Administration priorities, takes advantage of opportunities for more efficient practices and organizational structures, minimizes separation costs, and enables adjustment to final appropriation levels without major disruptions to the agency's work. Further guidance from OMB and OPM is expected to guide development for workforce reshaping plans.

Physical Footprint:

OARM and OCFO will work with impacted program and regional offices as work proceeds on the strategic review with OMB and GSA to analyze the needs of the agency regarding its physical footprint, including that of office, warehouse, and laboratory space. The agency is seeking opportunities to further reduce our facility footprint and/or implement planned and pending moves/consolidation in an expedited and most cost effective manner."

The Region 5 office in Chicago is the largest in the EPA. And much of its staff has specialized experience. A lot of that is already threatened by the ludicrous and dangerous budget cuts that have already been outlined, including the zeroing out of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as well as drinking water, superfund and environmental justice programs.

The programs lost are bad enough. But in many cases, the staff are irreplaceable—taking with them deep understanding of highly technical and complicated environmental issues. When that specialized staff is gone, that knowledge is gone, too. The KC EPA staff is great, but focused on very different issues in predominantly agricultural states. With their own staff cuts to contend with, how focused will they be on the water and industrial contamination issues that Region 5 has been dealing with out of the Chicago office? The special interests holding sway over the White House are clearly banking on the answer of "not very."

How will the fate of the Great Lakes—95 percent of the available fresh water in our nation—be properly protected from distant Kansas City? The elimination of programs associated with the largest freshwater ecosystem in the western hemisphere is dangerous and short-sighted. Dumping the folks who understand it and have been tasked with protecting that ecosystem, as well as the communities reliant upon it. Well, that doesn't just hurt Chicago. It's a blow that will likely be felt in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana for decades to come. (New York and Pennsylvania, too!)

Henry Henderson oversees Natural Resources Defense Council's advocacy efforts as they relate to air, water, energy and sustainability in eight midwestern states.


Sheryll Durrant. Photo credit: Keka Marzagao / Sustainable Flatbush

By Melissa Denchak

Most people don't move to New York City and become farmers. Sheryll Durrant certainly wasn't planning to when she left Jamaica for Manhattan in 1989. She got her undergraduate degree in business from the City University of New York's Baruch College and spent the next 20 years in marketing. Then, when the 2008 financial crisis hit, Durrant decided to leave her job and try something new: volunteering at a community garden in her Brooklyn neighborhood.

It wasn't exactly uncharted terrain for this farmer's daughter. Growing up in Kingston, Durrant regularly helped her parents harvest homegrown fruits and vegetables. "But it didn't dawn on me that that was what I wanted to do," she said. Volunteering in the Brooklyn garden reminded her of her roots. "I would plant flowers or melons and that sense of putting your hand in the soil and becoming a part of that green space flooded back to me," she explained.

Kelly Street Garden.Craig Warga

Fast-forward to today. Durrant is a leader in New York's flourishing urban farming movement, which includes more than 600 community gardens under the city's GreenThumb program, plus hundreds more run by other groups across the five boroughs. A food justice advocate with a certificate from Farm School NYC, she's also a "master composter" and a community garden educator and she does outreach work for Farming Concrete, a data collection project that measures, among other things, how much urban farms and gardens produce.

Durrant's early work at the Sustainable Flatbush garden taught her the crucial first step in initiating any community project: Know your neighborhood's needs.

"We started by asking people in the community, 'What do you want to see?,'" she said. This market-research approach turned out to serve her goals—and her neighbors—well. When community members, many of whom were immigrants, expressed a desire to grow the plants and herbs of their native countries, Durrant and her fellow green thumbs collaborated with a local apothecary to establish a medicinal and culinary herb garden and to organize free workshops on how to use the herbs. These garden sessions—which covered women's and children's health, eldercare, and mental health issues like depression—at times drew more than 100 attendees.

After Brooklyn, Durrant relocated to the South Bronx, a neighborhood that's notoriously polluted, underserved and disproportionately malnourished, with more than one in five residents considered food insecure. The borough's gardens, said Durrant, help fill a void, serving as "one way we can bring fresh fruit and vegetables to a community that doesn't normally have access."

At the Kelly Street Garden, a 2,500-square-foot space on the grounds of an affordable housing complex, she serves as garden manager. And at the International Rescue Committee's New Roots Community Farm, a half-acre garden whose members include resettled refugees from countries like Myanmar and the Central African Republic, she works as a seasonal farm coordinator.

