Donald Trump's presidency ushers in a new era of serious threats to American conservation. On the one hand, Trump has publicly said that he wants to keep public lands protected for all Americans. On the other, Trump’s pledges to dismantle environmental protection, prop up the dirty coal industry and drill our way to prosperity without regard for the science and consequences of climate change ought to alarm every person who cares about our country (and planet). His cabinet choices only deepen our concern.
We will work to hold President Trump and his administration accountable and stand ready to repel any policies that would jeopardize bedrock conservation laws.
Our shared national parks, forests and other public lands are the country's common ground, representing an opportunity to come together in the name of a cherished national ideal regardless of political party. We will work to hold President Trump and his administration accountable, to stay true to these positive statements, and stand ready to repel any policies that would jeopardize bedrock conservation laws.
Take a look at what is at stake in a Trump presidency and how we will be meeting these challenges.
Public land faces major uncertainty
Threats we face under Trump:
Despite positive statements, Trump has expressed support for the "public land takeover" movement behind closed doors. While he has gone on the record as wanting to keep public lands in public hands, behind closed doors, President Trump has reportedly expressed support for the radical campaign to privatize public lands. A member of his transition team even suggested privatizing national forests because "People that don’t own things don’t have the incentive to take care of them." Meanwhile, the 2016 GOP platform called on Congress to immediately pass legislation that creates a mechanism to force some federal public lands into state control.
Trump's presidency threatens vital conservation programs. Trump's campaign has criticized federal land agencies, and he has said he intends to broadly slash federal government programs. This does not bode well for the miniscule slice of the budget currently devoted to conservation—barely 1 percent overall.
- Trump administration could try to reverse national monuments and gut Antiquities Act. Anti-conservation members of Congress have already lobbied Trump to reverse national monuments designated by President Obama at the end of his administration, part of a larger plan to undermine the Antiquities Act. In his confirmation hearing, Interior nominee Ryan Zinke suggested deferring to states in establishing national monuments, which would break with a century-old bipartisan presidential tradition.
What we need to hold Trump to:
Trump has gone on the record for keeping our public lands public, and so has Interior nominee Ryan Zinke. While Donald Trump has warmed up to the "land takeover" movement behind closed doors, he has publicly said he doesn't like the idea of allowing states to seize national public lands. Trump's pick to head the Department of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has a record of opposing states' efforts to seize or sell off public lands.
- Trump claims to support conservation. Trump has said "We have to be great stewards of this land" and implied that he would improve management for the good of sportsmen. Interior nominee Ryan Zinke has said he supports the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a popular program that takes royalties from offshore oil and gas leasing and gives those funds to the government to purchase land for parks and open spaces, and also promised to address national parks' $12.5 billion maintenance backlog.
What we will do to protect our public lands:
- We will hold the Trump administration to support of public lands. Donald Trump and Interior nominee Ryan Zinke have said positive things about keeping public lands in public hands, and we will hold them to those words. The "public land takeover" movement is poised to gain momentum in Congress, and it is our job to make sure the president and his administration won't be a part of it—that when Trump said "we have to be great stewards of this land," it actually meant something.
- We will fight to make sure conservation is funded. Conservation programs are enormously popular and contribute substantially to the economy, generating up to $10 for every $1 invested and creating high-quality jobs. Despite this, these programs are shortchanged in the federal budget every year. We will fight for conservation funding, as well as working to keep the most toxic "riders" out of the budget.
- We will defend the Antiquities Act and future national monuments. Numerous laws have been proposed in this Congress that would limit the future presidents' ability to protect important cultural and natural sites as national monuments. We have consistently worked to oppose such measures, and will continue to do so throughout the Trump presidency.
Reckless energy policy threatens climate
Threats we face under Trump:
- Trump and appointees have repeatedly cast doubt on climate change. Ignoring the scientific consensus, President-elect Trump has repeatedly said he does not "believe" in climate change, and even that it is a hoax "created by and for the Chinese." Various members of his cabinet have either echoed these beliefs or insisted, despite overwhelming scientific consensus, that the science of climate change is still a matter of open debate.
- Trump's EPA pick has fought efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. After President Trump said on the campaign trail that he may "cut" the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is tasked with enforcing laws to reduce pollution, he did something nearly as bad by nominating Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the agency. Pruitt is an enemy of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions who has aligned himself with oil and gas companies and other industrial interests that he will be asked to regulate.
- The Trump regime is set to back out of our climate commitments. President Trump has said he intends to "cancel" the Paris agreement to address climate change, which could trigger a chain reaction that makes other countries reconsider their commitments, as well as damaging diplomatic relations more broadly. Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson's former company, ExxonMobil CEO, spent decades avoiding action on climate change; if confirmed, he would exercise great influence over America's international climate efforts.
- Trump promotes reckless fossil fuel development, including on public lands. Trump has stated his intent to reject moratoriums on new coal leases or other energy production on public lands, implied he might drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and said he wants to increase offshore drilling. His Energy nominee, Rick Perry, has consistently championed fossil fuel development over all else. Interior nominee Ryan Zinke has promoted the myth that the Obama administration waged a "war on coal" and touted coal as an important energy source in the future.
- Trump wants to push drilling. Trump said he will "[open] federal lands for oil and gas production," and Interior nominee Ryan Zinke has emphasized the importance of energy development on public lands. During his first week in the Oval Office, President Trump revived the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, showing that his administration's energy agenda will be pulled from the oil and gas industry's wish list, despite the objection of native nations, local communities and millions of concerned Americans.
- Trump rejects renewable energy. President-elect Trump has called renewable energy "just an expensive way of making the tree-huggers feel good about themselves," instead extolling the virtues of energy sources like oil, gas and coal.
What we need to hold Trump to:
- Trump claims to value land protection. Trump has said "I am for energy exploration, as long as we don’t do anything to damage the land."
What we will do to protect Our Wild:
- We will demand a response to climate change. Science has spoken: human-caused climate change is real, and a huge threat to the entire planet. We will fight to ensure federal agencies fully address greenhouse gas emissions from energy projects on public lands, amid comprehensive work to address the climate crisis.
- We will move to reduce fossil fuel emissions and impacts on public lands. Among other plans, we will advocate for policies that reduce methane leaks from public lands, which make up a sizeable "blind spot" in U.S. emissions calculations; stop oil and gas leasing on lands that are simply "Too Wild to Drill"; and advance reform for the federal coal leasing program to protect the land and ensure American taxpayers are not shortchanged.
- We will push for responsible renewable energy development. The U.S. cannot afford to have its national energy plan stuck in reverse. We will aggressively push for the development of renewable energy sources in order to curb greenhouse gas emissions, while also ensuring that the development doesn't happen in the most sensitive wildlands.
How you can help
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump sometimes noted the importance of environmental protection, and we will remind him of those statements and hold him to them. But more frequently, the president has advocated a host of policies that would worsen climate change, depress renewable energy and potentially empower anti-conservationists in Washington DC. His choices to lead departments like the Environmental Protection Agency only deepened our concerns.
We are proud of our long record of bipartisan collaboration, and we will spend the next four years fighting to safeguard Our Wild and repel attacks at the local and national level—no matter who controls Congress or the White House.
During the Trump presidency, it seems clear we may be in for an unprecedented challenge. Please JOIN US and invest in our conservation war-chest to protect this nation's great natural heritage.
Non-Getty photos by Mason Cummings.