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99 percent of plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act still exist today.
Courts put the brakes on the administration’s rollbacks while the House heads home with nothing to brag about.
These days, the Trump administration may be feeling like the singers in the old pop song, “I fought the law, and the law won.”
That’s because Trump’s pro-polluter rollbacks of our health and environmental safeguards are hitting choppy judicial waters.
On August 4, the Natural Resources Defense Council and partners asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s suspension of standards curbing methane and other harmful emissions from the nation’s landfills.
“Scott Pruitt’s suspension of EPA’s landfill pollution standards is a carbon copy of his illegal attempt to block methane standards for the oil and gas industry,” reasons David Doniger, director of NRDC’s Climate and Clean Air program. “The court threw out Pruitt’s illegal stay of the methane rules last month, and we’re asking it to do the same here.”
Indeed, on July 3, the appeals court overturned Pruitt’s effort to stay separate methane oil and gas standards, and on July 31 the full court ordered them into effect by a 9-2 vote.
Pruitt backs down
Pruitt lost another fight with the law this week. Under pressure from lawsuits brought by NRDC, its partners, and 16 states, Pruitt on August 2 abruptly reversed field on ozone standards, dropping a one-year delay he’d announced in June. That means the standards cutting emissions of smog-causing air pollutants will stay on track for their implementation date of October 1.
“It is no wonder Scott Pruitt beat a hasty retreat from holding up these important health standards,” said John Walke, NRDC’s clean air director. “He's been blatantly violating the law by obstructing legally required reductions in smog pollution.”
In a handful of environmental cases now, the Trump administration has been forced—in the face of lawsuits brought by NRDC and partners—to follow the law. They involve ozone, mercury and methane pollution, the rusty patched bumble bee, and energy efficiency standards.
More legal challenges ahead
Up ahead: a number of other lawsuits are pending on clean air, safe water, and climate action. Will Trump triumph, or will the law win? “For all of these things, now we may be able to hold the government to account,” Doniger says.
Stop Trump and Pruitt’s escalated anti-environment assault
NRDC files suit to reinstate transportation climate safeguards
Also this past week, NRDC and partners sued the Federal Highway Administration to defend a key clean air standard. The lawsuit takes the department to task for illegally suspending, in May, Obama-era standards intended to reduce climate-changing pollution in the nation’s transportation sector.
Transportation is now the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, having surpassed those from power plants. The standards ask state highway and metropolitan transportation planners to track and try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their transportation plans and systems. This could give rise to cleaner air and smarter transportation options such as more bikeways and better public transit.
“The Trump administration broke the law by hitting the brakes on sensible transportation clean-air standards. We need them to protect our health today and to reduce climate chaos tomorrow,” says Deron Lovaas, an NRDC senior policy adviser.
What’s next? Perry proving Earth flat?
On July 27, the U.S. Department of Energy issued, from its official Twitter account, this curious tweet: “In the fight between @SecretaryPerry and climate scientists — He’s winning.” It linked to an editorial attacking the American Meteorological Society for its June letter blasting Perry for asserting in a television interview that “carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to climate change.”
Well, hundreds, if not thousands, of leading scientists say that it certainly is.
House heads home with some ’splaining to do on clean energy cuts
Members of the House of Representatives have headed home for their August break with little to brag about, but with a need to explain why they’re pushing a misnamed “Make America Secure Appropriations Act.”
“It’s in stark opposition to the set of values shared by millions of Americans—one of clean air and clean water, equity and prosperity, and innovation and progress,” notes Elizabeth Noll, legislative director in NRDC’s Energy & Transportation program.
That’s this week’s Real Lowdown. NRDC has prepared a list of other far-ranging threats. And we’re vigilantly reporting on the administration’s assault on the environment through Trump Watch.
Meet Jane Kleeb: One of Nebraska’s First and Fiercest KXL Opponents
The founder of Bold Nebraska has led the Cornhusker State’s years-long rallying cry against TransCanada’s tar sands pipeline.
In the red state of Nebraska, people know Jane Kleeb for her politics. She’s a progressive Democrat in a land of Trump voters, after all. But people also know the 44-year-old Kleeb, a Florida native who moved to Nebraska in 2007 after marrying into a family of local homesteaders, as someone who can bridge the political divide and unify the most unlikely of groups.
And that’s exactly what she’s done around the fight against TransCanada’s 1,179-mile-long Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, would transport a minimum of 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil through Nebraska’s heartland every day. As the founder of Bold Nebraska, which has since grown into the multistate Bold Alliance, Kleeb has successfully united Republicans and Democrats, ranchers and native tribes, country folk and city dwellers to battle the oil company’s attempts to push its project through. And while the U.S. State Department’s March 24 announcement that it was reauthorizing the project certainly dealt a blow to their common cause, the diverse group is not backing down.