Keka Marzagao / Sustainable Flatbush

Last year, the Kelly Street Garden produced 1,200 pounds of food, available to anyone in the community who volunteered at the garden (and even those who didn't), free of cost. It was one of the few purveyors of healthy food in the neighborhood, where local stores often carry produce that's neither affordable nor fresh, due to lack of turnover. "If I have a limited amount of income, why would I waste my money or benefits on food that is going to perish in no time—that's already rotted when I get there?" Durrant said. For this reason, she explained, people often resort to purchasing processed foods that come in cans and bags. The longer shelf life stretches a tight budget. It also demonstrates why hunger often goes hand in hand with obesity—a problem particularly prevalent in the Bronx.

"I'm not going to say that community gardens and urban farms can feed New York City. Please, it's a city with over eight million people," Durrant said. "But they can provide some relief." What's more, she added, "They give you access to grow the food you want. That's where the food justice part comes in."

Margaret Brown, a Natural Resources Defense Council staff attorney who works on food justice issues, echoes Durrant's words. "One garden isn't going to fix hunger in your neighborhood, but community gardens are a way for people to take ownership over the food system in a very tangible way."

Of course, community gardens give rise to much more than fruits and vegetables. Durrant explained that the Kelly Street Garden serves as a space for cooking workshops and on-site art projects and hosts its own farmers' market. Meanwhile, the New Roots Community Farm has helped some of its neighborhood's newest arrivals find one another. "It's a means of engagement that a lot of our refugees are familiar with," she said. "It's welcoming, safe and a place where people can learn at their own pace and get involved in the country where they now live." Participants practice English ("Food is an incredible tool to teach English—a great entry point," said Durrant); plant hot peppers, mustard greens, melons and other edibles from their native homes; and exchange recipes.

Keka Marzagao / Sustainable Flatbush

Urban gardens also play a role in nutrition education. "Anecdotally, we've seen that when kids go to a community garden and get exposed to fresh fruits and veggies, they're much more likely to eat them when they're offered on the school lunch line, salad bar, or at home," Brown said.

Perhaps most important, the community garden movement and its focus on food inequities help advocates raise awareness of broader, interconnected environmental justice issues—like low wages and lack of affordable housing—that get to the heart of why people struggle to access healthy food to begin with. "Community gardens form a good space for people to come together around those issues," Brown said, "and hopefully find great organizing allies."

Durrant is clearly one of them. As part of her community outreach work, she arranges events to bring new audiences (whether corporate employees on volunteer workdays, or visitors on a Bronx Food & Farm Tour) directly through the garden gates. These visitors get a glimpse of the power of a small green lot in a sea of concrete—and if they're lucky, they leave with a taste of it, too.

Melissa Denchak is a freelance writer and editor, and has contributed to Fine Cooking, Adventure Travel, and Departures. She has a culinary diploma from New York City's Institute of Culinary Education and loves writing stories about food.

Sponsored

Perhaps the Senate, in its hearing on Scott Pruitt's nomination to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), should have questioned Pruitt as the chief pediatrician for America's children. As head of the EPA Pruitt gets to decide what is safe for our kids—in the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat and the communities they play. Senators didn't ask—but they are finding out.

In his first big test of what kind of pediatrician he will be, Pruitt decided to reverse an earlier EPA decision to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a potent nerve gas banned from household use years ago, but still used in farms, orchards, pastures and golf courses.

Chlorpyrifos belongs to the same family as the nerve gas sarin—suspected of being behind the appalling chemical weapon attack which occurred this week in Syria, provoking appropriate outrage from the administration. But EPA has just decided to allow the continued dousing of America's rural landscapes with a close cousin—a different chemical weapon.

Chlorpyrifos is one of the most frequently cited causes of farm-worker pesticide poisoning—but is particularly toxic to young children and the fetus. The pesticide has come across my email screens periodically for over a decade, as organizations like the Nature Resources Defense Council slogged forward, petitioning the EPA to implement a simple requirement of federal pesticide law: that any pesticide must be shown to be safe before use. In 2015 the agency said is intended to ban it—but didn't finalize the decision. Eventually, courts ordered EPA to make a final decision on the ban—and Pruitt decided to ignore the science.

He did not do so because he asserted that chlorpyrifos was safe; he simply said that there were uncertainties, and that in that situation farmers were entitled to continue to use the chemical, exposing farm workers, their children, surrounding communities and consumers of food sprayed with the chemical, to a pesticide whose safety is at best highly dubious—in quantities up to 14,000 times the safe level.

