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Trump Asks Court to Give Another Gift to Fossil Fuel Industry

By Pam Eaton

The Trump administration is desperate to give another gift to the fossil fuel industry—and using every trick in the book to do it.

Last week, the administration asked a court to stop a rule designed to ensure taxpayers get a fair return from oil, gas and coal sold from mines and wells on public lands by asking for a "stay." The "Valuation Rule" was designed to prevent coal companies from pocketing millions of dollars that rightly should go to the American taxpayers. The Wilderness Society had filed court papers to intervene in the court case to defend the rule when the administration asked the court to put the rule on hold.

The new court filing came on the heels of an earlier action last month to shortchange the public to benefit the fossil fuel industry. At the end of February, the Office of Natural Resource Revenue, the agency that is charged with making sure the public gets what it owed for oil, gas and coal on public lands, unilaterally and unlawfully told companies they didn't have to comply with the rule.

"This is an attack on one of our bedrock minerals and environmental laws, the Mineral Leasing Act, which requires the government to get fair market value when federal fossil fuels like coal are developed," said Nada Culver, senior counsel and director of The Wilderness Society's Bureau of Land Management Action Center. "In abandoning the rule, the Trump administration [was] trying to cloak itself in legal terms like 'stay,'—but the action is still not legal," Culver said.

Having given the fossil fuel companies a break from having to pay, the Trump administration intends to make it permanent by rescinding the rule altogether.

The Valuation Rule is also under attack in both the House and the Senate where bills have been introduced to strike down the rule using the Congressional Review Act. Only used once before this year due to its extreme nature, the Congressional Review Act circumvents normal federal procedures and empowers Congress to pursue its own agenda and undo commonsense agency rules.

The administration is using similar tactics to undo other important safeguards on our public lands. On March 15, the Trump administration asked another court to stop legal proceeding challenging the Hydraulic Fracking Rule so it can get started on rescinding that rule too.

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Outdoor Industry Leaders: 'Enough Is Enough!' Protect Our Public Lands

The most anticipated outdoor recreation event of the year just finished in Salt Lake City, Utah, where hundreds of outdoor brands from small business outfitters to industry pioneers like Patagonia and Black Diamond Equipment gathered to witness the cutting-edge in outdoor gear.

Meanwhile, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah's congressional delegation led by Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz and Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee are launching a vicious campaign to dispose of the very public lands that the convention celebrates.

The anti-conservation agenda of these politicians includes: a reversal of the newly appointed Bears Ears National Monument in Utah; stripping the Antiquities Act, an invaluable conservation tool that enables the president to designate national monuments; and selling off our public lands for oil and gas, mining and other development.

Their relentless assault on wildlands is a sharp sting of betrayal that has been felt across the outdoor recreation industry.

This week, outdoor industry leaders have said "enough is enough."

In an open letter to President-elect Trump and Congress, more than 100 outdoor industry leaders led by REI have called upon elected officials to protect public lands and the integrity of the outdoor recreation industry, which powers $646 billion in gross national product.

The letter, signed by Patagonia among other big-hitters like Osprey, Clif Bar & Company and Chaco states:

It is an American right to roam in our public lands. The people of the United States, today and tomorrow, share equally in the ownership of these majestic places. This powerful idea transcends party lines and sets our country apart from the rest of the world. That is why we strongly oppose any proposal, current or future, that devalues or compromises the integrity of our national public lands.

Yet as the 115th Congress begins, efforts are underway that threaten to undermine over one hundred years of public investment, stewardship and enjoyment of our national public lands. Stated simply, these efforts would be bad for the American people. They include the potential of national public lands being privatized or given to states who might sell them to the highest bidder. This would unravel courageous efforts by leaders from across the political spectrum up to the present day, including Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.

This is not a red or blue issue. It is an issue that affects our shared freedoms. Public lands should remain in public hands.

More Outdoor Leaders Speak Out Against the Assault on Our Wild

The outdoor industry letter comes on the heels of a scathing op-ed in the Salt Lake City Tribune from Peter Metcalf, founder and former CEO for Black Diamond Equipment. In that Jan. 10 op-ed, Metcalf demanded that Utah's political leadership stop its assault on public lands. If they don't, Outdoor Retailer, which pours $50 million into the state of Utah, should find a new home to host its biannual convention, he wrote. Metcalf relocated Black Diamond to Utah in 1991 for the state's impressive public lands, but said that Outdoor Retailer should "leave the state in disgust."

"The Utah delegation has wasted no time in the first days of 2017 to enact their destructive agenda and now the outdoor industry, too, must respond boldly and unified while we are here in Salt Lake," Metcalf wrote.

A day later, Patagonia's Yvon Chouinard joined Metcalf by issuing a press release stating:

"Every January and August, Patagonia and hundreds of other companies spend gobs of money to show our latest products at the Outdoor Retailer show. The whole thing is a cash cow for Salt Lake City. You'd think politicians in Utah would bend over backward to make us feel welcome. But instead, Gov. Gary Herbert and his buddies have spent years denigrating our public lands, the backbone of our business and trying to sell them off to the highest bidder. He's created a hostile environment that puts our industry at risk."

