Federal land is diminishing at a frightening pace under Trump.
Much of Alaska has long been protected from oil drilling by laws intended to preserve the natural beauty of one of America's least populous states. But for as long as people have fought to keep parts of Alaska free from human interference, others have fought to profit from the land. Now, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is under threat of oil drilling. Unfortunately for the protected land, a GOP tax law passed by Congress a year ago and introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) requires the Secretary of the Interior "to approve at least two lease sales for drilling — each covering no less than 400,000 acres."
Ryan Zinke, the outgoing interior secretary, has openly lauded the development, saying, "An energy-dominant America starts with an energy-dominant Alaska, and among the scores of accomplishments we have had at Interior under President Donald J. Trump, taking these steps toward opening the 1002 section of Alaska's North Slope stands out among the most impactful toward bolstering America's economic strength and security."
This move is in line with other initiatives by the Trump administration to alter Obama era regulations and expand fossil-fuel acquisition all over the country. According to The Chicago Tribune, the interior is also "trying to scrap wildlife management plans for the Mojave Desert in California and for sagebrush habitat through much of the rest of the western United States."
Mark Salvo, vice president of landscape conservation at the Defenders of Wildlife, emphasized how reckless these decisions are. "These are examples of the Trump administration stealing defeat from the jaws of victory," he said. "These plans took years to produce and tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer resources to arrive at these carefully crafted compromises to conserve public lands."
Trump is far and away the US President who has most significantly shrunk the size of protected land, notably reducing Bear Ears National Monument by 85% — a loss of 1.1 million acres. This was a part of a major push in 2017 by interior secretary Ryan Zinke to shrink the size of 10 different areas of federal land or open them up to things like oil drilling, lumber farming, and commercial fishing.
So just how much protected land have we lost under Trump? According to a study conducted by the Wilderness Society — a not-for-profit organization advocating for the protection of public lands — shared with The Guardian, the tally is as follows:
- "13.6m acres onshore have been made available for leasing by the Trump administration, far more than in any two-year period under the Obama administration."
- "More than 153m acres of ecologically sensitive habitats – from the California desert to the Arctic national wildlife refuge – have seen conservation protections rolled back in some form."
- "More than 280m acres have been made available for offshore leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and along nearly 90% of the US coastline."
Cumulatively, that is approximately 433 million acres of land that is no longer protected under US law. What this will mean for the ecosystems and tourism that exists in these places remains to be seen.
Nine federal departments will shutdown at midnight on Friday due to Congress' inability to settle funding disputes, including Trump's demands for $5 billion for his border wall.
With Trump predicting that "chances are probably very good" that the government will shut down at midnight, he's reneged on his proud claim that he'd "totally be willing" to "take the mantle" of a shutdown. Instead, he said on Friday, "Now it's up to the Democrats as to whether or not we have a shutdown tonight."
Congress has been unable to pass funding packages for seven federal agencies, mainly due to Trump's stubborn demands for $5 billion to build his border wall. With funding deals expiring at midnight tonight, hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be either out of work or expected to work without pay until the government resumes full function in 2019.
Among those affected are more than 420,000 employees required to keep working through the shutdown, including those in the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the DEA, and Forest Service firefighters. With dozens of federal agencies expected to close down, national parks, museums, and zoos may be shuttered, with housing agencies warning that loan processing and approvals may be significantly delayed.
Aside from disrupting government services, shutdowns worsen deficits with financial losses in productivity. The longest government shutdown took place under the Clinton Administration, lasting 21 days and costing approximately $1.4 billion. The 2013 shutdown under Barack Obama lasted 16 days and cost about $2 billion.
Trump took to Twitter to blame Democrats for their refusal to offer more than $1.3 billion to fund the border wall. He posted, "If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time." After Congress voted and Trump still did not receive his inflated amount of $5 billion, he followed up with, "The Democrats now own the shutdown!"
As of early Friday evening, Congress had made no progress in settling the border wall dispute. Government agencies had been alerted on Thursday to prepare to freeze their functioning for an indeterminate amount of time.
"I hope we don't [shut down]," Trump told the press on Friday afternoon at a bill signing event at the White House. "But we are totally prepared for a very long shutdown and this our only chance that we'll ever have in our opinion, because of the world and the way it breaks out, to get great border security."