What We're Doing

Policy Solution

Protect Natural Treasures

From Canada's Spirit Bear Coast to California's Baja gray whale nursery to Alaska's Tongass rainforest, we work to secure long-term protection for exceptional wild places.

Policy Solution

We push the government to end all new leasing of fossil fuels on public lands and waters.

Policy Solution

We fight dirty energy projects on all fronts—from offshore oil rigs in the Arctic to fracking rigs in people’s backyards.

Policy Solution

We ensure wind and solar projects won't harm ecosystems by identifying potential conflicts from the beginning.

Related Priorities

What You Can Do

Tell Interior Secretary Zinke to defend our national monuments

Experts & Resources

The Budget Is an Oil-Filled Trojan Horse
Franz Matzner

Congress has officially launched the next phase in the ongoing budget battle, with the House holding a mark-up of budget legislation that, if ultimately successful, will lay out the framework for the federal budget going forward. 

Normal enough, right? But there is a hitch that could pervert this seemingly straightforward fiscal exercise into yet another Trojan horse for unpopular, policy giveaways that have no chance to pass on their own.   

Here’s how it works. First, the “budget reconciliation” process comes with special procedures that allow the budget committee to include instructions to the rest of Congress to change laws in order to meet whatever budgeting “targets” the budget committee puts forward. Second, these provisions all just get bundled together for a single majority-only vote so the individuals never get independent up-or-down votes. That means, used improperly, the final budget bill is basically a rider magnet on steroids.  

So far, Republican Leadership has made it all too clear that they intend to utilize the budget process to jam through some of the most unpopular provisions they haven’t been able to pass through standard rules.

Credit: Alaska Wilderness League

And no surprise, their primary target this round is to pry open the nation’s remaining intact public lands and oceans for expanded drilling. They’re starting by trying to turn the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge into a moonscape of drill rigs and crisscrossing pipelines and expose our unspoiled coasts to the oil spills and pollution that are part and parcel of offshore drilling. 

Such an attempt doesn’t add up. It flies in the face of growing, bipartisan public opposition, overlooks economic harm to existing local economies and cherished ways of life, all while ignoring the decades of existing oil reserves the fossil fuel has stockpiled and the cost to taxpayers of continuing to subsidize the high-cost, high-risk plunder of our shared natural resources.  

Let’s start with the basics. The reconciliation process is supposed to be about finding new ways to generate revenue. But that doesn’t wash when it comes to the sell-off of more public lands. For starters, the administration recently slashed the royalty rate for an upcoming offshore lease sale to its statutory minimum—despite study after study showing that existing rates are already far below market rates. Second, even as they spin a yarn about fossil fuel revenue balancing the budget, certain Senators and Members of Congress propose bills to transfer even these bargain basement royalties to their home states. Third, the debate over expanded oil and gas drilling notoriously ignores just how dependent new drilling is on a web of taxpayer subsidies. For example, recent studies show that expanded offshore drilling relies on large scale hand-outs to fund the high-cost, high risk prospect of sinking drill rigs into ocean waters. Finally, there is never any mention of the costs to the federal government and states when its time clean up after the inevitable oil spills, water pollution, and land degradation that comes with drilling and mining.

Credit: Alaska Wilderness League

The broad unpopularity of expanding fossil fuel extraction on public lands should give Republican Leadership a second reason to reconsider hijacking the budget. Our public parks, monuments, national forests, wildlands and vibrant oceans, set aside for all to enjoy, are a unique part of our collective heritage. These lands and waters belong solely to the American people and preserving them has been one of America’s great innovations. That is why poll after poll and public comment period after comment period reveal the same thing: Americans want to preserve and protect our remaining intact natural heritage, not sell it off to international oil conglomerates. For example, this survey found that “Nearly two-thirds of voters who voted for President-elect Donald Trump…oppose the idea of privatizing or selling off some areas of America’s national forests and public lands.” More specifically, multiple polls reveal a growing public preference for protection and investment in clean energy over fossil fuel extraction on federal lands.