No doubt that many neighboring western states would be happy to pick up the recreation business that Utah's politicians are taking for granted.

"New Mexico is open for business," state Sen. Martin Heinrich tweeted.

These industry leaders are making it rightfully clear that if politicians continue to attack our wildlands, there will be consequences.

With powerhouse brands like REI, Patagonia and Black Diamond at the helm, members of the outdoor industry are welcome partners in safeguarding Our Wild and are a strong frontline of defense against the growing assault on public lands.

We praise them for taking a stand and encourage other outdoor retailers to join the movement to defend Our Wild from development.

Facts and Figures:

  • 122,000: Number of jobs generated in the outdoor recreation sector in Utah.
  • 84 percent: Percentage of Utahns say that living near and enjoying outdoor recreation on public lands is a factor in choosing to live in the West.
  • 60 percent: Percentage of Utah voters who view national public lands as belonging more to all Americans than to people in Utah specifically.

Learn more about the Our Wild movement to protect our lands from development.

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McAfee Knob near Roanoke, Virginia, a popular lookout point along the Appalachian Trail, could look out on ugly pipeline infrastructure. Photo credit: Ksteryous / Flickr

This Pipeline Would Cut Through America's Most Celebrated Hiking Trail

By Caroline Mosley

The proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline would carry natural gas 300 miles from northwest West Virginia to southern Virginia, crossing the Appalachian Trail and clearing trees on its way.

Cutting through one of the most celebrated hiking trails in America, the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline threatens wildlife habitat, recreational lands and the health of local Appalachia communities, while setting a terrible precedent of building energy infrastructure through our national forests.

The construction of the pipeline sets a dangerous precedent, requiring the clearing of 125 foot wide corridor of forest lands protected by the Forest Service's Roadless Rule. Under the protection of the Roadless Rule, these unspoiled forest lands are protected from road building, logging, mining and other development.

Starting 90 minutes south of Wheeling, West Virginia, the pipeline would wind south through the state before cutting east across Appalachian Trail and ending 30 minutes north of Danville, Virginia.

Through Dec. 22 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is seeking public input on the proposed plan to build the Mountain Valley Pipeline. We need to speak up and tell FERC Secretary Kimberly Bose to revise the current plan and more directly address the pipeline's lasting impacts on the Appalachian Trail and adjacent wildlands, like Brush Mountain Wilderness Area and Peter Mountain Wilderness Area.

The proposed pipeline path.Mountain Valley Pipeline

We need to speak up for the trail that 3 million Americans enjoy each year. If we don't, some of the most iconic viewpoints, like Angels Rest, along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia will look out upon an ugly swath of destruction that dissects habitat and threatens waterways.

What a pipeline cutting through the Appalachia could look like from Angels Rest, a popular lookout point in Virginia. Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Your voice is important—FERC will evaluate public input when deciding on a final plan by next spring. We must speak up for the Appalachian Trail and other roadless regions before it's too late!

A Terrible Example for Our Wildlands

Undermining the Forest Service Roadless Area Conservation Rule sets a dangerous pattern for the nearly 58.5 million acres of wildlands protected from road construction, mining and timber harvesting. This crucial conservation policy protects treasured backcountry land, but powerful logging and energy industries constantly seek to weaken the rule.

The American black bear is a common sight in the Appalachian Mountains. Tim Lumley / Flickr

If the Roadless Rule can be circumvented for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, it opens up the door for energy companies to build in other roadless areas containing cherished forests and critical wildlife habitat. Right now there are at least four other pipelines currently being considered in the mid-Atlantic region. We need to speak up now or pipelines could soon be criss-crossing the mountains of Appalachia.

We Can't Destroy Our Natural Heritage for a Needless Pipeline

A 3.4 mile section of the proposed pipeline would slice through Jefferson National Forest, part of one of the largest areas of public lands in the eastern U.S. Popular for hiking, mountain biking and hunting, it is not uncommon to see black bears, deer and songbirds among the 230,000 acres of precious old growth forests that preserve a piece of the Appalachia unmarred by human impacts.

Millions of hikers enjoy the Appalachian Trail every year, like this hiker along Dismal Falls in Virginia. John Hayes / Flickr

Building a pipeline through the trail would devastate a precious piece of American history. Cutting through the trail, the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, would be a slap in the face to the millions of people visiting the trails that wind through our East Coast's forests, mountains and valleys.

Do We Even Need Another Pipeline?

A September 2016 report explains existing energy infrastructure—including pipelines—is sufficient for meeting the regional needs of the area.

"Additional interstate natural gas pipelines, like the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley projects, are not needed to keep the lights on, homes and businesses heated, and existing and new industrial facilities in production," wrote the researchers.

Local communities and wildlands will suffer from needless destructive development from a pipeline and become even more dependent on fossil fuels. There is simply no need for a pipeline if it is unnecessary for energy needs and will irreversibly harm a precious part of America's natural history.

