Home / General / How Western Industrial Interests Are Relying on Trump to Eviscerate Decades of Environmental Protections

How Western Industrial Interests Are Relying on Trump to Eviscerate Decades of Environmental Protections

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In the West, legal decisions to protect animals instead of allowing for the unregulated exploitation of the natural world continue to outrage already profitable industries. Never mind that the protection of these species is also tremendously profitable for other groups, bringing a ton of money into states such as Oregon and Idaho. That money isn’t going to the right people–timber, mining, and agricultural capitalists. That’s why they are rooting for the Trump administration, which on these issues is no worse than any Republican administration, to repeal those protections and allow for profit at the price of extinction, just as God intended.

A group that represents farmers is calling the costs of saving imperiled salmon in the largest river system in the Pacific Northwest unsustainable and is turning to the Trump administration to sidestep endangered species laws.

The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association wants the government to convene a Cabinet-level committee with the power to allow exemptions to the Endangered Species Act. Known as the “God squad” because its decisions can lead to extinctions of threatened wildlife, it has only gathered three times — the last 25 years ago during a controversy over spotted owl habitat in the Northwest.

The irrigators association is frustrated with court rulings it says favor fish over people, claiming the committee could end years of legal challenges over U.S. dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers and bring stability for irrigators, power generators and other businesses that rely on the water.

Environmental groups call the request a publicity stunt and say it could hurt fishing companies and others that rely on healthy runs of federally protected salmon and steelhead.

The association sees hope in a series of pro-industry environmental decisions by President Trump. His administration has rescinded an Obama-era rule that would shield many small streams and other bodies of water from pollution and development, enacted policies to increase coal mining on federal lands and proposed giving Western states greater flexibility to allow development in habitat of sage grouse, a threatened bird.

To be clear, these rulings do not favor “fish over people.” They favor fish and the people who live in the Northwest because of its beauty and its animals over another group of people–agribusiness. I don’t have to explain which people will count in this administration.

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  • Trump is a troll, so if you consider the most trollist position possible, that is the one he will take.

  • cpinva

    “enacted policies to increase coal mining on federal lands”

    to what purpose? coal, as a valuable commodity, is dropping like a stone, both domestically and internationally. other, cheaper, cleaner fuels/renewables are taking its place. absent some major calamity, the coal industry will be dead in first-world countries in a decade. those countries still using it as a major energy source have plenty of closer places to import it from, if they haven’t their own reserves.

    • Clean energy didn’t vote for Trump. Coal did. It’s as simple as that.

      • TheBrett

        And they’re trying to collect, like with Jim Justice asking for a massive subsidy for appalachian coal. It won’t happen because of Congress (coal mining interests out west have their senators as well), but still . . .

      • cpinva

        that’s fine, I understand that. my question still remains: what the hell are they going to do with it? getting it out of the ground still costs money, even if you strip mine. having huge piles of unsold coal lying about isn’t particularly profitable, and selling it at a negative gross profit margin (I have seen this for real), will only get you so far, before you go belly up. bankruptcy, as a business model, generally only benefits the attorneys.

    • JamesWimberley

      The latest country to abandon expansion plans for coal generation was Sri Lanka. The PUC compared a plan based on coal with a slightly more expensive plan based on renewables. They did not have any data on externalities for Sri Lanka, but looked at the literature and concluded these were going to be high enough to tip the scales against coal. This is how adults reason, remember them?

  • M Lister

    To be clear, these rulings do not favor “fish over people.” They favor
    fish and the people who live in the Northwest because of its beauty and
    its animals over another group of people–agribusiness.

    In my experience, even this is too strong. The most you can usually say is that these regulations give some weight to the interests of those who would like to preserve wildlife and natural areas. They are typically not “favored” in the sense of getting more weight than the other side. They are merely not completely discounted, which would be the favored view of many of the ass-holes from my native state (and others nearby) who would then complain about the fishing being bad.

    • They are merely not completely discounted, which would be the favored view of many of the ass-holes from my native state (and others nearby) who would then complain about the fishing being bad.

      I don’t eat fish, but my understanding is that high levels of mercury improve the taste.

      • cpinva

        “I don’t eat fish, but my understanding is that high levels of mercury improve the taste.”

        only in swordfish. it makes it tricky to grill, but with proper ventilation, you’re good to go.

  • NicknotNick

    From living along the Snake River in Oregon, and being familiar with one of its uglier dams in ugly Lewiston, I can offer the following unhelpful thoughts.

    1) People up there really like dams. My father has heard people admire the slack water above the dam.
    2) The lower shipping costs for agricultural products are a real thing — it’s not only large agribusinesses that benefit from these. Individual farming is a tough business in the dry Palouse, no one is in the mood to give up something that helps them just to benefit some fish, hippies, etc.
    3) Benefits to the region don’t easily balance out damage to individual people. Someone who’s farmed for a long time knows that if they lose their inland port and have to pay higher shipping costs, those aren’t going to be made up to them by a bunch of fly fishermen coming in. Not everyone has the skill set to benefit off of a tourist economy. A compromise here that doesn’t enrage people is going to require some sort of subsidy for a generation or two, that will let people continue as they are and let the economy adjust slowly.

