Environmentalists wield powerful Endangered Species Act to kill jobs, impoverish families

by Ron Arnold

The abuse of environmentalist power to hurt people never stops.

“Another one gone,” began the Lost Coast Outpost’s report in late January. A.A. “Red” Emmerson, chairman of Sierra Pacific Industries, announced the permanent closure of its sawmill on Samoa Peninsula in Arcata, California – with the loss of 123 crew member jobs (and over 100 secondary jobs that depended on sawmill employment).

Regulatory burdens and reduced allowable harvests from federal forests are the primary reasons for the closure, Emmerson said.

The shutdown of the last mill on once-bustling Humboldt Bay this year was just the latest loss in the timber industry’s long and steady decline under relentless environmentalist pressure and U.S. Forest Service complicity.

A year earlier the North Coast Journal had sadly bid “Goodnight, Korbel” when Arcata’s neighbor lost its 131-year-old sawmill, its 106 direct jobs and numerous local indirect positions. The Pulp & Paperworkers’ Resource Council had previously released its 119-page “Mill Curtailments & Closures From 1990,” counting more than 1,700 nationwide timber-related casualties from 1990 through 2012.

All this damage was launched by the ionic 1991 Spotted Owl court ruling won by a local bird group, Seattle Audubon Society – initially with separate plaintiff Portland (Oregon) Audubon Society – against logging in Washington, Oregon and California.

The owl ruling has been so devastating because Judge William L. Dwyer, of Washington State’s federal district court, granted and stretched Seattle Audubon’s demands to the impossible.

Using the “regional biogeography” principle from a federal “Spotted Owl Task Force” decision, Dywer ruled, “The duty to maintain viable populations of existing vertebrate species requires planning for the entire biological community – not for one species alone. It is distinct from the duty, under the Endangered Species Act, to save a listed species from extinction.”

But even wildlife specialists did not know and could not explain what the “entire biological community” of the three-state area was.


Industry analyst Paul Ehinger & Associates of Eugene, Oregon found that, after just five years, Dwyer’s Seattle Audubon ruling had shut down 187 mills and wiped out 22,654 jobs throughout the three states.

The toll expanded like the Big Bang, and running totals are no longer tracked. A few well-off Seattle industry-haters and a liberal judge who paid little attention to the human toll set in motion a curse without end, the “progressive” destruction of the jobs, incomes, hopes and dreams of thousands.

The Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona is a legal action environmental group that sues to block human action and doesn’t care who gets hurt. The leader of its three co-founders, Kieran Suckling, had been an activist in the 1980s’ vandalism and sabotage group, Earth First! (The exclamation point was a mandatory identifier.)

Hatred of industry – and the people who ran it – prompted the founders to seek ways to permanently stop natural resource use and led them to form the CBD in 1994. With the help of environmental attorneys, CBD “weaponized” the Endangered Species Act against ranchers, loggers, miners, and human activity in general. That law now trumps virtually everything else.

In fact, about the only time the act doesn’t seem to apply is when gigantic wind turbines slaughter hundreds of thousands of eagles, hawks, falcons, other birds and bats, year after year, nearly eradicating them and “entire biological communities” across vast areas in California, Oregon and elsewhere.

The organization’s self-description says, “As the country’s leading endangered species advocates, the Center for Biological Diversity works through science, law and creative media to secure a future for all species, great or small, hovering on the brink of extinction.”

Extremism is a mild term to describe CBD’s blanket enmity to human action. It has even crossed the traditional environmentalist line that protected and revered Native Americans as “people of nature.”

The group joined a federal lawsuit last year to block essential expansion of The Navajo Mine, south of Farmington, New Mexico. The mine sits on a Navajo reservation and is owned by the Navajo Transitional Energy Company (NTEC), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Navajo Nation’s sprawling tribal government.

The mine was established for the sole purpose of delivering all its coal to the nearby Four Corners Power Plants: five coal-fired power plants, majority-owned and operated by the Arizona Public Service Company, to provide electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

In the process, it generated 800 mine and power plant jobs, many of them Navajos, and $40 million in annual revenue to the Navajo Nation. NTEC was granted a federal permit to expand the mine.

However, the CBD was determined to stop the expansion and shut down the mine via a huge lawsuit. It helped organize a coalition of co-plaintiffs including little local groups such as Amigos Bravos, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and Dine [Navajo] Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, as well as the $100-million-a-year Sierra Club and the powerful Western Environmental Law Center.

The attack by CBD et al. won a Colorado federal judge’s order nullifying the expansion permit. The order was confirmed by the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when NTEC lost an appeal for a stay on the lower court’s ruling. Even with that victory, the CBD gang insisted that ongoing mining must also halt, pending a new environmental review of alleged public health and environmental risks from the mine expansion: from pollutants that are actually a minor problem at these technologically advanced and well-run Navajo facilities.

Only the Navajo Nation’s sovereignty, an environmental review and agreements with the EPA to fight regional haze by closing three of the plant’s five units and installing emission controls on the remaining two plants saved some of the jobs and revenue – for now. Of course, all that could change as the CBD gang fights on, threatening to sue the federal permitting agency.

Lost jobs of course mean seriously impaired living standards, health and welfare for unemployed workers and their families. But for the CBD and judges, those concerns are irrelevant.

In January, the Farmington Daily Times reported that the town’s San Juan College received a $1.4 million federal grant to help retrain displaced coal miners and workers in other industries, including oil and gas. But oil and gas operations are also under assault by the CBD gang and various federal agencies, which are using climate change, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and other regulations to restrict or eliminate leasing, drilling and other resource extraction on western lands.

Clearly, even the sovereignty that comes with being a federally recognized Indian tribe on an established reservation provides no protection against a weaponized Endangered Species Act. Other communities, industries, workers and families are even more powerless.

Once again, poor, minority and working class families are at the mercy of wealthy ruling elites, for whom exaggerated and even fabricated environmental concerns are paramount. It’s wrong, and it has to end.

Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, author of ten books on environmentalist excesses, and editor of the Undue Influence website, which exposes leftist funding and practices.

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