Fossil fuel interests are one of the forces behind the backlash against pro-environment outdoor brands

It is hardly news to note that President Trump has launched a significant and sustained attack on the environment. Apart from withdrawing from the international climate change agreement, winding back support for renewable energy, seeking to open up new sections of the Arctic to fossil fuel production, he has cut federal protection for major federal reserves (for a good summary of his actions so far check this page).

This wind back has been strongly opposed by environmental groups and First Nations. Many sectors of business are also taking the unusual step of getting active. For instance, recently 350 companies wrote to the President, urging him to abandon his attempt to reduce protection to iconic and much loved landscapes across the USA.

In recent weeks the President has radically reduced the size of Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante national monuments.

As noted by Outside magazine, the boundaries of Bears Ears will be reduced by more than 80 percent, and the risk of new land leases and permits for mining oil and gas will rise.

The backlash against environmental protection

While industry continues to push hard against the president’s agenda (Patagonia, REI, and the North Face are stand outs), there is now a backlash against the pro-environment campaign from interests aligned with conservative parties and their buddies in the fossil fuel industry. There is a long history in the USA of conflict between those who want public lands managed locally and those who see the need for federal management of key iconic landscapes (the occupation of a federal wildlife centre in Oregon in 2016 being a recent high profile example of this conflict). But it is also about the mining and fossil fuel sectors trying to gain access to public lands which have been protected and hence closed off to these industries.

Environmentalists and First Nation people recognise this. Patagonia have announced their intention to sue the government over the wind back of the Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante national monuments:

Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, spoke to CNN about Bears Ears, saying: “I’m going to sue him. It seems the only thing this administration understands is lawsuits. I think it’s a shame that only four percent of American lands are national parks. Costa Rica’s got ten percent. Chile will now have way more parks than we have. We need more, not less. This government is evil and I’m not going to sit back and let evil win.”

From Outside: “At Patagonia, we are outraged to see President Trump attempt to eliminate federal protection of two million acres of land that belongs to all Americans,” says Cory Bayers, the brand’s vice president of marketing. “On behalf of our staff, customers, and the 2.8 million people who voiced their desire to protect these treasures forever, we’re using every tool at our disposal to stop this illegal action.”

But as with Trump’s plan to try and re-open previously closed coal mines, he is getting support from the ‘wise use’ movement and a range of libertarian forces who oppose federal ‘over reach’ such as designation of federal protection for wild places.

DQjRL9YWAAAOTF9In an unusual move, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, which is chaired by a Republican Congressman called Rob Bishop, has suggested Patagonia is not interested in protecting federal lands, it only wants to sell products to ‘wealthy elitist urban dwellers from New York to San Francisco’, a play to the divisive Culture War dynamic which runs deep in the USA.

As Outside put it, ‘of course, our elected representatives throwing shade at a private, highly respected gear maker is, well, unusual. And members of the public are pointing out that doing so might be unethical, and possibly illegal’. The basis for this suggestion is that it has been pointed out that it is a violation of House rules to use official resources to call for a boycott of a company.

Rob Bishop has a long history of opposing federal or other environmental protection. As one example, he co-sponsored a bill to remove regulations from 43 million acres (170,000 km2) of Forest Service Roadless Areas and Wilderness Study Areas in order to open it to ‘multiple use purposes’ – ie logging, mining or off road vehicle use.

As an aside, in the 2016 election cycle, 92.6% of contributions to Bishop’s political campaign came from outside Utah, the highest out-of-state percentage of any member of the House, with much of the contributions coming from the energy and agribusiness sectors. This kind of says it all if you’re wondering about his agenda.

So far it seems that the pro federal powers/ environmental protection side of the argument has mobilised far more people, across a broad cross section of society. However, the next few months will see potential forward movement of Trump’s anti environment agenda, especially on the issues of

  • offshore drilling,
  • the wind-back of automative efficiency and clean vehicle standards,
  • possible repeal of the Clean Water Rule,
  • repeal of laws designed to reduce methane emissions and
  • repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

On the one hand Trump’s presidency is ever more deeply tangled in problems, and may become ever more ineffective in terms of implementing his legislative agenda. On the other hand some of the worst environmental initiatives are moving forward at a steady pace, especially with the current issue of the roll-back of national monument designations as a favour to oil and gas companies. We will keep tracking the pushback against Trump’s agenda in coming months.

Take action

For a simple way to support the campaign to protect wild lands from de-listing please check the Patagonia website.