Third, we do need more energy jobs today, but we need them in clean renewables that cut pollution while generating good-paying, domestic jobs. Investing in more public lands drilling today is barreling the U.S. into the past. Our financial resources and industry attention should be focused on strengthening the economy, growing jobs and remaining a global energy leader. And that means investing in clean solar and wind energy—the fastest growing and cheapest sources of new energy generation—a increased energy efficiency, battery storage and other modern technologies to power our nation. That’s the smart path to delivering hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

Finally, sacrificing our natural heritage has nothing to do with “energy dominance”; We don’t need this energy. Risking our public forests and wildlands, coastal environments, and local economies so we can ship the oil overseas may boost oil conglomerate profits, but it won’t make us more secure.  Instead of “fueling America,” it would benefit other nations and set us back in winning the global clean energy technology race. Moreover, the fossil fuel industry has stockpiled decades’ worth of oil reserves, more than enough to transition to an urgently needed carbon-free future. Bottom line, there are far less risky energy sources to tap--that don’t come at the expense of our natural landscapes and continued taxpayer subsidies for some of the wealthiest corporations on Earth. 

For all these reasons, any “budget reconciliation” instruction designed to turn more federal lands and oceans over to private oil companies is nothing more than another gift to the oil industry at the expense of communities, healthy lands and oceans, and taxpayer pockets. 

Republican Leadership should think twice not only about converting the budget process into a giant hand-out to private fossil fuel companies, but also using it as a delivery mechanism for unpopular measures that run counter to the public interest

Voices
San Gabriel Mountains: A Symbol of Environmental Justice
As America’s national monuments come under attack by President Trump, Los Angeleno Robert Garcia shares the story of his personal connection to San Gabriel.

This is a transcript of the video, produced as a partnership between NRDC and Next100.

Robert Garcia, civil rights attorney and founding director of the City Project, Los Angeles: Going up the San Gabriel Mountains is a great thing to do for all the people of L.A. County, especially for underserved people. Once you're up there on that trail going up into the mountains, you totally forget that you're in one of the two largest cities in the nation.

My connection to the San Gabriel Mountains goes back to when I was growing up in L.A. as a child. I am an immigrant. I came to the United States when I was four years old from Guatemala with my family, and I remember going to the San Gabriels with my mother, father, and sister.

What is special about the San Gabriel Mountains is that it's so close to L.A. Within an hour's drive of most of Los Angeles County, you can hike up into wilderness areas along the San Gabriel River and see wild animals.

We went there recently with a group of friends. We saw nobody else. There were bighorn sheep—came right up to the river.

It's not just about conservation, clean air, clean water, clean land, habitat protection. It's about the people.

Dozens of cities and diverse groups—from fishermen's groups to hiking groups to civil rights and social justice groups—have all banded together to support the creation of the national monument.

President Obama: Today I'm using my executive authority to designate the San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument. (audience cheering)

Garcia: President Obama specifically said there are not enough parks in L.A. County, especially for children of color and low-income children. The smiles on children's faces who have never seen these places before, that's priceless. I see myself when I was a little boy, and it's such a joy to be able to bring that to more children.

And for this administration to step in, in the last few months and say, We're starting over, we're revisiting this, we're reexamining this, is wrong.

It's wrong on environmental grounds, it's wrong on social justice grounds, it's wrong because it violates the will of the people, for no good reason.

Tell Interior Secretary Zinke to stop the assault on our national monuments

onEarth Story

The latest executive order takes aim at iconic public places that store carbon, protect ecosystems, and keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Victory

After years of work by NRDC and its partners, about 5,000 square miles of ocean—with massive canyons, majestic underwater mountains, and more than 1,000 species—have received permanent protection.

Explainer

From undersea coral canyons to deep northern woods, these seven places deserve to be part of the president’s legacy.

onEarth Story

The interior secretary’s proposal to hand over park management to private companies has riled up some very unhappy campers.

onEarth Story

As the interior secretary ponders the fates of 27 national monuments, he seems to be hearing some voices more acutely than others.

Policy Primer

This month’s National Park Service centennial presents an opportunity to create a parks system that is reflective of—and accessible to—all Americans.

Personal Action

President Trump and the Republican-led Congress are poised to wipe out crucial environmental safeguards. Here’s how you can join the fight.

Explainer

Now deemed national monuments, these natural beauties will be protected for generations.

Policy Primer

If we don’t address these increasingly severe threats, America’s most treasured lands might soon be unrecognizable.

Personal Action

These iconic American vacation spots will soon become unrecognizable—or worse, vanish. Pack your bags, quick!

onEarth Story

Why are there so many names for legally protected waterways? And what do they all mean?

