Friends of the Earth – Update on Public Lands Giveaway

Taken from Friends of the Earth News magazine  volume 47, Number 2.1 Summer 2017


From Michelle Chan, VP of programs  Big Changes but Familiar Fights

Like our President Erich Pica, I came to this organization fresh out of college on a Friends of Earth fellowship over 20 years ago.

Corporate consolidation of power, over both our economic and political lives, remains at the heart of our struggle for a healthies planet and just society.  As Antonio Roman – Akcala describes in his article.  “Top Five Reasons Why We Must Block Agrichemical and Seed Mega-Mergers,” three proposed mergers will give mega-corporations unprecedented control over our food and farming systmes, and lock in our dangerous dependence on pesticides genetic engineering and industrial monocultures.  Today corporate consolidation looks like Bayer+Monsanto, Dow and Dupont and Syngenta + ChemChina. Back when I started at Friends of the Earth, it was Exxon + Mobil, Chevron + Texaco and JP Morgan+Chase. 

That’s not to say that there is nothing new under the sun with the Trump administration.  Indeed, today we have an Exxon CEO helming our State Department, making the corporate capture of our government glaringly obvious.  But we also have the likes of Steve Bannon, Scott Pruitt and Jeff Sessions in power, and they have made our politics uglier, more hateful and more dangerous. My article, “Our Connected Struggle,” is a personal reflection on how Trump has stoked the flames of racism and militarism in our country.  It calls on us as Friends of the Earth to use our ecological mindset to see how the struggles of women, Muslims and people of color are intertwined with the fight to save our planet.  It argues that the only way we can win is by being united. 

Finally, being an old timer has provided some grounding and perspective in these turbulent days.  I remind myself that some of Friends of the Earth’s best campaign work was actually done during the dark days of the George W. Bush administration.  For example, we ran a campaign to successfully oust – and eventually imprision- J. Steven Griles. Griles was second in command at Bush’s Interior Department and intent on giving away our public lands and resources to his cronies. 

As our cover story describes, today we are facing the same situation with Trump’s Interior Department, which is similarly awash in conflicts of interest.  So we are taking a page from our Griles ethics campaign and making it new again. With solid research and hard-driving advocacy, who knows: we might see some Trump appointees going to jail, too. 

We know we have the strategies to fight Trump. And with Friends like you and inspiring activist Janet Henderson, helping to lead the ever-growing movement to resist Trump, we also have the power and strength to win.

Thank you for standing with us. 

Michelle Chan,

Vice President of programs


By Michelle Chan,

Environmentalists understand one thing above all others: in any ecosystem, everything is interconnected.  Bears rely on salmon, which rely on rivers, which rely on trees – all the way down to the microorganisms that sustain our soil.  Every part plays a critical role; even if we don’t understand it.  All of life- and our fates – are intertwined.

This is why, as environmentalist, we cannot sit on the sidelines, letting women, Muslims, people of color, immigrants and others fight their own battles while saving our strength to speak for the trees. 

When the crises of mass incarceration and police brutality rip up black and brown communities, and immigration raids tear families apart, these phenomena ultimately hurt everyone.  I may not face these trials personally, but as an environmentalist I understand that poison travels.

Nature also teaches us that the web of life is powerfully resilient.  Poison can spread quickly, but so can healing.  Restoring eelgrass in the San Francisco Bay can protect spawing grounds for herring, which in turn supports tuna, which helps sustain us.  So when three million people around the world marched for women’s rights the day after President Trump’s inauguration, it gave me hope.


Nature inspires hope and awe: The mind-boggling 3,000 mile migraton of the monarch butterfly, alight on paper-thin wings; the damp quiet of ancient redwoods, which have stood in witness to history for thousands of years.

Nature also inspires humility. Those of us who are spiritual see a glimpse of the Divine in nature.  For those who are not believers, nature reminds us that there is so much we don’t understand, and that there is something far bigger than ourselves.

When we are at our best, nature inspires us to love boundlessly.  It inspires us to overcome the meagerness of our hearts and the smallness of our prejudices, to mirro the expansiveness and abundance that we see in nature. 

As Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si, “A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings… When our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and n one.” 

Excludes nothing and no one, Our fraternity with one another, and with nature, cannot exclude Muslims, immigrants, people of color, or those who disagree with us politically.  This communion does not build walls or prohibition lists; it doesn’t divide the world between “worthy” or “unworthy” people, or into places to be protected and those to be sacrificed.  As our nation becomes increasingly divided and laden with hate, fear and militarism, it flies against nature’s most powerful and enduring lesson; everything and everyone is intrinsically valuable and vital to the whole. 


By Michelle Chan,

When we embrace the dignity and interconnection of all things, this recognition gives our lives beauty, meaning, and even sacredness.  It also brings responsibility. 

Our environmental ethic requires us to consider not only our planet’s crisis, but our role in creating and solving it. – which includes both ecological and social dimensions.  We begin by making changes in our own lives to get in “right relationship” with the planet and with others. Then we take that to the systemic level, to transform the institutions that perpetuate environmental and social justice- understanding that these are interconnected. 

Working for systemic change is hard.  But an ecological mindset enables us to see relationships and to look for the root of our problems and solutions.  When overwhelmed by systemic battles, sometimes we need to start by taking care of what is most vulnerable.  That could mean planting eelgrass in the bay – protecting our part of the ecosystem that ultimately helps nurture the whole.  

Nature teaches us that all things are interconnected and intrinsically valuable.  As environmentalists, we have the opportunity and responsibility, to let our interconnectedness inspire and animate us to overcome these turbulent and dangerous times.  Let us exclude nothing and no one. 