"We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment," Pruitt said—not the message you would expect to hear from a pediatrician if you asked him if you should give your kids foods laced with a potent neurotoxin that has been shown to damage their mental development.

This reversal of the clear requirement of federal pesticide law—that safety come first—along with Pruitt's revealing ordering of his priorities—regulatory certainty to pesticide users first, with human health qualified by "still"—reinforces something we are learning about the Trump administration.

Candidate Trump made a wide array of promises, many of them expressed within the 140 characters of a tweet. Huge numbers contradicted each other. How the administration would resolve those conflicts was one of the great unknowns. Trump, for example, proclaimed that "I want clean air and clean water" during his campaign. But he also pledged to dismantle the EPA.

It has been a fairly consistent pattern in the first 10 weeks of the administration that a campaign promise to help the powerful was likely to be honored, while one to help the vulnerable would be an earlier casualty of priority setting. Children of farm workers don't rank as high as Dow Chemical, the main manufacturer and defender of chlorpyrifos. QED—we know how this administration will come down.

That, of course, is precisely what you don't choose your children's pediatrician for—his loyalty to chemical and drug companies before his concern for your family. There's been a fair amount of media coverage of the decision, which may be a sign that the country is waking up to the fact that Trump's campaign tweet language has consequences, even when the courts and Congress block many of his initiatives.

Sen. Tom Carper, of Delaware, has jumped on the chlorpyrifos question, sending Pruitt a sharp query, and pointing out that Pruitt's own decision did not even purport to find the legally necessary "reasonable certainty of no harm" required to allow pesticide residues on food. Carper asked Pruitt to provide him "all documents (including but not limited to emails, legal and other memorandum, drafts of legal or regulatory decisions or orders, white papers, scientific references, letters, telephone logs, meeting minutes and calendars, slides and presentations)" relating to the decision.

Normally, a demand for such documentation is seeking the "smoking gun"—and Pruitt fiercely resisted requests for such documents from his attorney-general's office in Oklahoma until after his confirmation had occurred, seeking to conceal his hand-in-glove cooperation with big oil and coal interests in that office. But while I am very sure Pruitt will resist Carper's request, there is a sad possibility here—that no smoking gun was required, so blandishment's, no elaborate courtship by pesticide interests. Pruitt may simply never have considered any other decision than letting a dangerous chemical be massively applied to America's food supply.

After all, wasn't America at its greatest when the air, food and water were most toxic?

Fake News Alert: Callous as Pruitt's decision to continuing allowing the use of a nerve gas as a tool in American agriculture, there is no evidence, however informed your informant claims to be, that President Trump ordered Pruitt to permit use of chlorpyrifos to please his golf course management.

Photo credit: Peter Muller

By Lena Brook

What can America's most iconic fast-food chicken chain do to fight the growing epidemic of drug-resistant infections? Set a strong antibiotics policy for its chicken supply!

More than 70 percent of medically important antibiotics in the U.S. are sold for use on livestock and poultry. And more than 96 percent of those drugs are routinely distributed en masse in feed or water, often to animals that are not sick, to speed up growth and help animals survive crowded and unsanitary conditions on industrial farms. When livestock producers use antibiotics again and again, some bacteria become resistant, multiply and spread to threaten humans. It's a practice that is fueling the increasing failure of the drugs we rely on to treat a wide range of infections.

Unfortunately, federal policy regulating antibiotics use in agriculture has not stopped this misuse. But U.S. food companies are responding to growing consumer concern and committing to ending the use of medically important antibiotics in their chicken supplies.

Today KFC becomes the newest addition to this leader's circle, announcing that after 2018, the company will only sell chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine. This is great news for fried chicken lovers and, most importantly, for public health. The Natural Resources Defense Council has been calling on the company to set a meaningful antibiotics policy for its chicken supply since May 2016, when we launched our "Get KFC Chicken Off Drugs" campaign. Allies like U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, Consumers Union and Food Animals Concern Trust have also been pressing the company to clean up its supply chain.

Given that KFC is the nation's largest chicken-on-the-bone quick-service restaurant in the U.S., we know its commitment to responsible antibiotics use will have an impact throughout the chicken industry.

Today we give KFC kudos for taking a strong stand that will help to protect the public against the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant infections. We are also glad to know that consumers will be able to verify that the company is keeping its word, since the antibiotics practices of KFC suppliers will be regularly audited under the U.S. Department of Agriculture Process Verified Program. We look forward to updates from KFC on its implementation progress in the year to come.

