Eyes on Washington week ending 01.29.17


Endangered Species Act ~ may become an endangered species

With the GOP in control of Congress and the White House, Republicans are making plans to roll back the influence of the Endangered Species Act, one of the government’s most powerful conservation tools, after decades of complaints that it hinders drilling, logging and other activities.

Over the past eight years, GOP lawmakers sponsored dozens of measures aimed at curtailing the landmark law or putting species such as gray wolves out of its reach. Almost all were blocked by Democrats and the White House or lawsuits from environmentalists.

Now, with the ascension of President-elect Donald Trump, Republicans see an opportunity to advance broad changes to a law they contend was exploited by wildlife advocates to block economic development.

“It has never been used for the rehabilitation of species. It’s been used for control of the land,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop. “We’ve missed the entire purpose of the Endangered Species Act—It has been hijacked.”

Bishop said he “would love to invalidate” the law and would need other lawmakers’ cooperation.

Reforms proposed by Republicans include placing limits on lawsuits that have been used to maintain protections for some species and force decisions.

Wildlife advocates are bracing for changes that could make it harder to add species to the protected list and to usher them through to recovery. Dozens are due for decisions this year, including the Pacific walrus and the North American wolverine, two victims of potential habitat loss due to climate change.

If the administration or Congress wants to gut the law, “they certainly can do it,” said Vermont Law School professor Patrick Parenteau. “The real question with the Endangered Species Act is where does it rank?”

Advocates and senior Obama administration officials argue the law’s success is best measured by extinctions avoided — for 99 percent of protected species, including black-footed ferrets, whooping cranes, American crocodiles and hundreds of others.

“There’s a lot of evidence that some species are conservation-reliant,”said J.B. Ruhl a law professor at Vanderbilt University. Political fights over certain species have dragged out for decades, he added, because recovering them from “the brink of extinction is a lot harder than we thought.”

The EPA gets trumped

The Trump administration instituted a media blackout for the Environmental Protection Agency, banning press releases and social media posts on official agency accounts.

The prohibitions came to light as the agency moved to delay implementation of at least 30 environmental rules finalized in the closing months of President Obama’s term, a potential first step to seeking to kill the regulations.

“They’re trying to freeze things to make sure nothing happens they don’t want to have happen, so any regulations going forward, contracts, grants, hires, they want to make sure to look at them first. This may be a little wider than some previous administrations, but it’s very similar to what others have done.”

Similar orders barring external communications have been issued in recent days by the Trump administration at other federal agencies, including the departments of Transportation and Agriculture.

On Tuesday, the communications staff was told to remove the agency’s webpage on climate change, according to two unnamed EPA staff members. The move adds to concerns that a Trump administration will promote a denial of fundamental science within its agencies.

On Wednesday, an unnamed source at the EPA, told Reuters that the EPA’s Office of General Counsel was now “walking through pages on the site” to see what was legally removable, and what legally needed to remain.

The page includes links to scientific research, emissions data from individual industrial facilities, and the multi-agency Climate Change Indicators report, which describes trends related to the causes and effects of climate change.

Unofficially resisting: A new “unofficial” twitter account appeared last Wednesday: @ActualEPAFacts. The account states: “he can take our official Twitter but he’ll never take our freedom. Unofficially resisting.” The account claims to be run by “three EPA employees and a writer,” as of last Thursday the account amassed over 110,000 followers.



In response to the new administration’s directives, activists affiliated with Greenpeace climbed a 270-foot construction crane in downtown Washington last Wednesday and unfurled a large orange and black banner with a message positioned for the newest occupant of the White House but meant for those opposed to its agenda: “Resist.”

resist whitehouse

Greenpeace, an international environmental group, said the organization was protesting the Trump administration and the president’s decision to push forward with the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines.

Five protesters spent the day on the arm, or jib, of the crane, while two chained themselves to the tower, blocking potential arrest efforts by police and preventing the crane operator from reaching the controls. They started their ascent about 4 a.m. and by 9 a.m. had unfurled the banner, using safety ropes to descend from the arm.

At about 10 p.m., the seven activists came off the crane—about 18 hours after they started their climb—and were taken into custody. They were charged with second-degree burglary, unlawful entry, and destruction of property.

March for Science


The scientific community is rallying as well by organizing a March for Science in Washington. What started as a discussion on Reddit has quickly blossomed into a movement.

The March for Science is the latest in a string of actions taken by scientists following Donald Trump’s election and his inauguration as president. His administration is widely viewed as hostile to science—from the transition period through hearings for his cabinet nominees through silencing key federal science agencies and freezing grants.

The date of the March for Science will be announced this week.

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