Policy Primer

Trump likens our “inner cities” to war zones . . . then guts the programs geared to safeguard clean air and water for low-income communities of color.

Western Dispatch

With a new series of bills, California promises to protect the environment no matter what happens on the federal level.

Personal Action

Use NRDC's toolkit to help you take action against the Trump administration's agenda.

What's At Stake

The administration’s assault on our environment and health is unlike any threat we’ve ever faced.

Voices

For archaeologist Angel Peña, this national monument is more than just home to cultural and geological artifacts—it’s where memories and history are made.

Voices

As our national monuments come under attack by Trump, park conservationist Audrey Peterman reminds us that protecting our monuments is also about protecting the legacy of America’s people.

Voices

Former BLM employee Hillerie Patton describes this Nevada landscape as the essence of “This Land is Our Land”—and how preserving wildlife, archaeological sites, and recreation is about quality of life.

Voices

The Trump administration’s review of national monuments threatens America’s culture and natural beauty.

NRDC Sues Over Rollback of Waste Standards for Public Lands
Meleah Geertsma

The Department of the Interior acted illegally when it yanked the first-ever limits on methane waste and pollution for oil and gas operations on our public lands, according to a lawsuit NRDC and our partners filed today.

Fracking on public lands in Wyoming

WildEarth Guardians on Flickr

In May, the U.S. Senate voted against killing the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, rebuffing the oil and gas lobby. In doing so, Congress left in place standards that protect against health-harming, climate-changing waste and pollution from the industry on federally owned land. The standards limit waste of natural gas and pollution on more than 750 million acres of public and tribal lands across the United States, as well as private lands where the minerals are federally managed. This is an area more than seven times the size of California—and home to national parks and America’s last wild places, as well as farms, ranches, and backyards.

But just one month later the new administration stepped in to do the industry’s bidding, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke put key components of the rule on hold indefinitely, without following any process to do so—no proposal, no public hearing and no opportunity for public comments. He simply issued a final rule that he claimed justified the repeal of requirements for industry to plug leaks of methane and other air pollution, and stop flaring (another wasteful process).   

This action flouts the basic rule of law, as our democracy does not give Secretary Zinke the broad authority to rollback the rule in this manner. So today we joined California and New Mexico, and together with our partner organizations hauled Interior Secretary Zinke and the Bureau of Land Management into court.

Our legal case specifically takes issue with Secretary Zinke erroneously relying on a provision of the Administrative Procedure Act that does not allow the agency to halt properly adopted and already-effective standards like the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule (which went into effect in January 2017). This lawsuit comes just a week after the administration suffered a court defeat in a parallel case brought by NRDC involving EPA’s similar nationwide standards for methane from the oil and gas industry.

There, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt tried to instate a three-month halt of the methane standards, likely as a first step in repealing the rules altogether. But after NRDC and our partners quickly filed suit against this stay, the D.C. Circuit ruled in our favor in less than a month, finding EPA’s rational pretextual and that Administrator Pruitt had acted beyond his authority under the Clean Air Act.

However, EPA is not giving up on halting the methane standards. Using a separate process, the agency is still proposing to delay to those standards for up to two years. EPA is holding a public hearing on that proposal today at its D.C. offices. NRDC’s experts are there testifying against it.

Industry data show that there have been more than 18,000 wells drilled after September 2015 that are currently subject to the standards that Pruitt is attacking. More than 200,000 people live within a half-mile of these wells, including more than 51,000 kids. And EPA itself admits in its proposals that children may be disproportionately harmed by delaying the protections.

Just as we did with EPA, NRDC and our partners are stepping in today to protect BLM safeguards against wasted gas and pollution that are fueling climate change and poisoning the air our children breathe. People’s health and the stability of our planet must come before favors for corporate polluters.

European Imports of Wood Pellets for “Green Energy” Devastating US Forests
Overview

Since 2013, media and local groups have investigated and documented the devastating impact that European demand for wood pellets is having on forest ecosystems in the Southeastern United States. These investigations provide critical insight into the supply chains for pellets exported by Enviva, the largest wood pellet manufacturer in the United States and key supplier to top European utilities, such as Drax Power in the United Kingdom and Dong Energy in Denmark.