KFC's announcement means that 11 out of the top 15 fast-food and -casual restaurant chains in the U.S. have now committed to some level of responsible antibiotics use for their chicken supply. KFC's promise is especially important because the company only purchases a portion of the chickens from any given flock, due to standards for the birds they buy. This means its change in policy will affect a larger number of chickens than what the company purchases itself, since farmers have to raise all the birds in the same barn the same way.

KFC's new policy is good news for all of us—chicken lovers or not—because drug-resistant infections (or "superbugs") are becoming increasingly widespread. Conservatively, at least two million Americans get antibiotic-resistant infections every year and at least 23,000 die as a direct result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A recent Reuters investigation suggests that these numbers significantly underestimate the scope of resistant infections in the U.S. Fortunately, the tremendous momentum we've seen in the chicken industry demonstrates that more responsible antibiotic practices are achievable and affordable. Looking at data from a 2017 WattPoultryUSA survey, the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that more than 42 percent of the U.S. chicken industry is either under an antibiotics stewardship pledge or has already converted to responsible practices. KFC's new policy will likely move this number even higher.

We are heartened by KFC's decision to join the fight against drug-resistant superbugs. The transition to responsible antibiotics use in the chicken industry has happened in the span of just four years, proving that where there is a will, there is a way. I hope this will inspire other sectors of the livestock industry, like pork and beef producers, to follow suit.

Lena Brook is a food policy advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council.


Sponsored

By Han Chen

President Trump and President Xi Jinping's first meeting this week is intended to establish a personal relationship and search for common ground on issues including security and trade. However, climate change and energy policy will likely receive scant attention as America and China are embarking on wildly divergent paths.

China is actively planning for a sustainable low-carbon economy, while the U.S. wrestles with a White House that rejects climate action, celebrates fossil fuels and faces increasing resistance from businesses, governors, mayors and citizens who support low-carbon development.

Here are the three most striking contrasts between America and China on climate leadership:

1. "Cancelling" the Paris Climate Agreement vs. Championing International Climate Action

  • President Xi encourages all nations to participate in this "hard won" climate victory and the Chinese Foreign Minister reiterated China's commitment to the Paris climate agreement saying that they will act no matter what the U.S. does.

2. Attempting to Gut Climate Protections vs. Supporting Clean Energy Jobs

  • President Trump's recent executive orders attempt to roll back critical environmental protections like the Clean Power Plan and vehicle emissions standards.
  • China will add 800 to 1000 gigawatts of electricity capacity by 2030—equivalent to the capacity of the entire U.S. electric grid. China is already the world leader in new installations of wind and solar power.

3. Favoring Fossil Fuel Lobbyists vs. Curbing Emissions From the Coal Sector

  • President Trump falsely claims that his energy policy can revive jobs in the coal sector, despite decades of coal decline due to its devastating health and environmental costs and the market advantages of natural gas and renewable energy.
  • China recently established the first ever mandatory target for coal's share of total energy consumption—seeking to decrease it from 64 percent in 2015 to 58 percent by 2020. And China's energy and cement-related CO2 emissions in 2016 were basically flat, continuing a leveling-off of China's CO2 emissions since 2014.

President Trump may not be ready to walk down the path of tackling the climate change challenge, but he is putting Americans' security and prosperity at risk by doing so. It is becoming increasingly clear that Trump is willing to weaken environmental protections for Americans and let China eclipse us in the global clean energy race—all to satisfy special interests from his cronies in the fossil fuel industry.

Han Chen helps implement the Natural Resources Defense Council's strategy to address climate change at the international level and in key countries around the world including the U.S., India, China, Canada and myriad Latin American nations.

Photo credit: iStock

By Amanda Maxwell and Anthony Swift

President Trump has made renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) one of the main goals for his administration and has recently revealed the general plan to do so.

As this process moves forward, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club and our partners across a broad range of sectors are calling on the administration to include eight critical issues among their priorities in changing NAFTA, outlined below. We want to ensure that any new provisions in NAFTA result in a transparent agreement that supports—and does not undermine—a more stable climate, clean air and water, healthy communities, indigenous peoples and good jobs.

