Trump vs. the Environment: Bad News for People and Forests

September 8th, 2020 - by Rachel Frazin / The Hill & Bobby Magill / Bloomberg Law & Pat Rizzuto / Bloomberg Law

Trees older thatn the country could be logged under Trump.

Trump Proposes Timber Sale in Tongass National Forest

Rachel Frazin / The Hill

(September 4, 2020) — The Trump administration on Friday proposed a sale that would allow logging across thousands of acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, which critics say will exacerbate climate change and harm wildlife habitats. 

The Forest Service proposed allowing the timber industry to chop down trees across up to more than 6,000 acres of forest. This includes more than 5,000 acres of what’s known as “old growth” forest, containing older trees that are important to fighting climate change.

The Tongass National Forest is a major carbon sink, meaning its trees soak up carbon from the atmosphere, mitigating the impacts of climate change. 

In a letter attached to the draft of the environmental impact statement outlining the proposal, Tongass Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart wrote that the sale intends to “contribute jobs and labor income in local and regional communities in the timber and tourism sectors, contribute to improved terrestrial and aquatic conditions, support access to subsistence resources, and provide safe access to Forest users.”

However, critics have expressed concerns about the climate impacts of allowing logging in the region, especially the large, older trees that can be found in the forest. 

“The older and bigger the tree is means the more carbon it is holding in the tree trunks, the roots, the branches …the bigger, the better. And what you have in the Tongass are some of the carbon-storing champions,” said Randi Spivak, the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands director. 

She also expressed concern that allowing the trees to be cut down could harm animal species that use it for cover, and native people who eat animals like deer. 

“Deer need these old-growth forests for thermal cover in winter and food sources, and when you log these forests, you lose that thermal cover from these forests. Likewise, the archipelago wolf, whose populations have really been devastated, they prey on deer and they also utilize these forests,” she said. 

The logging would take place on  Revillagigedo Island, which is part of the national forest. 

The proposal is separate from a prior attempt to allow logging in a different area of the Tongass on Prince of Wales Island, which a court stalled earlier this year. The judge argued that the Forest Service’s environmental analysis had “serious shortcomings.” 

Despite its attempts to advance logging in the Tongass, the Trump administration has put forth planting trees as a possible solution to climate change. 

President Trump announced in January that he wanted to join the global Trillion Trees initiative, which seeks to “grow, restore and conserve” a trillion trees worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum and a U.S. chapter launched recently. Asked recently what the president hopes to do to combat climate change, his campaign pointed The Hill to his support for this program

More Logging in National Forests on Trump’s Agenda

Pat Rizzuto / Bloomberg Law

(April 14, 2020) — The Trump administration is allowing loggers to extend their tree-cutting contracts in national forests to support the timber industry during the coronavirus pandemic and to help national forests create jobs after the crisis ends.

“Having numerous economically viable timber purchasers is also essential as employment and the national economy recovers following the COVID-19 pandemic,” the U.S. Forest Service said in a Federal Register notice to be published Wednesday.

Environmental groups see the move as a back-door approach to prop up an industry hurt by a trade war with China started by President Donald Trump.

The agency is extending timber harvesting contracts by up to two years for contracts issued prior to April 1 in national forests in the Lower 48 states. Loggers in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, who have seen their market “exceptionally disrupted,” can have their contracts extended for three years. 

The average contract length is two years, so the agency’s order may double the time loggers have to cut trees in some cases, according to the notice. 

“A unique combination of world market conditions, the COVID-19 pandemic and a massive bark beetle epidemic in central Europe has created an unprecedented worldwide instability in timber industries and associated markets,” according to the notice. 

“Mill closures and curtailment of timber harvests under Forest Service contracts appear to be a reflection of market declines over the last 24 months. Due to the complex factors involved, recovery is expected to be a protracted process,” the notice stated.

The timber sale contract extensions are in the public’s best interest and “support the long-term viability of the timber industry,” said Chad Douglas, acting deputy director of the U.S. Forest Service’s office of communications.

“This is not an increase in harvest levels. It’s a way to keep sales viable in an economic downturn, such as what we are currently experiencing,” he said. 

When asked whether the Trump administration sees timber harvesting in national forests as part of a post-pandemic jobs program, Douglas said, “Not at this time.” 

“Our focus is to keep a viable forest products industry because it is an economics driver for forest-dependent communities and an important tool for our active management efforts to increase the health and resiliency of national forests,” Douglas said. 

‘A Difficult Time’

The timber sale contract extensions come as the Trump administration is seeking to drop all protections for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest under a rule that blocked road-building and timber harvesting in much of the forest.

The administration is cutting the number of projects in national forests that would require environmental impact reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. 

