In 2018, Trump May Double Down, But So Will We

With more top positions at federal agencies filled by industry lawyers and lobbyists, we expect more virulent attacks on environmental protections. But we won’t solely be on the defensive: We are expanding anywhere we can make progress, including in some unlikely states and internationally.

First light over Cedar Mesa in southeast Utah, Bears Ears National Monument. Bears Ears is one of the national monuments that Earthjustice is fighting to preserve.
First light over Cedar Mesa in southeast Utah, Bears Ears National Monument. Bears Ears is one of the national monuments that Earthjustice is fighting to preserve. (MASON CUMMINGS / TWS)

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Throughout 2017, the actions of the Trump administration and his congressional collaborators made their fundamental agenda crystal clear: plunder the public’s health and well-being for the benefit of a few vested interests.

On the environmental front, we stopped many of these efforts, winning court victories and congressional fights. We also got stronger, expanding our coalitions and our staff. Earthjustice added litigators and other advocates across the nation to take on the rapidly growing case load. With your help, we grew by 30 percent in just one year.

So, what have we learned and what is the outlook for 2018?

First, we now know that the administration will do practically anything the oil, gas and coal industries want them to do: auction off precious wild lands and offshore waters, slash air and water protections, abandon basic enforcement responsibilities and sound science — and even limit the public’s right to go to court. In addition, anti-environmental factions in Congress, emboldened by this administration’s actions, are renewing their longstanding assaults against our fundamental environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Antiquities Act and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The threats cut across everything we do and have to be met aggressively, uncompromisingly and creatively.  

Second, as we’ve seen in past hostile administrations, the zeal to cut back environmental protections leads agencies to take short cuts, without legally-required public input and without establishing a sound, rational basis for their actions. These short cuts are the signposts to some of our opportunities for early victories. We know that 2018 will bring many more court victories when agencies try to accomplish rollbacks by simple decree or by unjustified delay.

Third, during this dark time in D.C., we know we can’t focus on defense alone. The public and common sense are on our side, which opens the door to making progress at the state level, especially on clean energy. In traditionally green states, Earthjustice has long been at the forefront of transformational state efforts to incorporate more wind and solar power and energy efficiency into their electric power portfolios. But in 2018, we’re going further and faster. In Hawai‘i and California, for example, where solar generation is skyrocketing, we’re pushing for new rules on combining rooftop solar with battery storage so that customers can store solar energy during peak sun hours and provide energy to the grid at later times, when demand on the grid is higher.

We’re not stopping with the green states, however. In 2018 we will make more inroads into coal-dominated states like West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky, where the dying coal industry makes a clean energy transition both a moral and economic necessity. And, we’re expanding our work in states like Iowa and Idaho, where utilities are trying to artificially jack up the cost of clean energy in order to prop up an outdated energy system. Finally, we’re taking our legal expertise and applying it internationally in places like Australia, Indonesia and South Africa, where our partners are working to constrain coal development and make the transition to clean energy.

 We know we can’t do all of this alone. That’s why this year we are accelerating our efforts to build and deepen relationships with low-income communities, native tribes, faith leaders, communities of color, blue-collar workers and anyone else who wants to find common ground in demanding clean energy and clean jobs, a healthy environment and a healthy economy, and a democratic system that provides an equal voice to all.  

This administration’s allegiance is so clearly aligned with private interests that the American people have an opportunity to find common ground again around the protection of public goods. We want healthy communities, safe from hurricanes, wildfires, mudslides, air pollution, pesticides and other environmental harms. We want robust populations of wild creatures and protected landscapes. We want justice for all and a fair court system. On this common ground, we are proud to stand with you and grateful for your support.

Trip Van Noppen served as Earthjustice’s president from 2008 until he retired in 2018. A North Carolina native, Trip said of his experience: “Serving as the steward of Earthjustice for the last decade has been the greatest honor of my life.”