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Citizens Lobby in D.C. for Clean Air

National Parks Conservation Association

A small group of concerned citizens from across the nation will meet with top officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Congressional offices Nov. 14 to tell them that the health and well-being of their families, communities, national parks, wilderness areas and businesses depends on EPA’s enforcement of clean air laws. The group does not include a single paid lobbyist, but is instead made up of parents, small business owners, outdoorsmen, an educator, a local elected official and a college student from seven states and the Navajo Nation who volunteered the time away from their family and jobs to speak out against air pollution.

“National parks and public lands are among the most important national assets the U.S. has and they are precious to me and my family,” said attendee David Simon, president of Eco Think LLC in Albuquerque, N.M. “EPA needs to require clean-up of the San Juan Generating Station and other emission sources in the west to ensure the health of my family and protection of America’s crown jewels.”

The group is offering its support to the EPA to uphold the Clean Air Act and asking members of Congress for their support in preventing industries tied to air pollution, such as coal-fired powered plants, from undermining set laws and allowing poisonous and sight-impairing soot to continue being pumped into the air. The members of the group were driven to be a part of these meetings to stand up for the right of all Americans to breathe clean air and for our most prized and iconic natural treasures to be protected from murky and unhealthy air.

“My family and I have spent time in some of the most beautiful places on earth, from the Grand Canyon to Arches to Mesa Verde national parks,” said attendee Ashley Basta, a senior at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “These places are too precious to be destroyed by preventable pollution like that from coal-fired power plants and other extractive industries. I was recently fortunate enough to take part in EcoFlight’s Flight Across America Student Program, which gave me a whole new appreciation for parks in the Southwest and an increased awareness of how fragile they are. The EPA’s rules are there for a reason. If they are not upheld, these treasured places are in danger of irreparable damage.”

Without the protections of the Clean Air Act, air pollution from antiquated coal-fired power plants and other industrial emitters will continue to contribute to health problems like asthma and heart disease and leave a muddy haze over our most treasured national parks and forests, driving away tourists and straining local businesses. For far too long, clean air to breathe and clear views at places across the nation like Shenandoah National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Voyageurs National Park, Grand Teton National Park and many other national parks and forests have come in second to corporations who, despite a 30-year-old law requiring they operate more cleanly, have vehemently resisted installing proven technologies that would greatly reduce the pollutants that are belched into our air each day by their outdated facilities.

“My family consumes a large amount of wild game. It is a staple to our diet,” said attendee Darrell Spencer, a small business owner, hunter and father from Duluth, Minnesota. “We already are advised to limit our consumption of fish because of mercury from air pollution. It worries me to think what else may affect my family’s consumption of wild game in the future. It worries me even more that someday my kids may see haze pollution in the Class 1 areas of northern Minnesota. America’s hunters, anglers and the 79 billion dollar industry that supports them, are glad to see the long overdue EPA action to fulfill its obligation under the Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze Program.”

The EPA must be allowed to do its job, which is to protect the health and welfare of the people and our iconic national parks and forests, from special interests. Our children and grandchildren deserve better than to inherit a degraded, dirtier version of the nation we received.

To speak out to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson about the need for her agency to uphold the rules of the Clean Air Act, click here.

Below is a list of the individuals taking part in the meetings with EPA officials and members of Congress.

Ashley Basta - Boulder, Colorado - a senior at the University of Colorado at Boulder, majoring in the interdisciplinary study of the humanities with an emphasis on community studies and creative writing.

Bob Sanderson - Tempe, Arizona - a mechanical engineer by training, who owns and manages a small business in Phoenix dealing in industrial control hardware.

Darrell Spencer - Duluth, Minnesota - a small business owner from Duluth, Minnesota. He spends 100 or more days a year fishing, hunting, skiing and hiking in Chippewa & Superior National Forest as well as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Darrell and his wife Pam have two boys ages 8 and 14.

Dan Smitherman - Bondurant, Wyoming - a retired Marine officer, a former outfitter in the Wyoming Range, and a current hunting and wilderness guide/outfitter in the Bridger Wilderness of the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Donna House - Teelch’int’í, Navajo Nation - a botanical consultant currently assisting Indigenous/Native American community-based organizations in protecting eco-cultural diversity from adverse development. She is a member of the Navajo Nation and inhabits a farm along the Rio Grande in Ohkay Owingeh territory and a home in Teelch’int’í on the Navajo Nation.

Carol Jean Larsen - Bismarck, North Dakota - grew up in western North Dakota just a few miles from Theodore Roosevelt National Park. She is retired from a career that included teaching high school English, managing a travel agency, free-lance writing and managing a North Dakota state political party.

Dave Norris - Charlottesville, Virginia - has served as Mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia, since January 2008. During his time in office, Dave has chaired Charlottesville's Environmental Sustainability Committee and has championed a wide range of clean energy, smart growth, alternative transportation and green space protection measures. Mere miles from Shenandoah National Park, Charlottesville is consistently rated as one of the best places in the country to live, work and enjoy the outdoors.

David Simon - Albuquerque, New Mexico - president of Eco Think LLC, which focuses on protection of the great outdoors and cultural heritage, sustainable economic development, environmental education, nature-based wellness programs, and renewable energy. He has held leadership positions in public service as director of New Mexico State Parks and assistant commissioner at the New Mexico State Land Office.

For more information, click here.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

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Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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