    But, I totally agree, the Snake River dams are an abomination, they ruined a tremendous resource before people realized how important it was.

    • ChrisS

      that will let people continue as they are and let the economy adjust slowly.

      There are a lot of folks that haven’t adjusted to losing the Civil War yet.

      Non-snark: There is a sizable population of people who live inside the Adirondack Park in NY who still agitate for a return to clear cutting timber despite prices being nowhere near competitive with Canadian lumber or southern plantation lumber.

    • drdick52

      Living in western Montana, I would add that tourism mostly produces a lot of low wage seasonal jobs. Even if those farmers could somehow switch over to the tourist economy, they are unlikely to make as good a living.

    • HugeEuge

      A compromise here that doesn’t enrage people is going to require some sort of subsidy for a generation or two
      is a reasonable point, but haven’t the members of the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association been receiving massive government subsidies for decades, indeed ever since the dams were built? They certainly did not pay to build the dams and if Southern California water prices are anything to go by, they aren’t paying anything close to either the full cost or the market price for the irrigation water they receive. As an eastener, a lot of the western complaints about the USG restricting natural resource access (Hello Cliven) sound an awful lot like “keep the government out of my Medicare.”

      • NicknotNick

        Sure, that’s a fair point, but I also think it’s irrelevant. If you’re going to take away a subsidy that an important sector of the local economy depends on, doing it slowly and with care is a courtesy.

    • Linnaeus

      A compromise here that doesn’t enrage people is going to require some
      sort of subsidy for a generation or two, that will let people continue
      as they are and let the economy adjust slowly.

      Why can’t they just move and/or become nurses or computer programmers?

      • NicknotNick

        This comment has changed the terms of the debate
        I will suggest to them that we blow up the dams and they become computer programming nurses

  • AMK

    “Never mind that the protection of these species is also tremendously profitable for other groups”

    …which don’t spend any of that money defending their interests politically. The Republican Party takes cash or checks.

    • efgoldman

      …which don’t spend any of that money defending their interests politically.

      Didn’t Punchable Chaffetz receive a huge amount of pushback when he pushed a bill doing something similar?

  • NeonTrotsky

    With Salmon in particular it’s not even necessarily about the natural beauty. A number of Native American tribes have a vested interest in not seeing the salmon go extinct, as do both sport and commercial fishermen. It’s already to the point where fishing the Salmon runs of several river systems in Oregon/California have been shut down entirely in the past few years because of how low the population is, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of these populations are already at a point that is low enough that they will never fully recover. Also, the way I see it things are already heavily tilted in favor of farmers, they get cushy ag subsidies and preference on water rights, and yet they still manage to complain about government interference. God damn hypocrites.

  • SomeTreasonBrewing

    Off topic but timely. Iannucci pokes fun at corrupt bunglers trying to finesse their own fuckup.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukJ5dMYx2no

  • drdick52

    Only corporations are people in Trump World.

  • DJ

    As one who was raised in the Black Hills National Forest, I am always frustrated by arguments from the logging (and, less so, mining) industry that any effort to reduce exploitation of the land is “anti-industry.” What about the thousands of people, like my family when I was young, who rely on the forest for tourism, hunting, fishing?

    Mostly, the arguments favoring exploitation do not come from locals, but from outside groups–corporations, their PACs, and ancillary ideologues. The locals have interests that float in both directions: family members rely on both the land and the tourists to feed their kids. The tourism trade tends to be made up mostly of small family-run operations with narrow profit margins, and what industry groups they do belong to devote most of their scant resources to promotion, not political action. And the people are tribally conservative anyway and tend to view outside groups that work to elect local Republicans as allies, even while their arguments work against the interests of the tourism trade. And they understandably view liberal environmental groups who work to elect Democrats as the enemy.

    But when pressed, the locals favor as balanced an approach as possible, one that allows for both timber and tourism to thrive. Unfortunately, only one side of the industry equation has the money to buy the politicians. Which means that balance is a hard thing to find.

  • Joe Paulson

    Justice Douglas in his (in)famous dissent in Sierra Club v. Morton was not concerned ultimately with “giving trees standing” but protecting nature for the good of all. After noting inanimate objects like ships and corporations traditionally had standing, he noted:

    So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes — fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it. Those people who have a meaningful relation to that body of water — whether it be a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist, or a logger — must be able to speak for the values which the river represents, and which are threatened with destruction.

    There are various ways to represent such interests and it should be done.

  • NicknotNick

    Something else you have to remember is that people there associate environmentalists with the Spotted Owl controversy. Now, I support preserving the Spotted Owl — but it ain’t no salmon. The Spotted Owl brought no jobs or revenue to the PNW, no one ever said “Hey kids, let’s take a week and go see the Spotted Owl! We’ll hire an outfitter to pack us back up into Spotted Owl territory!”

