Donald Trump will be leaving the White House in January making way for a somewhat more eco-friendly President with an agenda for combatting climate change. But the fight to save our environment is nowhere near over.
Now that Trump has only 2 months left in office, will we face a flurry of last minute executive actions that are harmful to the environment? It may be difficult to stop many of his policies. Some recent policy examples include opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to gas and oil drilling, continued attacks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (“MBTA”) and Army Corps of Engineers boondoggles such as the draining of much of Mississippi’s wetlands “to protect against climate change”.
Each of the aforementioned administration plans could have an apocalyptic effect on birds. Let’s start with the least well known Administration plan, the Army Corps of Engineers civilian division’s plan to add pumps to 200,000 acres of Mississippi’s wetlands to drain them during flooding. Some say this project will help combat flooding during Hurricanes and fight climate change, and it will, but not materially. The Army Corps of Engineers’ own scientists have acknowledged this plan is heavily flawed and that increasing the number of wetlands would be a better alternative. Of course, another reason why the Corps are draining the wetlands is so the wetlands can be converted to farmland. Unfortunately, these wetlands are necessary for millions of birds that migrate through Mississippi, and the effects of this project could be devastating and permanent.
The opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is another bird-pocalypse event. This refuge is home to hundreds of species that breed there. While the oil drilling will be off the coast and not inside the park where birds are nesting, birds will still certainly be negatively impacted because the prospect of an oil spill is never a question of if, but when. We have seen Arctic drilling disasters before. Earlier this year, the Russian government attempted to cover up a spill that is now considered the second largest in that nation’s history. After the spill, multiple videos and images emerged of local beaches being literally covered in dead sea creatures. If a spill were to occur in an isolated region like the refuge, we might not know about it for days, and by the time we act, it could be too late. It took a decade for Louisiana’s seabirds to recover after the BP oil spill, who knows how long it will take for the birds to recover in the Arctic National wildlife Refuge.
The gutting of the MBTA is probably the worst initiative the Trump administration is trying to rush through before his term ends. If the protections given to birds under the law are revoked, then reckless individuals and corporations would be free to take actions, regardless of the impact on birds. The MBTA is credited for bringing back species like the Great Egret from near extinction. Another great accomplishment of the MBTA has been to help protect birds from oil pits and evaporation ponds, open lakes of oil and contaminate that waterfowl would fly into, killing them. This piece of legislation is vital, and with various violations occurring left and right, it will need to stay strong until the next administration comes along and enforces it.
Hopefully, the Biden Administration will be able to reverse some of Trump’s last minute executive actions as well as environmental policies put in place over the last 4 years. Biden’s ability to do this will be impacted by a number of factors, including control of Congress and administrative boards of various agencies. Of course, there will always be environmental problems in our nation caused by the government. For example, the Army Corps of Engineers has worked on several projects before the Trump administration that are nearly identical to the Mississippi pumps, including the infamous New Madrid Floodway in Missouri, which was an economic and environmental disaster that arguably may have violated environmental regulations. I highly doubt that Biden will stop the pumps in Mississippi if given the chance, although this is just my speculation. In the title I ask the question, now what? The answer: we keep on fighting.