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Trump Signs Executive Order Targeting National Monuments, Could Open Up Lands for Oil and Gas Development
The review enables the Department of Interior to examine whether any of the monument designations have led to a "loss of jobs, reduced wages and reduced public access."
"The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water," President Donald Trump said during a brief ceremony today flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Sec. of the Interior Ryan Zinke. He added that it was "time to end this abusive practice."
The 1.35-million acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is one of the first targets for review. The monument was created by President Obama last year and has sparked major controversy between Republican lawmakers and conservationists. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah's congressional delegation led by Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz and Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee have launched a campaign to abolish national monument. More than 270 million acres of American land and waters are potentially at risk—an area two and a half times the size of California.
GOP lawmakers have accused President Obama, who designated more monuments than any other president, of abusing the Antiquities Act to protect land from fossil fuel development.
"By potentially rolling back safeguards for lands and waters that are currently protected from destructive development for generations to come, Trump is carving up this beautiful country into as many corporate giveaways for the oil and gas industry as possible," said Diana Best of Greenpeace USA. "People in this country who cannot afford the membership fee at Mar-a-Lago want safe water they can drink and public lands for their communities to enjoy."
National monument designations have protected some of the most iconic places in the country. Dozens of the nation's most treasured national parks were first protected as monuments, including Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Acadia and Olympic national parks, explained the Center for Biological Diversity.
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, emphasized that the NRDC will fight the review, and said the president is not authorized to reverse monument designations.
"These public lands belong to all of us," she said. "The U.S. holds them in trust for the benefit of this and future generations. These monuments have been deemed worthy of permanent conservation because of their unique resources and wildlife, ecological importance, and vulnerability to encroachment and destruction. President Trump and Secretary Zinke should not strip away their protection and subject them to industrial exploitation by polluters or other corporate interests."
The Center for Biological Diversity noted that more than 50 national monuments are at risk, including vast marine areas in the Pacific and Caribbean. Congress gave the president the authority to designate national monuments on federally owned land under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which was signed into law by President Teddy Roosevelt, for the express purpose of protecting important objects of historic and scientific importance.
"This is a frightening step toward dismantling the protection of some of America's most important and iconic places: our national parks and monuments," said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Trump's tapping into the right-wing, anti-public-lands zealotry that will take us down a very dangerous path—a place where Americans no longer have control over public lands and corporations are left to mine, frack, clear-cut and bulldoze them into oblivion. It starts with Bears Ears and Grand Staircase and only gets worse from there."
National monuments are cherished by Americans for their natural beauty and cultural significance.
"There is no need for a review to demonstrate what families across the country already know first-hand—national monuments provide tangible health, natural, and economic benefits," said Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director. "Protected outdoor spaces drive the outdoor recreation economy which supports 7.6 million jobs and generates $887 billion in consumer spending each year. National monuments and public lands are vital both for the history they preserve and the future they offer.
"Contrary to the Trump administration's thinly veiled hopes," he added, "this review will reveal what studies, surveys and polls have consistently found across the country—a deep, widespread appreciation for our parks, monuments and other public lands, and a popular belief that they should continue to exist."
As thousands of people across the country and in Washington, DC are expected to join the People's Climate March on Saturday, indigenous leaders and climate activists will, as 350.org Executive Director May Boeve points out, "now have to defend our parks and monuments from Big Oil as well."
Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, put it this way. "This is another Trump action that is another act of aggression against the inherent sovereign rights of our Native Nations to protect the traditional cultural areas and sacred places of American Indian and Alaska Native people," he said.
"There are many areas in this country, outside of our reserved lands that are of vital importance to our Indigenous peoples' identity and rich cultural and spiritual history. The 1906 Antiquities Act cannot be stripped on its important historical mandates to designate national monuments to protect areas that have cultural, historical and environmental significance. The act is paramount to all the tribes in this country; for our cultural preservation now and into the future. The frontline Indigenous communities in our network see Trump's actions as a way to open up fossil fuel and extractive mineral development within these national monuments designated under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Trump's action must be stopped."
Companies are also outraged at Trump's latest executive order. "Less than 24 hours after joining with our industry to celebrate the economic power of outdoor recreation, in a hypocritical move, the Trump administration took unprecedented steps that could result in the removal of protections for treasured public lands," Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said.
"We take this as a sign that Trump and his team prefer to cater to fossil fuel interests and state land grabs for unsustainable development, rather than preserve a vital part of our nation's heritage for future generations by protecting federal lands owned by every citizen."
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Randi Spivak
Slashing two national monuments in Utah may have received the most attention, but Trump's Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have been quietly, systematically ceding control of America's public lands to fossil fuel, mining, timber and livestock interests since the day he took office.
A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.
By Sue Branford and Thais Borges
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.
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."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
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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