The Good News from Washington
As 2015 showed signs of backsliding in most areas of environmental protection and public land use, the strength of local voices aligned with national organizations prevailed to shut down some of the worst legislation coming out of Congress. Yes, grass roots organizations like the Northcoast Environmental Center do make a difference.
We helped stop bills that would remove or limit public scrutiny of large timber operations, give salvage logging a huge pass on public comment, ignore science and remove endangered species protection, and ship even more water to California’s Central Valley. The NEC joined with thousands of others in letter after letter to our congressional delegation opposing these bad bills. In doing so, we enabled them to prove their constituents were against slashing our environmental laws in order to favor corporate interests. Most of those victories were accomplished at the last minute in conference committees behind closed doors.
The good news out of 2015: Your voice counts, but only if you participate.
The other good news out of Washington this year relates to climate change. Not only did President Obama stop the Keystone XL pipeline from running the dirtiest tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico to ship to foreign countries, but the Obama Administration also made bold commitments at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (see page 7).
Many following the events were surprised that the U.S. went beyond expectations toward reducing our impacts on climate change. Much of the success of the conference is based on industrial nations, like the U.S., helping poorer countries who want the same energy benefits as industrialized nations. A skeptical Congress will have to fund those climate initiatives in the coming years. The ultimate success of our country’s commitments will be sealed in the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.
The bad news: Congress reversed our 40-year ban on exporting American crude oil.
The final Omnibus (a funding bill with lots of “riders”) included the decision to allow export of U.S. crude oil to China and other countries. Why? So energy corporations can maximize their profits, plain and simple. The effort to sway Congress and the public was led by the American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard. The result will be higher gas prices for everyone. Next time you hear a politician or oil executive suggest we need to assure energy independence so we do not have to rely on our “enemies” in the Middle East for oil, remind them of the 2015 push to allow American oil companies to export oil for the first time since 1975.
If you are a wolf or a sage grouse, 2015 was not a good year for you either. Though most of the bad bills related to endangered species were stopped, sage grouse and wolves did not fare well. Our vigilance is needed to assure future generations see them in the wild.
All or most of those bad bills will be put forward again. HR 2647, the so-called “Resilient Forest Act” that would allow thousands of acres of forests to be logged with little or no public input, is already back on the table in the House of Representatives. That bill was very nearly included in the Omnibus funding bill but was removed at the last minute due to community opposition. There is no time to rest. Bad bills, of which there is no shortage, need to receive strong, immediate and forceful opposition. The NEC is providing just that—with your support.
2016 is, of course, an election year. Look for lots of grandstanding by all parties and little accomplishment, but with this Congress, perhaps that is yet another good thing.