In a new investigation (February, 2017), local groups found that mature hardwood forests were cut down to source Enviva’s new wood pellet mill in Sampson County, North Carolina. The images from this investigation, which follows similar investigations in 2014, 2015, and 2016, again expose the unsustainable logging practices being used to provide biomass to Enviva (i.e., clear cuts of wetland forests). They also spotlight the vast quantities of whole trees and other large-diameter wood—biomass feedstocks known to be high-carbon—entering Enviva’s supply chain.

The results portray a disturbing pattern: a significant proportion of Enviva’s pellets are produced using trees and other large-diameter wood from native hardwood forests. Multiple independent, peer-reviewed, and governmental studies have determined that these feedstocks increase carbon dioxide emissions, not reduce them, even compared to fossil fuels like coal. Yet, European Union policy still considers all biomass incineration to be “carbon neutral”, and fails to require utilities that burn biomass to account for their carbon emissions at the smokestack.

European policymakers are increasingly looking to “sustainable” sourcing standards to ensure their biomass imports are “green”. Yet, the damaging practices documented in these investigations are all happening under the umbrella of such “sustainable” standards.

Countries looking to meet their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement and phase out coal should stop wasting billions of scarce public resources subsidizing dirty and destructive biomass energy. Instead, policymakers need to invest in truly clean and cheaper energy technologies like solar and wind.

NYS Legislature Passes Bill To Protect the Hudson from Oil Barges
Rob Friedman Kimberly Ong

The Hudson River at Haverstraw Bay

Credit: R. Friedman

In the final hours of the legislative session last night, the New York State Senate passed a bill that could limit the number of oil barges that may park in the Hudson River. Specifically, this bill allows the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to establish "tanker avoidance zones" near sensitive aquatic habitats, waterfront communities and other sensitive areas in and along the Hudson River, protecting the river, the wildlife, and the communities who live nearby. This bipartisan legislation now heads to to the governor's desk for signature.

In the days right before the bill's passage, NRDC members, along with members from a number of organizations, including Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper called and emailed state assembly members and senators asking them to block the fossil fuel invasion into New York State by passing this bill. The mobilization around this bill serves as a key example of how targeted phone calls to legislators can drive real change in state and local politics.

This bill's passage is critical in light of the the United States Coast Guard's announcement that it is reviewing a proposal to expand the number of barge anchorages in the Hudson River. The proposal could dramatically increase fossil fuel transport on the river, and has been formally opposed by dozens of communities across the state. If this bill is signed into law, the Department of Environmental Conservation will be able to block off large swaths of the river to barge anchoring.

This could not have been done without the leadership of bill sponsors Senator Sue Serino and Assemblymember Didi Barrett, who stood up for Hudson River communities against the dangers of fossil fuels. It is now up to Governor Cuomo to sign this important legislation into law.

Call Governor Cuomo's office now to let him know what you think of the bill: 518-474-8390

Northeast Dispatch
Forests, Just Like the Ones Mother Nature Used to Make
New forestry techniques that create the look of old-growth habitats can boost biodiversity—with extra carbon storage as a bonus.
Woody debris on the forest floor of a structural complexity enhancement plot inside the Jericho Research Forest

Clara Chaisson/NRDC

If you build it, they will come.

These words, forest ecologist Bill Keeton tells me, are more or less the guiding principle behind his efforts to build not a field, but a forest of dreams: an old-growth forest that supports wildlife and stores carbon.

In the northeastern United States, the “old-growth” designation begins around 150 years old. These senior stands purify water and shelter a wide variety of plants and animals as the wear and tear to their aged limbs and roots provide microhabitats not found elsewhere.

Today, forests cover about 80 percent of the Northeast. That sounds pretty good until you hear that of all the old-growth forests that dominated the region prior to European settlement, less than 1 percent remains. “That is the type of ecosystem conditions most organisms were accustomed to,” says David Foster, director of the Harvard Forest. “And over the last 400 years, we’ve pretty effectively eliminated those kinds of habitats.”

Now, land managers across the Northeast are trying to give old-growth forests a boost. Instead of simply waiting for them to grow up, Keeton, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Vermont, has been taking a more hands-on approach, one that tries to speed up a forest’s maturation process by using silvicultural techniques called structural complexity enhancement (SCE).

