Trump Admin Ordered ‘Climate Censorship’ in Plans to Lease Texas Public Lands for Fossil Fuel Extraction
An environmental group has uncovered another case of "climate censorship" ordered by the Trump administration.
Administration officials had references to the climate crisis removed from a Forest Service notice of intent (NOI) to prepare an environmental impact statement on opening national forests and grasslands in Texas to oil and gas leasing.
"The Deputy who is reviewing the NOI requested every reference to 'climate' and 'greenhouse gasses' be removed. We did," Robert Potts, the Forest Service's natural resources and planning team leader in Lufkin, Texas, wrote in a July 25 email obtained by environmental group the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).
CBD obtained the email through a Freedom of Information Act request after it noticed something strange about two different versions of the NOI posted in the Federal Register, E&E News reported Wednesday. The first, posted Aug. 26, mentioned climate change and greenhouse gases. The second, which replaced it the next day, did not.
"This is another example of climate censorship that we've been seeing as a pattern under the Trump administration," CBD senior public lands campaigner Taylor McKinnon told the Houston Chronicle.
The drilling plans concern areas of the Sam Houston National Forest, Davy Crockett National Forest, Angelina National Forest, Sabine National Forest, Caddo National Grasslands and LBJ National Grasslands, which are parts of the Haynesville and Barnett shales. The Obama administration barred new oil and gas leasing on the lands in 2016 over concerns about the health and environmental impacts of fracking. The Trump administration is now looking to open them to new leasing once again and is working to supplement the last oil and gas analysis of the area, which was conducted in the 1990s, according to E&E News.
The first version of the NOI mentioned climate in relation to the 1996 environmental impact statement. It noted that the earlier statement did not analyze "current issues" like climate or greenhouse gases, and that a new statement would need to include them.
The second draft, however, removed climate and greenhouse gases from the current issues that would need to be considered. It also deleted "impacts from greenhouse gas emissions" from the list of "preliminary issues" that the statement would need to consider.
One Forest Service employee was apparently caught off guard by the requests, according to the email obtained by CBD.
In the email, Potts mentioned getting a call from Cynthia West, the director of the Forest Service's Office of Sustainability and Climate Change.
"She seemed surprised (and not surprised) about the request to remove references to climate and greenhouse gasses," Potts wrote. "All of her interactions with the Department have been very supportive of the work in her office (in spite of what the main stream media reports about the 'Administration.')"
In a statement provided to E&E News and the Houston Chronicle, the Forest Service denied that there was any policy implication behind the changes.
"The request was editorial in nature and does not reflect any policy on use of terminology or any policy regarding emissions associated with oil and gas development or climate," the service said.
However, McKinnon expressed concern about what the changes would mean for the quality of the eventual environmental impact statement (EIS).
"The bigger concern here is the issue of meddling and censorship," McKinnon told E&E News. "If it happens at this stage, it could certainly happen later in the EIS process. So we are concerned about the future of this EIS."
The Trump administration has deleted references to climate change from government documents or websites at least 184 times, the Houston Chronicle reported based on the work of the "Silencing Science Tracker" run by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. Both the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which houses it, have maintained references to climate change on their websites, E&E News reported.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.