We need FERC to evaluate the region's need for pipelines and more carefully consider the irreversible impacts of infrastructure on wild landscapes. For 90 years, the Appalachian Trail has been an integral part of our hiking trail history. We cannot let this pipeline take that away and set a dangerous example for the rest of our protected wildlands.

Add your voice: No natural gas pipeline through the Appalachian Trail!

Obama Administration Finalizes Rule to Reduce Methane Pollution, But What Will Trump Do?

By Caroline Mosley

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a final rule on Tuesday to cut natural gas waste and methane pollution from oil and gas operations on public lands.

A new federal rule seeks to curb significant waste and benefit our nation by reducing the output of one of the largest contributors to global warming—methane gas.

Oil and gas wells on public lands spew methane pollution into our atmosphere. WildEarth Guardians / Flickr

The new rule aims to reduce natural gas waste and its associated methane pollution from all oil and gas operations on lands the BLM leases to oil and gas companies for drilling.

If implemented correctly, over several years the BLM rule is expected to reduce the waste of natural gas from federal oil and gas operations by more than 40 percent.

Will the Rule Last Under Trump?

This is a major victory in the fight against climate change, but like other Obama administration orders and priorities, we expect it may come under attack in the Trump administration.

It will be difficult, but not impossible, for the next administration and Congress to undo the progress made on methane pollution. This rule has broad support across the political spectrum because of its immense economic benefits, not to mention preventing natural gas waste is a bipartisan concern. It is up to us and all Americans to ensure that all future presidents and congresses understand stopping natural gas waste and methane pollution is a promise that needs to be kept.

The Wilderness Society has advocated for this new rule through its years in making, and we will fight for it under the new Trump administration. It will improve outdated, decades-old BLM regulations for oil and gas production on public lands by requiring oil and gas producers to adopt current technology and practices that will reduce waste. Other benefits are limiting climate emissions and air pollution that is harmful to human health.

Natural gas wells in the Roan Plateau (Colorado) are sources of methane pollution that need to be better regulated.Ecoflight / Flickr

Rule Will Help Slow Global Warming

Almost 21 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, can be traced to oil, gas and coal extracted from federal lands. In fact, the oil and gas industry is estimated to be the highest largest source of methane emissions in the U.S.

The BLM rule would help move us toward agreements to cut U.S. methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent by 2025, building on 2015 U.S. commitments in Paris to reduce emissions and slow global warming, which were finalized in early November.

Importantly, this rule applies to all oil and gas wells on public lands—those already in operation, as well as new wells. This is crucial, since it is estimated that nearly 90 percent of methane emissions in 2018 will come from sources that existed in 2011.

Provisions of the rule:

1. Limit wasteful venting and flaring of natural gas. Venting natural gas directly into the atmosphere is one of the worst ways to add to climate emissions, yet the practice is widely accepted by oil and gas companies for disposing of uneconomical gas. That's because many companies see it as a short-term advantage to vent gas straight from a well, instead of capturing it for sale later. More than 90 percent of natural gas is made up of methane and methane is a greenhouse gas 84 times more harmful to our climate than carbon dioxide. The rule seeks to limit this polluting practice—except for in emergencies—and reduce the amount of natural gas burned off through flaring, aiming to halve the amount of methane vented and flared from federal oil and gas infrastructure compared to 2013 rates.

2. Stop preventable leaks. Through the rule, operators of oil and gas wells on BLM lands must inspect wells and infrastructure for leaks and repair faulty equipment as the rule is implemented over the course of a few years. This is a reasonable provision, given that affordable technology like infrared cameras makes it easier for operators to more quickly and easily identify leaks, also helping to stop what could be a growing problem for methane emissions.

3. Minimize natural gas waste. The industry must submit a feasible plan to capture excess or unwanted natural gas before a permit to drill is issued. Between 2009 and 2014, it's estimated that enough natural gas was wasted through venting, flaring and leaks to supply 5.1 million homes—about the size of Denver—for a year.

4. Improve royalty rates to give taxpayers a fair share. The rule clarifies how royalty rates will be applied to ensure taxpayers get a fair share on energy development on land they own. In the past, the rate was set at 12.5 percent of the total revenue generated from the sale of federal oil and gas, where it has remained for many years. The rule reinforces BLM's authority to raise the rate as the market and prices changes.

This rule comes at a time when we need to be more accountable for pollution on our public lands—pollution that we recently reported threatens tens of thousands of people in five western states with high drilling activity.

Pollution from natural gas infrastructure threatens those living nearby in Douglas, Wyoming.Kris Mogen / WORC

Let's Continue Fighting Climate Change

Fighting climate change often feels like an uphill battle, but this rule provides steps to curb methane emissions that are a big contributor to global warming. As we move to a new administration, we will continue will work to ensure that these regulations to curb harmful climate emissions are fully implemented. It will be incumbent on the new Department of the Interior to continue to move forward and with important reforms of energy development, like oil and gas, on our shared public lands, and The Wilderness Society will be leading the charge to ensure that progress continues.

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