“It’s a very difficult time,” said Nick Smith, spokesman for the American Forest Resource Council, a forest products industry trade group. “The market for lumber is incredibly challenging. That affects the entire supply chain of the forest products industry.”

The group’s members include companies such as Sierra Pacific Industries and Siskiyou Cascade Resources. 

The Forest Service’s contract extensions will “provide some flexibility to allow timber purchasers, including some manufacturers, some flexibility to weather the storm,” Smith said. 

The agency said in its notice that the way it determines timber harvest contract terms has not been able to fully account for both the Covid-19 pandemic and Chinese tariffs imposed on U.S. timber imports during the Trump administration. 

“The effects include disruptions in international trade and interruptions in domestic production, distribution of forest products as well as demand for forest products as a result of national and local COVID-19 containment measures such as ‘stay-at-home’ or ‘shelter-in-place’ orders,” the Forest Service said in its notice. 

But Randi Spivak, public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity, pointed to China.

“Trump provoked a tariff war with China, which resulted in China slapping tariffs on U.S. timber,” Spivak said. “Now, under the guise of Covid, Trump is trying to provide back-door relief for a tariff war he created.”

‘Concession’ to Industry

The contract extensions are “very unusual” but “innocuous,” said Jim Furnish, who served as Forest Service deputy chief in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

Timber contracts have time limits when timber must be removed from national forests, or the contractor loses the right to cut trees, Furnish said. When circumstances occur beyond a timber company’s control, it’s the Forest Service’s responsibility to provide relief, he said. 

“This is a concession to industry so as not to do further harm as related to their contractual obligations,” Furnish said. 

But the administration is playing favorites, being generous to the timber industry while doing nothing yet to support other industries that rely on national forests, including recreation, said Josh Hicks, assistant director for policy and planning for the Wilderness Society. 

“I would like to think that the administration would be trying to find ways to be supportive of all the different stakeholders and members of the public during the pandemic, not making sure that a single industry is being taken care of,” Hicks said.

Trump would roll back laws on pollution in Cancer Alley.

EPA Denies Pledge to ‘Cancer Alley’ Communities on Chemical Risks

Pat Rizzuto / Bloomberg Law

WASHINGTON (Sept. 4, 2020) — US Gulf Coast communities got no assurance from the EPA that the agency’s second round of chemical risk evaluations will examine whether the groups’ particularly high exposures put them at high risk for asthma, cancer, or other diseases. 

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday published its final risk analysis plans for 20 chemicals, many of which are widely used by many different industries to make adhesives, paints, plastics, foam, household cleaners, and fire-resistant materials, and to clean muck off industrial equipment.

The final plans, like the draft ones released earlier this year, ticked off general categories of people, like workers and children, that the chemicals law requires the agency to consider to determine whether they face particular risks from any of the 20 chemicals. 

But when it came to communities living near factories producing any of the 20 chemicals, the agency said only that it “may evaluate” the general population as it relates to “fence line communities,” in short, nearby neighborhoods.

That means Gulf-area communities in Texas and Louisiana received no assurances the agency would look at the higher-than-average exposures they have to 15 of the 20 chemicals, despite their request earlier this year.

As just one example, Gulf-area residents from both states are exposed to 77% of the nationwide air, water, and land releases of a flame retardant the agency is looking at, the community coalition told the agency in comments.

The 2016 Toxic Substances Control Act amendments, which require the EPA to routinely examine the risks of chemicals made and used in the US, also require the agency to consider the risks that chemicals pose to susceptible and highly exposed populations.

The release of the 20 final evaluation plans marks another milestone for the agency’s implementation of the 2016 amendments. It has issued two final risk conclusions for the first batch of 10 chemicals it’s looking at.

Specific Groups Named 

In two of the 20 final risk evaluation plans, called “scopes,” the agency detailed specific concerns. The two plans deal with a chemical used to make fragrances and a flame retardant. 

The plan for the flame retardant, known by its acronym TBBPA, said public comments and studies prompted the agency to include in its analysis women of reproductive age, lactating females, and children as part of groups that are potentially at risk. A particular concern is kidney damage to newborns exposed to the chemical.

The plan for analyzing the fragrance ingredient said the chemical may harm reproduction and development, and it accumulates in fish. The EPA therefore plans to evaluate risks to groups of people that eat a lot of fish.

Attorneys general from 11 states and the District of Columbia chastised the EPA in June for omitting certain details in its draft risk evaluation plans, such as which special populations the agency would look at.

Letitia James, New York’s Attorney General, led that effort but her office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the agency’s final plans. Nor did any of three environmental organizations that raised similar concerns.

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