In the 23 years since NAFTA's signing, the economies of Mexico, Canada and the U.S. have become intertwined and interdependent, with $1.1 trillion in trade moving among the three countries in 2016. During those decades, too, new issues such as climate change, clean energy and sustainability, have moved to the forefront of international relations. So, while it remains unclear exactly how and to what extent the Trump administration will change this accord, there are several critical provisions that should be included to improve the lives of people living and working in all three countries and the environments they depend on.

NRDC is pleased to ally with 350.org, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, Global Exchange, Green America, Greenpeace USA, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, League of Conservation Voters, Food & Water Watch, Sierra Club and U.S. Human Rights Network in calling on the Trump administration to include the following eight issues among their priorities in changing NAFTA:

1. Eliminate rules that empower corporations to attack environmental and public health protections in unaccountable tribunals. NAFTA's investor-state dispute settlement system allows multinational corporations—e.g. ExxonMobil and TransCanada—to bypass our courts, go to private tribunals and demand money from taxpayers for policies that affect corporate bottom lines. Corporations have used NAFTA to challenge bans on toxic chemicals, decisions of environmental review panels and protections for our climate. They have extracted more than $370 million from governments in these cases and pending NAFTA claims total more than $50 billion. What's more, the cases are heard not by judges, but by corporate lawyers outside the normal court system.

2. Incorporate strong, enforceable environmental and labor standards into the core text of the agreement. To address environmental and labor issues, NAFTA created side agreements which are non-binding and have limitations. As a result, they have been relatively ineffective. To ensure that the new terms of a revised trilateral trade agreement create and uphold a fair playing field for environmental and labor conditions, these two areas must be included inside the core text of the agreement. That means that a country that fails to live up to its environmental obligations will be subject to trade sanctions similar to the existing provisions for violation of commercial parts of the agreement. This will also require that countries live up to existing international agreements and address environmental challenges such as critical conservation challenges related to illegal timber trade, illegal wildlife trade and fisheries management.

3. Protect energy sector reform from backward-looking rules. NAFTA's energy chapter limits Canada's ability to restrict production of climate-polluting fossil fuels such as tar sands oil. The chapter, written before awareness of climate change was widespread, must be eliminated. Other NAFTA rules allow renewable portfolio standards, low-carbon fuel standards and other climate-friendly energy regulations to be challenged for impeding business for foreign fossil fuel firms. Such rules must be narrowed to protect climate policies in each country.

4. Restrict pollution from cross-border freight vehicles. NAFTA encouraged a rise in cross-border motor carrier traffic without doing anything to mitigate the resulting increase in harmful vehicle emissions. Any deal that replaces NAFTA must require cross-border freight vehicles to reduce emissions in order for their goods to benefit from reduced tariffs. In addition, all cross-border commercial vehicles must be required to comply with all state and federal standards to limit pollution.

5. Require green government purchasing instead of restricting it. NAFTA's procurement rules limit governments' ability to use "green purchasing" requirements that ensure government contracts support renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable goods. Any changes to NAFTA must require signatory governments to include a preference for goods and services with low environmental impacts in procurement decisions.

6. Bolster climate protections by penalizing imported goods made with high climate emissions. NAFTA allows firms to shift production to a country with lower climate standards, which can spur "carbon leakage" and job offshoring. To prevent this and encourage greater climate action from high-emissions trading partners, each country should be required to impose a border fee on imported goods whose production causes significant climate pollution.

7. Require governments to prioritize policies that minimize climate pollution. While NAFTA restricts climate policies that limit trade or investment, any replacement deal must instead put climate first. This includes requiring governments to use a "climate impact test" for policymaking, in which potential climate impacts of policy proposals are reported and weighed.

8. Add a broad protection for environmental and other public interest policies. NAFTA's many overreaching rules restrict the policy tools that governments can use to protect the environment and other broadly-shared priorities. NAFTA includes no provision that effectively shields public interest policies from such rules—only a weak "exception" in Article 2101 that has consistently failed to protect challenged policies. Instead, any deal that replaces NAFTA must include a broad "carve-out" that exempts public interest policies from all of the deal's rules.

If President Trump moves forward with altering NAFTA, any renegotiations must be conducted transparently through open processes, providing the public in all three countries with the opportunity to participate. We and our partners in the environmental, labor, health, consumer, agricultural and other communities will be eager to see whether President Trumps supports a renegotiated NAFTA that supports—and does not undermine—a more stable climate, clean air and water, healthy communities, indigenous peoples and good jobs.

Amanda Maxwell is the director of the Latin America Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Anthony Swift is the director of the Canada Project and the International Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox