EUGENE, Ore. — President Trump is mentioned so many times in the workshop leaflets for this weekend’s University of Oregon Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, you’d think the president was going to make a personal appearance.
But Trump isn’t a guest at the 35th annual conference put on by Oregon Law students; he’s just casting a long shadow over the proceedings.
“We’re fearing the worst,” said Jeremy Nichols, who directs the climate and energy program at the Golden, Colo., offices of WildEarth Guardians. “We’ve been working for years to steadily limit the supply of coal available so that clean energy can take hold.”
Nichols fears Trump may reverse that trend.
In mid-February, Trump rescinded an Obama-era regulation aimed at limiting the amount of coal mine wastes that can be dumped in streams.
The Trump administration also stopped defending federal rules in a lawsuit brought by coal companies. The rules required the companies to pay higher royalties on coal mined from public lands that’s often shipped overseas.
“Those are a couple of examples,” Nichols said, “and mind you, we’re only a little over a month into this administration.”
Environmentalists also fret about Trump’s pick for secretary of the Interior, Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., who won U.S. Senate confirmation Wednesday.
Zinke received large campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, including from fracking giant Oasis Petroleum, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
He is a former board member and a current stock owner of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based oil company QS Energy, according to the nonprofit campaign finance organization.
“One of Trump’s big selling points,” Oakland-based Sierra Club attorney Nathaniel Schoaff said, “is we should trust him because he has so much money he doesn’t have to listen to special interests.
“That resonated with a lot of people. The problem is he put special interests in charge — or people who are very sympathetic (to) — of some of the most important agencies that the federal government has.”
Conservative groups say Trump’s moves will boost the economy, create jobs and accelerate economic growth.
Nichols and Schoaff are scheduled to appear together at the UO law conference at a panel titled “Still Saving the Climate: Confronting Public Lands & Coal Mining Under a Trump Administration.”
Other conference panels are addressing “Fighting for Safe and Sustainable Food and Farming under Trump,” “Border Insecurity: How Walls and Militarization Harm People and Wildlife in the Borderlands” and “Criminal Defense and Environmental Activism.”
A pamphlet for the latter warns, “With Trump administration … many are expecting particularly harsh repression of these activists.”
Conference participants will discuss legal strategies, learn from Third World tactics — and find strength with like-minded activists.
The conference theme is “One Cause, One Voice.”
“The environmental movement sometimes is plagued by infighting by people who disagree where the lines of compromise should be drawn. That’s not the sign of an unhealthy movement. It’s a robust discourse,” Nichols said.
“But we’re at moment where, really, should we be spending the energy having those fights? Or should we say we all bring strength and power to this broad moment and work to advance the higher good?” he added.
The “Many Faces of Forest Law” workshop material urges, “As we move through the uncharted territory of a Trump administration, it is increasingly important for the environmental community to come together and cultivate new relationships.”
The ELAW global environmental nonprofit organization has gathered 100 lawyers from 50 countries from around the globe in Eugene — and they’ll attend and present at the law conference. ELAW is based in Eugene.
A panel on “Challenging Coal Around the World,” will include ELAW speakers from India, Kenya, Australia and Pakistan.
“Coal mining is fundamentally about climate change, and climate change is a global issue. It’s good to have that context,” Nichols said.
Lawyer panelists urge their colleagues at the conference to redouble their watchdog efforts.
“There is a big risk that this administration will start entering into sweetheart settlements with industry groups, particularly fossil fuel groups,” Schoaff said.
Environmental groups can seek to intervene in court cases in order to have a say in the outcomes.
“Now is not the time to settle for one or two key legal arguments,” Nichols said. “We need to put it all on the table and be as creative and unrelenting as possible in trying to create uncertainty, generate crisis, and make the coal industry and this administration feel some pain for every rollback and every giveaway that they may even contemplate.
“It’s not so much about identifying the, quote, winning legal argument. It’s really about getting behind every argument and coming in with energy and commitment and passion to follow it through, and, in many cases, take a risk. We have so much to lose right now.”