The first month of the Trump administration has ushered in a new era of uncertainty for the future of our nation’s treasured public lands, unique biodiversity, and conservation values. And with the frenzy of executive orders, cabinet nominations, and protests across the country, it may have been easy to miss the mention of an obscure and dangerous law: the Congressional Review Act (CRA).
But, unfortunately, we have every reason to focus on this procedural law that Congress is turning into a wrecking ball.
The CRA allows Congress 60 legislative days to use an expedited process to reject and invalidate certain federal regulations, even ones that have been in effect for months. The repeal under the CRA only requires a simple majority vote for passage and is done without the normal Congressional debate and public transparency required for regular legislation.
Unfortunately, Congress is choosing to use the CRAs to target critical environmental regulations and public health protections finalized in the last months of the Obama administration. Perhaps most concerning is a poorly understood but extreme provision in the CRA that declares that if a rule is rescinded using the CRA, the federal agency that developed the rule is prohibited from issuing any substantially similar protection in the future.
This blanket prohibition is exceedingly short-sighted and obstructs the ability of our government to address fundamental issues from climate change to dwindling water supplies. The indiscriminate use of the CRA represents a heavy-handed approach to sweeping back safeguards for the public good and natural world.
But it appears this Congress is uninterested in a cautious approach, even when it comes to public health and environmental safeguards. We’ve already seen a rash of CRA attacks. For example, both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted to eliminate the Stream Protection Rule, an environmental safeguard that protects communities, businesses, and people from toxic mining waste being dumped into our streams and waterways by the coal mining industry. Coal mining contamination poisons drinking water with heavy metals like lead and arsenic, harming human health and wildlife, and polluting water for future generations. Defenders of Wildlife was extremely disappointed that Senator Gardner (R-CO) voted for the CRA resolution that struck down this important rule, elevating polluter profits over the health and safety of American communities and wildlife.
But that is just the beginning. CRA resolution H.J. Res 44 would nullify the updated and streamlined version of Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) planning regulation, commonly known as Planning 2.0.
Planning 2.0 is a long-overdue makeover to an outdated planning process that is essential to managing and conserving more than 245 million acres of western public lands, including 8.3 million acres of public lands and 27 million acres of mineral estate in Colorado. Park County Commissioners expressed strong support for the rule, highlighting its importance to Colorado’s lands and wildlife.
The updated regulation outlines a common-sense process to develop proactive and adaptive science-based prescriptions to effectively respond to management challenges on public lands, like increased wildfires, invasive species, and increased demand for domestic energy. It also brings transparency in the agency planning processes, incorporating input from state and local governments, tribal groups and the public, preventing opportunities for closed-door decision making between the BLM and special interests.
Colorado is a draw for outdoor enthusiasts and our public lands, including BLM lands, are coveted by sportsmen, anglers, hikers, and birdwatchers alike. Year after year, polls demonstrate Americans’ desire to protect wildlife, air, water, and our public lands. A Colorado College poll recently found 68 percent of Americans in seven western states said they prioritize protecting our natural resources on public land. A national public opinion poll from the Center for American Progress also found similar majority values, indicating two out of three Americans say the new administration should prioritize saving at-risk species from extinction.
And even our nation’s iconic wildlife are being targeted through the political backroom dealings of the CRA. Recently, H. J. Res. 69 passed the House of Representatives, which would void the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to help protect bears, wolves and other carnivores on federal public lands. Specifically, the rule prohibits the application of Alaska's scientifically indefensible "predator control" policy on national wildlife refuges in the state, which targets carnivores through extreme methods, including killing mother bears and cubs, killing wolves and pups in their dens, and trapping, baiting and using airplanes to scout and shoot bears.
So, Congress: What’s with all the environmental attacks? There must be more constructive things you could be doing than using radical CRA resolutions to strip away environmental safeguards for wildlife and communities across the country.
Defenders of Wildlife is deeply concerned with the heavy-handed and myopic nature of these attacks on our environmental protections and natural resources. As Congress attempts to push through more and more reversals of common sense regulations, it is imperative that citizens speak up and demand their Members of Congress vote against efforts that cripple access to safe drinking water, undermine the use of sound science, and prioritize industry profit over healthy ecosystems and public welfare.
The prosperity of our country, future generations, and the health and safety of our environment depends on it.
Deanna Steege, Director of National Outreach for Defenders of Wildlife, contributed to this article.