Hiking with Keeton through UVM’s 485-acre Jericho Research Forest on a warm day in April, I saw a typical northern hardwood forest—one with its roots in Colonial times, when most of the Northeast’s landscape was cleared for agriculture. Farming culture eventually shifted westward during the mid-19th century, and since then the region’s forests have followed the predictable stages of succession after a major disturbance.

Bill Keeton, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Vermont, stands beside a tip-up mound at the structural complexity enhancement plot at the Jericho Research Forest in Vermont.

Clara Chaisson/NRDC

“Everything you see here, 150 years ago, was farmland,” Keeton told me, pointing to the hemlocks, beeches, and sugar maples surrounding us. We were standing in one of the control sections, which, for a point of comparison, the researchers have left untouched since the SCE study began 17 years ago. Keeton tests out his methods on several five-acre plots elsewhere in the Jericho forest, as well as on some plots that grow on the side of nearby Mount Mansfield.

The trees I saw ranged from about 70 to 90 years old, still middle-aged by their species’ standards and a couple of human generations shy of achieving the late-successional sweet spot. “Structurally simple, homogeneous, uniform . . . these are all terms you might use to describe the trees here,” Keeton said.

By contrast, more mature forests are complex, with various tree heights and widths, plenty of woody debris, understory vegetation creeping up into the vertical space, and interruptions in the canopy that allow sunlight to shine through. And while there’s not much foresters can do about age, structure—as “structural complexity enhancement” implies—is where Keeton’s techniques comes in.

Existing sustainable forestry techniques include cutting down single trees of multiple ages throughout a timberland, or logging small clusters from a larger managed tract. These help maintain forest structure and function to a certain extent, but Keeton takes it to the next level.

After a short walk, he and I entered a section treated with SCE. The differences from the control were immediately apparent. A large dirt pile created by a fallen tree, called a tip-up mound, greeted us. Overhead, we glimpsed a patch of sky through a clearing in the canopy. Nearby, several girthy trees stretched upward, while downed branches and trees littered the forest floor.

When nature has time to take its course, natural disturbances like windstorms eventually create these scenes. Here, the tip-up mound, hole in the canopy, and other “natural” features are all man-made. Foresters pull trees over to form tip-up mounds. Girdling, or the removal of a strip of bark from the circumference of a tree trunk, results in snags, or standing dead trees. Certain trees are also strategically harvested to open up the canopy near larger, faster-growing trees.

Keeton has spent most of his career studying old-growth forests. To engineer his own, he made a list of desired characteristics and devised a matching silvicultural treatment for each one—the idea being that the way a habitat is put together is what makes it tick. “If we can understand the architecture of an ecosystem, we can understand a lot about its function,” he says.

For instance, species like yellow birch grow best atop tip-up mounds, their leggy roots performing a slow-motion split into the soil as their perches rot. Ground-nesting birds like winter wrens like to nest in the overturned roots, and frogs and eastern red-backed salamanders enjoy the pools of rainwater that often form in the hole at the tree’s base. Cavity-nesting birds favor standing snags, and decaying “nurse logs” provide ideal habitat for seedlings and fodder for fungi, which are important decomposers and drivers of plant diversity.

The biological implications were palpable in the SCE plot in the sheer amount of green and number of limbs and logs to duck under and hop over. To put it in cruder terms, finding a sheltered spot to, ahem, use the facilities was a lot easier there than in the control section.

As all this biomass accumulates, so does the forest’s carbon stock. In a study published this spring in the journal Ecosphere, Keeton and former UVM graduate student Sarah Ford found that SCE-managed units store significantly more carbon than those treated with traditional techniques—a winsome combination in the dawning age of carbon markets and a potential tool in the global fight against climate change.

Using modeling to simulate growth based on pre-treatment data, Keeton and Ford found that after a decade, the SCE plot stored just 16 percent less carbon than an untouched forest—while a conventionally managed swath contained about 45 percent less.

The world’s forests offset approximately 30 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. As the temperature climbs, interest in increasing carbon sinks is also on the rise. Emerging carbon markets, whether voluntary or mandated, pay forest owners whose land sequesters carbon. The more it absorbs and stores, the higher the sum.

Foster, of the Harvard Forest, says SCE is a promising option for certain parcels of land. “The advantage of this approach is that it gives more immediate results and allows landowners who are interested in diversifying their landscape new options,” he says. But he also stresses that it’s important to balance this type of active management with large-scale preservation.

