From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject In Times of Emergency: No Sacrifices of the Public Interest
Date May 10, 2020 1:14 PM
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[ The Trump Administration continues to strip away environmental
protections in the face of the pandemic. But Trump isn’t the first
to try to use emergencies to implement regressive policies, and
history shows that the people can fight back — and win.]
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IN TIMES OF EMERGENCY: NO SACRIFICES OF THE PUBLIC INTEREST  
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Adam M. Sowards
May 6, 2020
The Revelator
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_ The Trump Administration continues to strip away environmental
protections in the face of the pandemic. But Trump isn’t the first
to try to use emergencies to implement regressive policies, and
history shows that the people can fight back — and win. _

President Trump meets with energy executives to discuss oil prices
during the pandemic on April 3, 2020. , Official White House
Photo/Shealah Craighead

 

Never one to miss an opportunity, the Trump administration has
repeatedly used the COVID-19 crisis as cover to enact unwise and
dangerous environmental policies against the public interest and to
forestall citizen input.

In recent days the Environmental Protection Agency has moved forward
with weakening rules
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automobile emissions and relaxing pollution standards
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The Bureau of Land Management continues leasing for oil and gas
drilling even as prices drop. And while much of the country remains
under stay-at-home orders and faces the most disruptive public health
crisis in a century, deadlines for public statements on forest plans
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not been extended and formats for hearings about dams
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frustrated citizens who wish to speak up for public resources.

Republicans are using today’s pandemic-related exigencies to
undermine environmental protection and the public interest. We’ve
seen it before. Hiding behind emergencies is from an old playbook.

Americans have heard excuses about national emergencies in the past
and resisted them; we should again.

For a success story that resonates today, we need only look back to
the era of the Vietnam War. In late 1966 Kennecott Copper Corporation
announced its intent to develop a massive open-pit mine at Miners
Ridge, within the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area of the North Cascades
in Washington state. The mine would be near the iconic Image Lake,
where backpackers enjoy perhaps the greatest views in the entire
Cascade Range.

The context of the Vietnam War allowed Kennecott to argue it was
merely fulfilling its duty to provide essential materials for the war
effort, under which the General Services Administration had
established a plan to stockpile critical materials for national
security. Seeking to get new mines into operation, the agency promoted
incentives that included loans and technical assistance.

Amid all of this, Kennecott pitched its proposed pit as patriotic.

Conservationists quickly grew alarmed. The Wilderness Act, which
protected 9.1 million acres of federal land and established the
Glacier Peak Wilderness, had just been signed into law in 1964. A
compromise in the law allowed Kennecott and other companies to mine
claims, but conservationists opposed the giant corporation and
demonstrated the obvious: that open-pit mining and wilderness were
incompatible.

Everyone knew the mountains held copper — the place name was Miners
Ridge, after all. During World War II, at a time when minerals were
similarly in demand, the War Production Board approved a road to the
mine site, but it never was built.

This failure showed that maybe the copper in Miners Ridge really
wasn’t that important after all. In 1967, as Kennecott pressed
ahead, Polly Dyer, arguably the most important conservationist in
Pacific Northwest history, reasoned in a public hearing that “If the
Nation was able to pass through that desperate war effort without
needing to utilize the copper in Miners Ridge, I am extremely
skeptical about Kennecott’s assertion that it is necessary for
today’s war operation.”

Dyer was right. Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman, who had
authority over the U.S. Forest Service, which administered the
wilderness, soon admitted that the war effort and the public’s
standard of living would “not suffer” one bit if the mine was
“left undeveloped.”

For all its talk of selfless service to the nation, Kennecott operated
primarily to bolster its bottom line — and to establish the
precedent of mining within wilderness boundaries. The company’s
president was exasperated by having to try the case in the press
against an angry public. In his view, the company’s interest was the
nation’s interest.

All of this is tiringly familiar in 2020, when the president’s
personal interests, antipathy to the press and the public, and desire
to establish untoward precedents animate virtually every utterance and
policy.

What are the lessons we can take away from this?

Kennecott never built its mine, and the site remains secure as
wilderness
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but that was not accidental. It took the efforts of citizens and
organizations like the North Cascades Conservation Council
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representatives, and showing up at hearings. Through it all,
Northwesterners demanded that the public’s interest be protected
against the corporate bottom line.

In summer 1967 Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas traveled from
his summer home in Goose Prairie, Washington, to attend a protest near
the mine site. An aroused public, he said to 150 to 200 protestors on
the trail, might “appeal to the community’s sense of justice”
and declare there are values beyond “a few paltry dollars.”

The public interest, then and now, transcends the bottom line. It
sustains democracy; it doesn’t suspend it.

We must not let our representatives use COVID-19 as an excuse to
undermine environmental governance. We must continue to stand up for
the protections that already exist, which protect not just our
wilderness but human health.

History suggests that we can win these fights with determined
resistance. Even amid the disruptions visiting our lives with lost
lives and jobs, we need to keep one eye on the future and remember
that our voices can make a difference.

[_Adam M. Sowards is a historian and author of An Open Pit Visible
from the Moon: The Wilderness Act and the Fight to Protect Miners
Ridge and the Public Interest
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_The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not
necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological
Diversity or their employees._

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