“I’ll tell you the reason our battle against KXL has been successful so far,” says Art Tanderup, one of the farmers whose land is along the pipeline’s proposed route. “That reason is Jane Kleeb. She is a great organizer. And she’s a cheerleader—she’s always out here saying, ‘Come on guys, I know we can beat this.’”
For Kleeb, the first goalpost in the KXL fight was building that team to cheer on. Bold’s initial meetings took place in early 2010 in the Nebraska Sandhills, home to the precious Ogallala Aquifer, which is threatened by the pipeline. At those meetings, skeptical landowners greeted her with crossed arms and stern faces.
“In the beginning, there was resistance,” she remembers. “But I knew that if I kept showing up, and if their peers were always standing with me, we would build a good team and build trust. We’ve had political disagreements over the past seven years, but we’re such a deep-knit community—we cherish each other like family members—that we just don’t let that stuff divide us.”
Those tight bonds, in addition to their unwavering persistence, bolstered the Nebraskans’ efforts in helping defeat the Keystone XL pipeline in November 2015. Kleeb credits quality time spent together for bringing the group so close―the many late nights sitting around landowners’ kitchen tables, the days they braved stormy weather to create crop art, their annual ritual of planting sacred Ponca corn along the pipeline route, and a 2014 trip to Washington, D.C., where they camped out on the National Mall and urged President Obama to reject KXL and protect the heartland.
“We have these moments where we’re all in it—hands in the soil trying to stop this thing,” she says. “That’s really important and a lesson for all pipeline fights. If you want to do this, it can’t just be a bunch of people in a room writing a plan on paper. You have to be with the people that are directly in the path, because they’re the ones we’re standing up for and standing with.”
Kleeb notes that her four-year-old minivan already has nearly 200,000 miles on it from all the times she’s crisscrossed Nebraska to be with the pipeline fighters. And, choking back tears, she says that after every single long night of work or strategizing, a landowner would leave eggs or meat on her passenger seat. “No note, nothing—just one of the farmers or ranchers decided they were going to make sure that I left with some food to take home to my family.”
Still, Bold Nebraska doesn’t succeed because of personal relationships alone. Kleeb is a seasoned political organizer and strategist—the former executive director of the Young Democrats of America and current chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party. She started Bold Nebraska in 2010 as a means to counter the growing force of the state’s Tea Party and keep Nebraskans informed about issues that cut across the political spectrum. About two months after she founded the organization, the Keystone XL controversy arose as exactly one of those issues, beginning with a series of phone calls Kleeb received from concerned farmers and ranchers. She and the landowners quickly learned about tar sands—the particularly harmful, dirty crude that would flow under their land and endanger their water supply.
“Jane Kleeb deserves a lot of credit,” says Anthony Swift, director of NRDC’s Canada Project, who partnered with Bold Nebraska to help make a strong case to the state legislature about the pipeline. “She worked with all of the landowners along the route, and Nebraskans as a whole, to educate them about the risks of the pipeline.” Meanwhile, he adds, “TransCanada came and told them things that really stretched the truth.” The company also rattled landowners who didn’t want to sign easement agreements by threatening the use of eminent domain. “Nebraskans can identify a straight-talker; they know when people are not being entirely honest with them. So the juxtaposition between Jane Kleeb and TransCanada was pretty perfect—it made a clear choice for them on who they could trust.”
Bold Nebraska’s communal efforts and hard work were validated when President Obama rejected the pipeline in 2015. Since then, as the director of Bold Alliance, Kleeb has expanded her pipeline-fighting efforts to other states like Iowa and Louisiana. And back in the Cornhusker State, even without her day-to-day oversight, the fight continues. With the Nebraskan holdouts once again on the front lines, the pipeline route is still unapproved, and they await a final call from the five elected members of Nebraska’s Public Service Commission. (The battle is simultaneously playing out in federal court in Montana, where NRDC, Bold Alliance, and partner groups Northern Plains Resource Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Sierra Club are suing the Trump administration for unlawfully issuing a cross-border permit for the project.)
A series of public hearings were held in the spring, and the Bold Nebraskans will gather in Lincoln from August 7 to 11, many as formal intervenors, to testify anew against the pipeline and raise awareness with a kickoff parade that will feature Harleys, horses, and tractors. “We want to show that this unlikely alliance is still here, still fighting,” Kleeb says. An official decision on Keystone XL could be made as soon as September.
With the roller-coaster emotions the pipeline has brought so far, how do Kleeb and other Nebraskans keep the faith? “We fundamentally see this as such a wrong project that for us there’s no other way to look at it,” she says without hesitation. “We have no option but to think that our work will stop this pipeline again.”