By Benjamin Schreiber, senior political strategist

In a publicity stunt disguised as a nod to Theodore Roosevelt, the Trump administration’s new Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke rode a National Park Service horse to his first day at the office.

But Zinke, a fomer one-term congressman from Montana, has values more closely aligned with his fossil fuel-loving boss than those of our “conservationist president.”

While Roosevelt famously expanded the national parks system and championed conservaton, in Trump’s America, the lands set aside for all Americans are under threat.


Since taking office in January, Trump has shown himself to be a powerful ally of the fossil fuel industry, prioritizing their profits over the planet and people at every opportunity.  With the appointments of former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, and industry loyalist Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA, the Trump administration has proven its loyalty lies with its industry cronies, not with the American people.

Trump has signed legislation to reverse President Obama’s rules giving the public more input into public land management decisions and requiring more transparency from oil companies. He lifted the moratorium on federal coal leasing and has promised to expand offshore drilling.  He ordered the EPA to begin dismantling Obama’s signature initiative to reduce the power sector’s carbon emissions.  And of course, he announced his intention to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement. 

These destructive moves are just the beginning of a broader and more insidious effort to hand over our publicly owned lands and waters to the fossil fuel industry.

For a few billion dollars and a few more years of profit from planet destroying coal, oil and gas, the Trump administration and its congressional allies are more than willing to trash over 100 years of public lands conservation efforts – betraying the public they are supposed to serve.

It didn’t take long for the attacks to start.  Just days after Trump’s inaugeration, the House passed an arcane rule change to make it easier to sell off public lands by telling the Congressional Budget Office to ignore the budget implications.

A few days later, House Republications introduced a bill to allow drilling in pristine Girand Teton, the imperiled Everglades, and more than 40 other national parks

The Senate then cleared a resolution decreasing the input of local communites into land use planning- a transparent move enabling fossil fuel companies to streamroll  communites in their quest for fossil fuel leases.

Meanwhile, over at Zinke’s Interior Department, a regulation to keep coal companies from cheating taxpayers was put on hold- a move that could prove illegal.  The so-called “valuation rule” is mainly meant to stop companies from dodging royalties and reversing it could mean windfalls of as much as $85 million a year for coal companies and other polluters.

And a huge blow to the planet – and a massive giveaway of taxpayer dollars- Trump has indicated that he will lift President Obama’s moratorium on federal coal leasing and end the current review of the environmental impacts from the entire coal program – potentially reopening this fossil fuel floodgate. 

There is some good news.  Many of these moves are too extreme even for some Trump allies.  That means we have a real shot at keeping our public lands in public hands  – and not in the clutches of the fossil fuel industry.


Friends of the Earth has long been a leader in the fight to keep polluting companies out of our precious public lands and waters. And right now, we’re redoubling our efforts.

We-re exposing the cozy ties between the fossil fuel industry and the Trump administration.  Friends of the Earth conducted a new analysis of congressional lobbying reports, revealing several links between the industry and the administration.

During the first quarter of 2017, oil companies lobbied Congress extensively to kill an Obama-era regulation that charges royalties on natural gas wasted through flaring on public lands.  One of the key lobbyists now works as a top energy policy aide for Trump.

An official from George W. Bush’s Interior Department, who later joined a lobbying firm with financial ties to destructive fossil fuel projects, has been chosen as the new deputy secretary of the Interior.  This position gives him the power to approve projects worth millions of dollars to his former lobbying firm.

Exxon Mobil hired the Nickles Group to lobby Congress on their behalf, including on the specific subject of the flaring rule. Former U.S. Senator Don Nickles [R-Okla.] is listed as a registered lobbyist for both companies in the first quarter.

Trump ran on a promise to “drain the swamp,” so we’re making sure the public knows just how “swampy” the Trump administration really is. We’re uniting a new and invigorated corps of community activists.  Our new training program is honing the powerful public resistance to the Trump administration into an effective force for our planet.  These activists are joining us at town hall meetings, political fundraisers, and anywhere we can find members of Congress. Together, we are sending the message to our elected officials that they will pay a price for their neglect of climate issues, the environment and the health of our planet.

We’re taking the Trump administration to court.  Friends of the Earth won’t hesitate to pursue legal action against the administrations illegal moves.  We’ve already relaunched a lawsuit about the federal coal leasing program that was set aside after Obama initiated an environmental review of potential new coal leases on federal lands and put in place a moratorium while the review was being conducted.  Now that the Department of Interior has undone Obama’s decision, we’re asking the Washington DC Circuit Court to let our suit move forward. 

We’re winning key battles.  From the moment Trump took office, Big Oil has tried to overturn the Obama-era Bureau of Land Management rule regulating methane emissions from oil and gas development on public lands. 

The new rule forced fossil fuel companies who drill on our public lands to pay taxpayers and tribes for any wasted natural gas – a common practice as companies often burn away excess natural gas when they drill, sending climate harming CO2 straight into the atmosphere and polluting air in local communities.

Despite a massive push from Big Oil, we prevailed in the Senate – a victory for the American people and for our climate. 

This was a key win for another reason.  It proved that we can fight back against the dangerous and irresponsible adminstration efforts to hand over our government and public assets to the fossil fuel industry. 

The Trump administration’s vision for our environment is clear. They want to give polluters free rein over our forests and oceans and our other precious public lands and waters. 

And they think that putting on a good show- like Zinke riding a horse to work – will distract the American people from their truly anti-environmental agenda. 

Friends of the Earth and Members like you have a different vision. one we’re willing to fight for – in Congress, in court, and on the ground across the country.  And we will not rest until we have created a more just, healthy and green planet for us all.







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