Foster and Keeton both collaborated on Wildlands & Woodlands, a regional initiative that calls for conserving 70 percent of New England, or 30 million acres, as forests. They envision 27 million acres of woodlands composed mostly of privately owned, managed land (which could include SCE), along with three million acres of wildland growing naturally.

Advocates of old-growth restoration have been criticized for idolizing a historic habitat that no longer fits into the modern landscape. But Keeton says his blend of sustainable forestry and functional habitat is an attempt to build a resilient ecosystem for a future of environmental uncertainty.

“It’s very important to make it clear that this is not a kind of emotional or historical attempt to go back,” Foster says. “It’s an attempt to go forward.”

Tell Trump we won't stop fighting global climate change

Clara Chaisson
On Location

The Cree First Nation of Waswanipi speak out on how Canada logging companies could devastate their ancestral heartland and decimate homes of imperiled wildlife.

onEarth Story

A new study suggests excess carbon dioxide is shrinking the Amazon.

Explainer

A practical and philosophical guide to neutralizing your carbon footprint.

onEarth Story

Forest conservation is crucial to climate change mitigation. But do we have any idea how to do it?

onEarth Story

The latest executive order takes aim at iconic public places that store carbon, protect ecosystems, and keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Guide

The lowdown on the earth’s central environmental threat.

Action Figure

A Berkeley scientist is studying how climate change is affecting California’s giant sequoias, long considered dependable forest stalwarts.

Victory

How NRDC helped protect the Tahuamanú Rainforest from illegal logging.

Policy Primer

The answer lies not just in the carbon-capturing trees but also in the undisturbed boreal soils.

Northeast Dispatch

Another win for New England! Oh, wait . . .

onEarth Story

What will summer be like in your city by the end of the century? (Hint: hot.)

Northeast Dispatch

To protect a massive swath of crucial habitat in New England, locals will use their own shrubland to fill in the blanks.

Explainer

You may have never heard of them, but there are hundreds around the world. Find out what makes this specific type of reserve so special.

Southeast Dispatch

The largely African-American community of Dobbins Heights hopes to protect its health—and its trees—from the biomass industry.

Policy Primer
Still No Approved Route for KXL in Nebraska
Yes, Trump has green-lighted the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. But Nebraska’s got a slew of public hearings on the calendar, and legal challenges loom large.
Landowners Tom and Cathie Genung near the Elkhorn River in the eastern Sandhills of Nebraska

Mary Anne Andrei/BOLD Nebraska

“Trump administration approves Keystone XL pipeline,” the headlines blared. It was March 24, only two months after he’d taken office, when it appeared that President Trump had cleared the way for the long-contested tar sands conduit with a stroke of his pen. In reality, summarily declaring that the pipeline is in the national interest—despite a seven-year U.S. State Department review process that had concluded the opposite—won’t magically bring it to life. The president, together with TransCanada, the energy company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, still have many obstacles to overcome before Canadian tar sands crude can flow through KXL and into the United States.

The first formidable hurdle they face is the state of Nebraska, which TransCanada has treated with contempt in recent years. First, the company drew the pipeline’s route through the heart of the state’s fragile Sand Hills ecosystem. Confronted by environmental concerns, TransCanada said that rerouting the pipeline would be “impossible.” Mounting resistance, however, forced the oil giant to relent and nudge the proposed route around some of the most sensitive parts of the Sand Hills. The pipeline would still, however, run through the important Ogallala aquifer—one of our largest underground stores of freshwater, which would be at significant risk in the event of a leak.

Keep the KXL tar sands pipeline out of Nebraska

Now that the controversial tar sands pipeline has been reactivated by President Trump’s decision, TransCanada must obtain the consent of the Nebraska Public Service Commission and secure easements from the landowners along the proposed route through the Cornhusker State. It will not be smooth sailing. Six weeks after Trump’s announcement, Nebraskans flocked in chartered buses to a public hearing the commission convened in York, where opponents steeply outnumbered supporters, as the Omaha World-Herald reported. In August, there will be five additional days of hearings in Lincoln, where formal intervenors, such as landowners along the route, environmental groups, and labor unions, will get their chance to testify. (The Nebraska Public Service Commission also has an online form to collect comments.)