    Now, the actual effect of the spotted owl issue on logging was quite negligible — there simply wasn’t that much forest left that affected it. BUT — this issue occurred at the same time that the small sawmills and logging operations were being wiped out. That devastated a lot of small communities, who saw hippies arguing for less logging while people were losing their jobs. Environmentalists can argue that the salmon runs should be restored because they are economically valuable, but that’s not entirely in good faith; environmentalists also argue that non-economically important species should be protected, and economics aren’t our only metric for what gets saved. The people up there know that — telling a farmer that bringing back the salmon will ‘benefit the region’ is somewhat similar to telling an out-of-work coal miner in West Virginia that the government will provide ‘job training’. It sounds good, but when you actually look at the specific benefit to that person, it may not be so fine.

  • rudolf schnaubelt

    Salmon are the keystone species of the Cascadian ecosystem. All life in the region depends on the salmon. Their lifecycle is the life of the land. Remove the salmon, and the bears, eagles and doug firs starve.

    • NicknotNick

      I’m not sure that’s totally true — where we live there have been damn few salmon for half a century, and we have plenty of bears, eagles, and Douglas fir.

      • rudolf schnaubelt

        The salmon have already started running.
        In 2 more weeks they start dying. The scent rises and the bears come down from altitude to feast. The eagles also taste the scent. They join the feast. The cougars and coyotes also.
        Remnants of the salmon bones and skin blend with the soil and forest clutter. The trees feed.
        You can watch the cycle every year. You see the fruits of it every spring. The soil is rich , the water is clean snow melt, the salmon leave and return. Remove the salmon and it all collapses.

        • NicknotNick

          In Wallowa County there are very few salmon, and populations of bears, cougars, and eagles are doing just fine — nothing is collapsing. And if you mention ‘coyotes’ as part of the great cycle that depends upon salmon and will collapse without them, prepare to be laughed out of the room.

          I know your heart is in the right place, but you don’t know jack about this. From what you’re talking about, it sounds like you’re discussing the coastal ecology (sort of — I don’t know where the bit about coyotes and mountain lions comes from). The dams under question are deep in the East, on the other side of the mountains, in dry ponderosa pine forest. The ecology there doesn’t depend on the salmon run.

          • rudolf schnaubelt

            Yes I am in the coastal region. I am sorry that your region is already dying.

            Are coyotes not part of the ecosystem?

            • NicknotNick

              Uh-huh. I guess that’s why the cougar population is at a 30-year high, and wolves have moved back from Canada, through the Idaho panhandle.

              Your style of half-baked environmental mysticism is one reason real conservation is so hard to achieve (though to be fair, not the main reason).

              • rudolf schnaubelt

                Not even half-baked yet (it’s early on the west coast). Thanks for making it personal though.

                Spikes of individual populations out of balance with their cohorts is not a healthy environment. That is the point. The salmon binds the whole together.

                Balance.

                • NicknotNick

                  Jeepers, man, the coyotes are thriving because the wolves are gone. The wolves are gone because people shot them, not because the salmon run stopped. Once people stopped shooting them, the wolves came back. The salmon didn’t bind jack-all together.

                • rudolf schnaubelt

                  Didn’t say coyotes need protecting.

                  Your unhealthy region killed it’s wolves so now an opportunist species is filling part of the wolf’s niche. The environment is trying to rebalance.

                  If your salmon are gone your trees and grasses don’t get the nutrients from all the rotting fish. If your bears don’t eat salmon they need some other source of fat and protein delivered fresh every autumn.

                  Now bears and coyotes and cougars get around but they don’t go to sea so they don’t bring back minerals and chemical compounds needed by the various indigenous flora.

                  The cypress, the doug fir they profit from the salmon and the bear and eagle shit (you understand guano). It’s a cycle.

                  Blocking rivers. Kills salmon. Killing salmon kills rivers. Nothing mystical.

                  Humans can try to “manage” the environment but subtracting species is like playing jenga (sp?), you can bring the entire edifice down.

    • njorl

      To put it in a technically more accurate manner:

      The PNW is very naturally rich, and is not limited by water or temperature. The limiting factor for life in much of the PNW is the availability of fixed nitrogen. Migrating salmon transport fixed nitrogen from the sea inland at an astonishing rate. They perform the function of migrating waterfowl in other ecosystems. In some ecosystems, as much as half of the fixed nitrogen is due to migrating salmon. Since it is the limiting nutrient, that means that half of the biomass in those specific ecosystems is due to salmon.

      They are not the only source of fixed nitrogen, obviously, so even if they disappear, almost every species in the area will continue on, but there’s no reason to believe that some other natural source of fixed nitrogen will fill their niche. It’s not like killing off a predator species where another species will multiply and fill the void. When you reduce the number of salmon migrating, you reduce the maximum biomass sustainable.

      • rudolf schnaubelt

        Thank you. Well put.

  • JDM

    These fish, all along the west coast, make money for a very big industry, providing many jobs. (There’s also a problem with damming or blocking small creeks that feed into the Pacific; people don’t realize how big a spawning ground even a small creek makes.) So it’s not even fish and people who like nature; it’s that plus a big revenue-generating, job-creating industry versus farming (and frankly, that’s mostly not the best, most productive area to farm).

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