On World Environment Day, the Government Slashes Environmental Protections

Instead of responding to multiple national crises, the administration is pushing an industry-first agenda that railroads environmental laws.

President Donald Trump pauses during a meeting in the White House on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.
President Donald Trump pauses during a meeting in the White House on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (Doug Mills/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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June 5 is World Environment Day. This year, the Trump administration is “celebrating” by assaulting environmental protections while other crises divert the nation’s attention.

Today — instead of taking action to address police brutality, systemic racism, or the coronavirus pandemic — President Trump issued a proclamation that will allow harmful commercial fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamount Marine National Monument in New England.

Cradling a spectacular array of marine life, including endangered whales, sea turtles, puffins, and rare deep-sea corals, the monument protects 4,913 square miles of pristine Atlantic Ocean ecosystem. Since its designation in 2016, the monument has been backed by tremendous public support.

Contrary to the administration’s claims, there has been no evidence that fishing harvests have been harmed in the creation of marine national monuments. Preserving these monuments is critical to combating the effects of climate change — an actual threat to the fishing industry that the administration refuses to acknowledge.

Ironically, the administration announced the rollback one week after proclaiming June 2020 to be “National Ocean Month.” Rather than celebrating the importance of protecting our oceans to sustain a healthy planet and a stable economy, the administration is once again prioritizing industry handouts for short-term political gains.

Today’s attack on environmental protections doesn’t stop with oceans: The administration is also moving forward with a widely criticized plan to strip protections from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This century-old law protects birds against illegal hunting and harm from industry operations. It is a critical legal tool used by federal agencies and courts to defend the nation’s birds, and is credited with restoring many bird species from the brink of extinction, including the Snowy Egret, Wood Duck, and Sandhill Crane.

That’s exactly the kind of environmental protection that the Trump administration has made its mission to dismantle. The new proposal grants immunity to the oil and gas industry, whose operations consistently kill off vast populations of bird species — most notably in the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill 10 years ago, which killed over 1 million birds when oil from the blown-out rig covered the Gulf of Mexico.

The proposal has been vehemently challenged by scientists, bipartisan politicians, and the public. Nearly 200,000 public comments have been submitted in favor of keeping the law intact.

These disturbing announcements cap off a week of unrelenting attacks on wildlife and environmental protection. Days earlier, the administration instructed federal agencies to waive long-standing environmental laws to expedite pipelines and other energy projects. Under the cover of “economic emergency,” the executive order is intended to rush through approval of projects and silence public input on activities that directly impact their communities. This puts them a grave risk from reckless industry pollution.

The timing and scale of these rollbacks leave no question that the Trump administration prioritizes industry handouts over protecting the public. Earthjustice was created to use those protections defend people, wildlife, and a healthy environment — and we will fight to preserve these critical legal tools.

“In the midst of two national crises over systemic racism and a pandemic that rages on, the president has decided to prioritize opening up a national monument to commercial fishing, while weakening bedrock environmental laws that protect people and the environment,” says Steve Mashuda, Earthjustice’s Managing Attorney of its Oceans Program. “We condemn this action, amidst all the other destructive policies this president has pursued in these days, and are looking at every tool we have to support the fight against this.”

Earthjustice won’t let these actions go unchallenged. Here is more information on how we’re fighting them:

Alison Cagle is a writer at Earthjustice. She is based in San Francisco. Alison tells the stories of the earth: the systems that govern it, the ripple effects of those systems, and the people who are fighting to change them — to protect our planet and all its inhabitants.