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The State of the Environment Address

US President Donald  Trump said “I believe in clean air. I believe in crystal clear beautiful water.”

Image via gify.com

 

However, in last night’s State of the Union Address he declared his support for promoting coal-based energy* and he gave public notice of his intentions to curtail the environmental impact assessment process and environmental regulation for construction and road-building. This would be the latest in a series of executive actions that are removing or  hindering environmental protection including, amongst others:

  • Providing notice of withdrawal for the Paris Climate Agreement
  • Repealing the offshore oil drilling ban in the Atlantic and Arctic
  • Repealing an anti-dumping regulation for coal companies and mine clean up regulations
  • Removing the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews
  • Approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines
  • Removing bans on certain harmful chemicals (such as pesticides)
  • Revoking a ban on the use of lead ammunition of Federal lands

…and there are many more initiatives on the horizon that will reduce federal control of toxic materials or remove regulations on industrial pollution, and lead to great expansion on oil and gas production, including within sensitive marine areas.

This massive reduction in environmental protection is despite the fact that a recent Pew survey found that currently the general public in the US  is more concerned about environmental issues than jobs, reducing crime, the budget deficit or immigration.

The removal of protections has not been restricted to purely greenhouse gases and environmental pollutants. In terms of marine and terrestrial wildlife, negative executive actions have included:

  • Attempts to undermine or revoke the Endangered Species Act
  • Repealing the ban on seismic surveys (to protect marine life from high intensity noise)
  • Attempts to reduce protections provided by the Marine Mammal Protection Act
  • Repealing hunting limitations on wolves and brown bears in Alaska
  • Removal of marine mammal and turtle by-catch limits in certain fisheries
  • Reducing protections for migratory birds
  • Overruling certain conservation-oriented management decisions of regional fisheries bodies

Again, there are more actions on the horizon, critically including reducing the control on damaging activities provided by various marine protected areas.

However, one of the most disingenuous recent actions by the administration was actions to form a new “International Wildlife Conservation Council”.

This initially sounds like a great idea, although the aim of the council is not to promote conservation. Rather it’s primary term of reference are  to promote hunting of wildlife species, by US Citizens, in foreign countries. Many of the proposed members (perhaps unsurprisingly) work for the firearms and ammunition industries.

The proposed activities of this Council will include reducing regulations and permitting requirements with respect to the importing of wildlife products, including reducing the ability to seize imported wildlife products.

Many NGOs are concerned that this push for trophy hunting and reduction in regulation and enforcement of the wildlife trade might severely open up the illegal trade in endangered wildlife. A concern which is exacerbated by the fact that the Trump administration has held any meetings of the Federal Interagency Taskforce on Wildlife Tracking or the Wildlife Tracking Advisory Council.

This move to promote trophy hunting of big game isarguably not the will of the people. According to a recent Marist poll, the majority (86%) of Americans are opposed to big game hunting and two-thirds (including many hunters) believe it should be prohibited. Trump’s sons are well known for their trophy hunting exploits.

Regardless, “The Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Council” currently exists to provide input for the bona fide hunting community into decision-making, this new “conservation” body redundant body. The Administration’s stated wish to remove redundancy and duplication in the Government, could easily start with the duplicitous new body.

All these actions are within just the first year of the Trump Administration.

One can only wonder (in dread) how much more is ahead over the next few years, and what this bodes for the for the state of the US (and global) environment and its wildlife species …

 

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*He specifically said “beautiful clean coal”. However, it has been estimated by the Pew Center for Global Climate Change that to convert coal fired power stations in such a way that they minimize emissions, it would cost in excess of $30 billion, nearly twice the cost of Trump’s proposed border wall. However, it has been suggested that Trump does not understand what “clean coal” actually means – it’s been suggested that he is actually talking about “coal washing”.

 


Dr. Chris Parsons has been involved in whale and dolphin research for over two decades and has been involved in projects on every continent. Dr. Parsons is an Associate Professor at George Mason University as well as the undergraduate coordinator for their environmental science program. He’s a member of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), has been involved in organizing four of the International Marine Conservation Congresses (IMCC) (the world’s largest academic marine conservation conference) and two of the International Congresses for Conservation Biology. He was a Governor of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) for nearly a decade and also served two terms as the president of the SCB Marine Section. and he's currently on the Board of Directors of the American Cetacean Society, the Society for Marine Mammalogy and the SCB Conservation Marketing Working Group. In addition, Dr. Parsons has published over 140 scientific papers and book chapters and has written a textbook on marine mammal biology & conservation and co-edited a book on marine wildlife conflict resolution.


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