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Can This Please Be the Last Time?

Noted environmentalists Arnold Schwarzenegger and Donald Trump. Melbourne, Australia

Noted environmentalists Arnold Schwarzenegger and Donald Trump. Melbourne, Australia

With President Trump signing Senate Bill 47 yesterday, the largest public lands bill in decades has become law.  Outdoor, conservation and climate groups, are heralding its passage as a major victory, good governance and refreshing news, primarily because of S.47’s permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 

I understand the importance of silver linings in our worrisome moment.  I also understand that our political leaders are failing us and there’s a common impulse to regard bipartisanship (for hiking trails no less!) as a corrective to the dysfunction of Washington.  But climate change will not tolerate moderation.  The IPCC has told the world that we need to stop burning fossil fuels in eleven years to mitigate apocalyptic climate change. That’s it. S.47—and the celebration surrounding it—plainly ignores that warning. 

Protecting public lands is objectively good.  The means by which congress has done so is antithetical to any long term conservation effort on the planet.

So what’s in the bill?

The good*:

(*it’s bad)

Sec. 3001. Reauthorization of Land and Water Conservation Fund

This is of course the part public land supporters are happy about: Permanent funding for critically underfunded projects on public lands, parks and waterways.  The funds are raised through royalties on federal offshore oil and gas leases.  The best part of this enormous bill requires a dependency on fossil fuels.  If we wish to not kill the earth completely, “permanent” would therefore mean eleven years. 

Or less! Because the budget proposal Trump delivered to congress on Tuesday, a day before signing this historic land bill to the applaud of both parties, in fact calls for scaling back the $435 million appropriated for 2019….to zero in 2020.

The more noxious elements of S.47:

Sec. 5002. Reauthorization of National Geologic Mapping Act of 1992

The number one purpose for geological mapping is fossil fuel exploration. The original 1992 law explicitly says so. With eleven years to decarbonize, we are spending our tax money to tell energy companies where they can get more fuel to kill us.  Oh, and the number two purpose for mapping is toxic and nuclear waste disposal.

Sec. 2401. Denali National Park and Preserve natural gas pipeline

This bill allows for the routing of a Liquefied Natural Gas Pipeline through Denali National Park.

Sec. 1110. Small miner waivers to claim maintenance fees

Deregulates mining on public land.

Sec. 1105. Repeal of provision limiting the export of timber harvested from certain Kake Tribal Corporation land.

Deregulates logging on public land.

Sec. 1119. Alaska Native Vietnam era veterans land allotment

Privatizes half a million acres of public land.

Sec. 1493. The Chugach Land Study Act

Mandates a study on behalf of the Chugach Alaska Corporation, a native corporation involved in the fossil fuel industry. The study will analyze the economic affects public land acquisition has on the corporation.

Then there’s the bill’s author herself, Sen Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). She is the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee and has used that position to exploit public lands throughout the United States largest oil boom in history (thanks Obama). Murkowski has a lifetime score from LCV of 17%, 0% for 2017. She is a member of what the Center or American Progress (themselves funded by oil money) calls the “Anti-Parks Caucus”, even appearing at the executive order ceremony shrinking Bear’s Ear and Grand Staircase. She is the leading advocate for drilling ANWR.  This very week she was on CNBC promoting increased oil and natural gas production. “Ten years ago we could not have dreamed that we would be in this place that we are able to export to the level we are because of these vast quantities that come to us.”

She is a Congressional Republican, the most powerful group of climate deniers in the world. 

What Stockholm syndrome is this where we’re lauding her as a (checks notes) conservationist?

Omnibus bills are big (a dysfunction in its own right).  In a package of a thousand individual bills, members of congress end up voting on at least a handful of bills they dislike in order to get a yes on the bills they do like and serves their constituents.  Both Green New Deal authors, Sen Ed Markey (D-MA) and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), our most valorous climate advocates in Congress, voted in favor of S.47.

WE ARE NOT THOSE PEOPLE.  No constituent in the country is served by fossil fuel reliance or promotion. We are the public, regular schlubs who needs to mobilize in unprecedented fashion, engage in sustained civil disobedience, and lead a legitimate revolution to save the planet. We know that’s true.  Our congresspeople should not feel comfortable, much less praised, until there is serious (serious) action on climate.

I’m familiar with condemnations of this attitude, that what’s wrong with our country is that we refuse to meet in the middle anymore. But 81% of Americans (including a majority of Republican voters) support the Green New Deal for instance.  Stick with that narrative! Bipartisanship and pragmatism are deeply cynical ideals. Congress bites and it is not in the interest of the public—especially environmental advocacy organizations—to mirror its uninspired limitations and beltway ideology. We have the world to lose, not elections. I’m pleading with you folks.

S.47 reminds me a lot of Bill McKibbon’s experience as a member of the 2016 DNC Platform Committee, representing Sen Bernie Sanders. 

At which point we got (about 11 p.m., in a half-deserted hotel ballroom) to the climate section of the platform, and that’s where things got particularly obvious. We all agreed that America should be operating on 100 percent clean energy by 2050, but then I proposed, in one amendment after another, a series of ways we might actually get there. A carbon tax? Voted down 7-6 (one of the DNC delegates voted with each side). A ban on fracking? Voted down 7-6. An effort to keep fossils in the ground, at least on federal land? Voted down 7-6. A measure to mandate that federal agencies weigh the climate impact of their decisions? Voted down 7-6. Even a plan to keep fossil fuel companies from taking private land by eminent domain, voted down 7-6. (We did, however, reach unanimous consent on more bike paths!)

This week we got the bike paths.