A tar sands resistance march in St. Paul

Tom Cajacob/BOLD Nebraska

If, despite these objections, TransCanada obtains approval from the commission, it will most likely be forced to win easements from landowners through the eminent domain process. Some of the holdouts who have refused to sell permission to build on their properties claim to have turned down offers as high as $300,000. Eminent domain is a notoriously fraught issue, especially for Republicans, many of whom have railed against it as an abuse of government power. Senator Ted Cruz, for example, called it a “fancy term for politicians seizing private property to enrich the fat cats who bankroll them." This proposed exercise of eminent domain is particularly irksome to many Nebraskans because TransCanada is a foreign company.

Landowners have a right to challenge a taking under eminent domain through the state courts, and some Keystone XL opponents have already vowed to do so. Whatever the outcome, the litigation could tie up the process for months or years.

In addition to the individual legal challenges—and despite Trump’s support—there are also some potential hurdles the project could face at the federal level. NRDC and other environmental organizations have challenged the Trump administration’s approval of Keystone XL in federal court, contending that it relied on outdated information and arbitrarily reversed the previous administration’s decision on the matter.

On top of this federal litigation and the challenges of obtaining a route and easements in Nebraska, TransCanada will also have to obtain federal permits under the Clean Water Act. This step used to be straightforward for pipeline builders, but the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline controversy revealed the water permits as a political and legal pressure point. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has primary responsibility for issuing the permits, failed to fully clarify its role and policies during the DAPL fight, and some of those unsettled issues could reemerge if and when Keystone XL gets to that stage. The water permit process also allows for another round of public hearings, where opponents will again be able to voice their concerns and potentially further delay construction.

Which brings us to a point that cannot be stressed enough: delays cost money. The biggest threat to Keystone XL may not be government regulators or Nebraska state judges, but simple finances.

Tar sands mining in Fort McMurray, Alberta

Kris Krüg/Flickr

Keystone XL has always been an economically risky proposition. Tar sands oil is expensive to extract, process, and transport, and the cost of the pipeline is now expected to exceed $8 billion—up from the $5.4 billion the company estimated in 2011. Back then, when crude oil cost $95 per barrel and tar sands production was ramping up, spending that exorbitant sum on a pipeline project might have been financially viable. But in an era of relatively low crude oil prices (today, about $48 per barrel), cheap natural gas, and unprecedented drops in the price of renewable energy, it doesn’t make much sense to bother turning Canadian mud into oil. In recent years, fossil fuel companies including Shell, ConocoPhillips, Total, and Statoil have fled the tar sands mines of northern Alberta, canceling projects. This trend poses an existential financial problem for an 830,000-barrel-per-day pipeline that requires a substantial expansion of tar sands production to fill it.

TransCanada doesn’t have the cash to build the pipeline. The company will depend on banks like JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, and Wells Fargo to front the money required to complete Keystone XL. Not only does TransCanada have to prove to its backers that KXL can be profitable, but it also has to convince them that investing in the pipeline is worth the public blowback. A recent Quinnipiac University national poll shows public support is dwindling for the project, and opponents have turned up the heat on the banks by launching a public-facing campaign targeting lenders involved.

Donald Trump has placed his rubber stamp on Keystone XL, but he’s not the decider. The state of Nebraska still has a say. Landowners still have their say. Judges will have their say. And you still have many opportunities to raise your voice as well.

Brian Palmer
Guide

How a single pipeline project became the epicenter of an enormous environmental battle

Midwest Dispatch

DAPL may be underway, but the water protectors at Standing Rock taught us a lot about going up against the fossil fuel industry.

Voices

Greg Griffin, a lifelong lobsterman in coastal Maine, voices his concerns about tanker transport of Canada’s tar sands oil.

Policy Primer

Petroleum coke, typically stored outdoors in big open piles, can blow right into nearby homes and cause serious health problems. Unsurprisingly, communities are fighting Big Oil to keep this noxious material out of their backyards.

NRDC in Action

For more than a decade, we've fought to keep this filthy fossil fuel from being dredged up and piped through the United States.

Personal Action

Are you one of the 25 million Americans who live along a crude-by-rail route? Here's how to find out and what you can do about it.

EXPLAINER

At every turn, the Tar Sands Invasion would put people and the environment in harm's way.

Action Figure

The founder of Bold Nebraska has led the Cornhusker State’s years-long rallying cry against TransCanada’s tar sands pipeline.

What's At Stake

This dirty, dangerous oil, which is almost impossible to clean and affects the health of people, is bad news for our country—and the planet.

