Why Federal Agencies Stoped Caring About Environmental Risk, And How We Can Change That

In 2015, our environment was given some well-needed protections under the “Presidential Memorandum: Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment.”

“By encouraging agencies to share and adopt a common set of their best practices to mitigate for harmful impacts to natural resources, the Federal Government can create a regulatory environment that allows us to build the economy while protecting healthy ecosystems that benefit this and future generations,” President Obama wrote at the time.

The executive order made it the policy of the Departments of Defense, the Interior, and Agriculture; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; to avoid and then minimize harmful effects to land, water, wildlife, and other ecological resources caused by land- or water-disturbing activities, and to ensure that any remaining harmful effects are effectively addressed, consistent with existing mission and legal authorities.

An executive order in 2015 directed federal agencies to consider environmental impacts in new developments as a matter of national policy.
Source: Adobe Stock/Kings Access
An executive order in 2015 directed federal agencies to consider environmental impacts in new developments as a matter of national policy.

Among other things, the memorandum established a mitigation hierarchy (avoid, minimize, then compensate); set a “net benefit goal” or, at a minimum, a no net loss goal for natural resources; emphasized large-scale or landscape-level planning and mitigation; and directed a number of agencies to take certain, specified actions to strengthen mitigation policies. 

The Memorandum essentially emphasized fewer natural resource impacts over more, wherever and whenever possible. That is, until 2017, when President Trump repealed the memorandum and issued his own order.

Without environmental protections, critical habitats are in danger.
Source: Adobe Stock/belyaaa
Without environmental protections, critical habitats are in danger.

As JD Supra reports, Trump’s order focused on encouraging domestic energy production by “unraveling the red tape” and initiating rollbacks on more than 30 Obama-era environmental documents and regulations, including the Clean Power Plan.

According to VanNess Feldman LLP, Trump’s action ignored the EPA’s 2009 finding that greenhouse gas emissions cause air pollution which endangers public health and welfare. This finding must serve as the factual and legal predicate authorizing EPA to adopt greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act.

Without accounting for the growing threat of climate change, new developments could exacerbate the problem.
Source: Adobe Stock/rangizzz
Without accounting for the growing threat of climate change, new developments could exacerbate the problem.

Not to mention calling other environmentally-focused decisions of the administration, the revocation of the 2015 executive order flies flat in the face of science.

“It is well within the executive power to depart from prior administrations’ policy preferences,” Emily Hammond writes for Vox. “But in implementing those policy changes, agencies must provide reasonable explanations for the changes that are consistent with their ‘enabling statutes’ and missions. Climate change presents a particularly sticky problem in this regard, because it is backed by an overwhelming scientific consensus.”

Climate change and the dangers it poses to humanity are a matter of science fact.
Source: Adobe Stock/adydyka2780
Climate change and the dangers it poses to humanity are a matter of science fact.

Why does our government need to consider climate change?

All Americans are affected by climate change, but minorities and people of color face more of a threat than whites. According to the American Lung Association, Approximately 74 million people of color, or 57%, live in counties with at least one failing grade for ozone and/or particle pollution, compared with 38% of whites.

Widespread discrimination and government neglect has kept this issue out of the spotlight, but the voices of minority and indigenous continue to scream for climate justice.

“These days we go to the forest with hunger, and return bringing more hunger,” a Shawi community member, shared in the Minority Rights Group’s Key Trends Report 2019.

Help make resource risk mitigation a national priority.
Source: Adobe Stock/ArtEvent ET
Help make resource risk mitigation a national priority.

The danger to minority communities in the U.S. is already present and getting worse. Minority populations are more likely to live near toxic facilities, and breathe in more polluted air than White communities across the US, according to the NAACP’s 2012 “Coal-Blooded” study 5. U.S. minorities are further 38% more likely to be exposed to the asthma-causing pollutant nitrogen oxide from climate-warming cars, construction equipment, and industrial sources like coal plants, despite the fact that they make up only 13% of the population .

The year 2020 marked 14 consecutive months of the hottest global temperatures on record, the result of human-generated carbon pollution, Newsweek reports. We can see by failing harvests, food insecurity, droughts, floods, and with record-breaking and devastating weather disasters that the human cost will only increase if nothing is changed.

Join others in demanding U.S. government agencies consider their environmental impact and avoid accelerating climate change when new developments are built.

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