Amidst two national crises - the COVID-19 pandemic and demands for racial and social justice - the Trump Administration has aggressively moved to gut environmental protections that put America’s public lands, including the Boundary Waters, at grave risk.
On June 4, 2020, President Trump signed a sweeping Executive Order declaring an “economic emergency” that allows agencies to bypass bedrock environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act, and could hasten dangerous projects, such as Antofagasta’s Twin Metals mine. These laws provide for a robust environmental review of large projects and standards and mechanisms to minimize environmental damage. Without them, project developers have free rein to devastate the environment to the detriment of the American people.
On June 12, 2020, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue ordered the U.S. Forest Service to expedite environmental reviews for projects. This will severely hurt efforts to fully vet and study the impacts of dangerous projects, including sulfide-ore copper mining right next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It will also minimize the opportunity for the public - including organizations like ours - to review and comment on environmental issues.
The Trump Administration in the last few weeks also finalized a rule undermining the Clean Water Act by blocking state and tribal governments’ ability to protect their own natural resources.
These actions could make it easier to greenlight projects like the Twin Metals mine, located adjacent to the Boundary Waters, and push them toward completion without the necessary vetting.
Read on for more details on each of the Trump Administration orders:
Trump’s Executive Order
New order just the latest in a long line of attacks on our nation’s environmental laws designed to protect clean air and water.
President Trump signed a sweeping Executive Order seeking to exploit the coronavirus crisis to circumvent public input and responsible review of the environmental and public health impacts of federal projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Order allows agencies to bypass other bedrock environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. This Presidential Order could hasten dangerous projects, such as Antofagasta’s Twin Metals mine adjacent to the Boundary Waters, and drive them toward completion without the necessary vetting.
“This Executive Order is another appalling attack on government transparency and accountability, and could significantly impact the environmental review process for dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters,” said Becky Rom, National Chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “The use of a national emergency declaration to grant favors to extractive industries by forcing through risky projects is yet another example of the current Administration’s disdain for protecting America’s outstanding natural places.”
NEPA is one of America’s bedrock environmental laws. It requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. The range of actions covered by NEPA is broad and includes:
making decisions on permit applications,
adopting federal land management actions,
reviewing environmental impacts of proposed hardrock mines, especially in sensitive areas, and
constructing highways and other publicly-owned facilities.
Using the NEPA process, agencies evaluate the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions. Agencies also provide opportunities for public review and comment on those evaluations.
This Executive Order is just the latest attack on our environmental laws that significantly heightens the risk for the Boundary Waters and surrounding communities.
Sec. Sonny Perdue adds more shortcuts by expediting environmental review processes.
On June 12, 2020 Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue ordered the US Forest Service, which his department oversees, to expedite environmental reviews of projects to hasten them towards completion. Among the changes announced are the setting of time and page limits on the completion of environmental documents, including environmental assessments and environmental impact statements, and expanding categorical exclusions from NEPA review. This will severely hamstring efforts to fully vet the impacts of particularly dangerous projects, such as proposed sulfide-ore copper mining right next to the Boundary Waters Wilderness.
“The systematic shredding of the environmental protection fabric of this country is appalling,” said Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters Executive Director Tom Landwehr. “By limiting the size and scope of environmental review of complex and risky projects like Twin Metals the Federal government is guaranteeing a greenlight for the destruction of the Boundary Waters and the thousands of jobs in surrounding businesses that depend upon a healthy Wilderness.”
We must continue to fight for the Boundary Waters
Since taking office in 2017 the Trump Administration has systematically shredded protections for the Boundary Waters, America’s most popular Wilderness. From arbitrarily reinstating dangerous mineral leases to canceling studies on the impact of sulfide ore mining on the Boundary Waters Wilderness to now changing the rules to make it easier for mining companies to pollute and harder for states and tribes to regulate, this Administration is doing everything it can to pave the way for this toxic project to move forward. This is why we need your support now more than ever. Donate now.