Eliminating Conservation as We Know It: A Budget Proposal
Bobby McEnaney

In March we wrote about the Trump administration’s “skinny budget” and how a proposed 12% cut to Department of Interior’s (DOI) 2018 Fiscal Year budget would be devastating to the hundreds of millions of acres of public lands and wildlife managed by this vital agency. The administration issued the more exhaustive budget blueprint yesterday. Unfortunately, the additional details that have been provided by the FY2018 budget proposal does nothing to assuage those prior concerns. To put it mildly, the chosen cuts to the Interior Department are draconian and punitive. Rather than a 12% across-the-board cut that would impact every agency project equally—which has been the prevailing convention in Congress—the Trump administration is primarily focused on undercutting Interior’s traditional obligations to protect our nation’s natural heritage. Instead, the administration’s budget favors the dirty: increasing funding for fossil fuels by emphasizing development over even the most basic protections for public lands and wildlife. The following are some of the more notable lowlights:

Conservation Management Will Be Devastated

  • The National Park Service’s (NPS) budget will be cut by 13%.
     
  • The administration is proposing a reduction of 4,000 Interior Department full time staff.
     
  • The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will seek a 26% cut to its Resource Protection program. This program is central to the BLM mission, focused on ensuring that the 245 million acres of federal land and the 600 million acres of subsurface lands under its supervision are properly protected. Furthermore, the Land Management program, that oversees the daily function of BLM will also be severely cut by 17%.
     
  • The administration is seeking an 86% cut in BLM’s Conservation Land Acquisition program. This is coordinated with a desired 84% overall reduction in funds dedicated to conservation acquisition under the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
     
  • Management of national monument and national conservation areas will see a 24% reduction.

Fossils First, Climate Last

  • The administration outrageously proposes to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.
     
  • The budget elevates onshore fossil fuel development on federal lands over other permitted activities, seeking a 14%, or $23.9 million increase in BLM’s onshore fossil fuels program.
     
  • The coal reclamation fund, focused on ensuring that coal communities have the resources necessary to properly reclaim and mitigate for the damage caused by past coal mining activities, would be practically shuttered due to a proposed 94% cut.
     
  • Despite the tremendous economic success the BLM has seen deploying renewable energy on federal lands over the last decade, the administration is proposing to cut the renewable energy permitting program in order to pay for increases in the fossils program.
     
  • The budget would embargo an existing requirement that agencies assess and account for the greenhouse gas emissions associated with permitted activities. The budget would also forbid DOI from assessing the impacts and costs associated with the emission of carbon from permitted activities.

The (Even More) Absurd

  • To estimate revenue from opening the Arctic Refuge to drilling, the budget relies on a wildly optimistic projection made almost two decades ago, when energy markets were quite different than what they are today. Still, it assumes doing so would only generate $1.8 billion in revenue over 10 years.
     
  • The budget projects a 64% increase in collected oil and gas fees. Presumably the BLM is projecting a similar increase in oil and gas permitting overall, but the budget document does not shed any light on how the administration arrived to the notion that permitted oil and gas extracting will more than double in the next year in contravention of current market trends.
     
  • The Interior Department’s budget summary is quick to take credit for the economic value that the agency provides local communities, particularly based on the revenue sharing that is provided to state and county governments. But the budget is slated to eliminate those benefits for renewable, geothermal energy on BLM lands by eliminating the share of royalties currently given to local governments. This is troubling given that geothermal deployment has been a resounding success in the West. The elimination of this revenue sharing arrangement—which last year brought $3.2 million in revenues to rural communities in the West—will perversely drive rural communities to embrace less sustainable oil and gas drilling over geothermal projects, given the lack of a parallel  proposal to rob local communities of revenue owed to them via oil and gas drilling.
     
  • Programs that oversee mining and livestock grazing on BLM lands will not see any cuts.
     
  • Funding for the National Park Service’s Heritage Partnership program—an initiative championed by President Reagan, where the Park Service partners with charities to protect key national landmarks and natural areas while saving taxpayers money—is proposed to be defunded.
     
  • Similarly, the Challenge Cost Share program, which works with “cooperative partners,” such as scientists who usually volunteer their services to help the DOI initiate conservation and science projects that the agency cannot do on their own (for services that are not typically covered by federal budget outlays), is also slated for elimination.

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