Washington, D.C., April 9 — Today Earthworks, along with 100 other environmental and public health organizations, sent a letter to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget calling for all federal agencies to temporarily halt all active or pending mining and drilling decisions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The moratorium should cover all new permitting processes, leases, rulemakings, public hearings and comment periods.
“Now is the time for all of us, from cities to rural communities and federal agencies, to focus on curtailing the spread of the coronavirus,” said Earthworks’ Executive Director Jennifer Krill. “We are all facing daily health crises in our own communities and can’t possibly participate in decisions affecting our public lands in a meaningful way at this time. Our government should not respond to one health crisis by making decisions that potentially increase other health and environmental threats.”
With the Environmental Protection Agency, Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies suspending enforcement of environmental and public health protections, the Administration should also suspend permitting processes and related decisions for major new industrial facilities, the letter states. Yet while communities nationwide adhere to guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and local health authorities to shelter in place and maintain social distance, many controversial oil, gas and mining proposals are moving forward, including:
- The proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, which threatens the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery, is continuing forward with an Environmental Impact Statement process.
- The Army Corps is also moving forward with a draft EIS process for the Sea Port Oil Terminal in Brazoria County, Texas, despite the comment period closing during this pandemic.
- The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior and other agencies are continuing with plans to roll back important public health protections this spring and summer, including Clean Air Act safeguards on the oil and gas industry.
With public events related to these types of activities halted (including hearings and tribal consultations), the public is precluded from the typical democratic processes for review and input. Stay at home orders in place across the country may limit access to internet, mail, phone service, or travel, making it difficult for communities to meaningfully engage in public review and comment periods.
“Many oil, gas and mining facilities disproportionately impact rural and systematically oppressed communities who already face many obstacles to participating in civic life,” the letter states. “The global pandemic also disproportionately impacts these types of communities.”
The letter can be read in its entirety here.