Now that the Trump administration’s four-year assault on environmental protection and conservation has crested, the work of restoration must begin. As professionals in the field of conservation, we watched with dread and dismay as the laws, policies, science and stewardship of waters, air, wildlife and public lands were systematically dismantled.
While the damage is profound, the Biden-Harris administration can reverse these harms, restart fundamental environmental policies and programs, and restore the federal commitment to environmental protection and lands and waters stewardship. What is needed is a tactical plan for restoration.
Ten months before the November 2020 election, we convened a team of diverse environmental leaders with government, nonprofit, private sector, and academic experience. They were from both coasts and the heartland, the north-west and the south-east, rural America and large cities. Meeting virtually as The Restoration Project, they worked over several months to create a carefully researched and prioritized list of the top 100 important actions to be taken to restore the nation’s environment. The plan was delivered to the Biden-Harris transition team in November, and we are releasing it today to the public here.
Some of the plan’s top priorities have already been met, including rejoining the Paris Climate agreement (#1), issuing executive orders on meeting climate change goals (#2), and halting the Keystone XL pipeline (#25). Other restorative actions will take longer, especially where the Trump administration locked in changes with new federal regulations.
For instance, final regulations were issued by the Environmental Protection Agency that weakened fuel economy standards for cars and trucks from 54mpg to 40mpg by 2025, which may exacerbate the climate crisis. The EPA also finalized the so-called “transparency rule” that would restrict the agency from considering scientific studies that do not reveal raw data, including confidential or personal identifying information. The result is that studies including such personal information can no longer be used to evaluate toxic substances that endanger public safety. The team prioritized these reversals among its top 10, and recommended either they be repealed by Congress or a new rule be promulgated, a process that will take several years.
Some of the “harms” are already being challenged in the courts, such as drastic reductions of both Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. In other cases, the courts have ruled the Trump action as illegal, as in the replacement of the Clean Power Plan with one that did not protect air quality. The Biden-Harris administration can restore the boundaries of the two national monuments and issue a new, stronger plan for clean air.
The Trump administration rolled back a series of protections for the nation’s wildlife, mostly through policy directives within the interior department. The plan calls for the new interior secretary to restore protections for migratory birds that could be killed by industrial development, eliminate the practice of shooting female grizzly bears in their dens in Alaska, and prevent the shooting of polar bears by private companies exploring for oil in the Arctic national wildlife refuge.
The plan also calls for a restoration of protection for special places that we all thought were legally protected from development and impact, including road building and logging in the Tongass national forest of Alaska, drilling in the Arctic national wildlife refuge, and oil and gas development adjacent to Chaco Culture national historical park.
The detailed approaches required for restoration and outlined in the report – executive orders, policy changes, and prudent use of the Congressional Review Act– may seem mundane, but this is what we must do to restore what has been lost, threatened and harmed. Some of the actions will be easily completed in the first 100 days of the administration and others will take years to reverse, requiring patience and persistence. We recommend that the administration track and report to the American people progress on the accomplishments detailed in the plan.
The Restoration Project was written for the government as a tactical plan for progress. But it is also a call to action for a broader conservation movement that includes those working to restore civil rights, rural economies, public health, scientific integrity and environmental justice. The new administration should be supported in its progress, applauded for its successes – and held accountable when action is forestalled or lacking.
Jonathan B Jarvis served 40 years with the National Park Service and was its 18th director. Dr Gary Machlis served as science adviser to the director of the National Park Service and is a professor of environmental sustainability at Clemson University. They are the co-authors of The Future of Conservation in America: A Chart for Rough Water (University of Chicago Press).
The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. For more information about how this project is supported, click here.