The Trump administration disbanded a controversial wildlife panel that promoted the hunting of rare elephants, lions and other big-game animals abroad.
The Interior Department told a U.S. District Court in New York on Friday it will not renew the charter of the International Wildlife Conservation Council, an advisory panel of government outsiders charged with touting the “benefits of international hunting."
The department told the court in a filing Friday there is “no plan to establish another committee with a similar mission or scope in the future.” The charter for the group expired in December.
Environmental and animal-welfare groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society International, sued former Interior secretary Ryan Zinke and the department for allegedly stacking the panel with pro-hunting advocates, many in the orbit of President Trump and his family.
“We’re celebrating the conclusion of this boondoggle,” said Anna Frostic, an attorney at the Humane Society.
Zinke established the council in 2017 to show that hunting overseas is “an effective tool to combat illegal trafficking and poaching." Big-game hunters say the money they pay for permits to hunt large, charismatic animals abroad helps fund crucial habitat conservation and anti-poaching efforts in what are often poorer countries.
Federal law requires official advisory panels to be ideologically balanced and to serve some sort of public interest. The green groups argued in court the Trump administration’s wildlife council hit neither of those marks.
When reached for comment, the Interior Department simply said the "charter expired in December."
The administration had asked the court to dismiss the case, but U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan allowed it to proceed in September.
Among the politically connected donors on the panel were Peter Lewis Horn II, Chris Hudson, Mike Ingram and Keith Mark. The four had co-chaired or served on a host committee for a “Camouflage & Cufflinks”-themed gala held on Trump’s Inauguration Day.
The president’s two oldest sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, backed out of serving as “honorary co-chairmen" of the charity event.
A fifth member of the wildlife panel, bow hunter Cameron Hanes, is a friend of Trump Jr. Yet another member, John Jackson III, is the head of Conservation Force, an advocacy group that has represented those seeking permits with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to hunt abroad.
"If it weren’t for regulated hunting in Africa,” Jackson wrote in a 2015 USAToday op-ed, “most African lions would cease to exist.”
The council had an annual budget of $250,000 and met five times in 2018 and 2019, but ultimately made no formal recommendations to higher-ups within the Fish and Wildlife Service or its parent agency, Interior.
Trump's adult sons are prolific hunters, posing in photographs with a dead elephant and leopard in Africa. But their father doesn't share their interest in hunting; he has called killing elephants for sport a “horror show.”
In 2017, Trump's deputies at. Fish and Wildlife lifted a ban on imports of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia only for the president himself to halt the decision days later.
In the end, the pro-hunting advocates in the administration prevailed. By March 2018, the agency quietly moved forward with ending the moratorium on bringing tusks and other elephant parts back home.
— Probe into carmakers ends: The Justice Department is dropping an investigation it launched in September into BMW, Ford, Volkswagen and Honda for agreeing to follow stricter emissions standards set by California instead of hewing to the Trump administration's laxer ones, the New York Times reports.
- What's next: "The Justice Department’s decision could boost the efforts of the auto companies and California to move ahead with tighter vehicle pollution standards than those being finalized by the federal government," the Times writes.
- What was said: California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) celebrated the news on Twitter, declaring it's a “HUGE” win for anyone who cares about 'the law' and 'the air.'(Which should be literally everyone.)"
— Potential heat record in Antarctica: A temperature reading taken at an Argentinian research base may have been the hottest ever recorded in Antarctica, The Post's Matthew Cappucci reports.
- By the numbers: The reading was 65 degrees, but the record still needs to be verified by the World Meteorological Organization.
- Previous record: The last time the mercury jumped that high was in March 2015 when it was recorded to be 63.5 degrees.
- The science behind it: The poles are heating up faster than the rest of the planet, researchers say. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the Arctic was warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.
Correction: The original version of this newsletter suggested the North Pole is in Antarctica. The South Pole is there.
— New faces for climate caucus: Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) are the latest senators to join the Climate Solutions Caucus, Axios reports. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) might sign up as well, the Washington Examiner reports too. The new members in the ad-hoc climate group, started by Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.), are "the latest sign of more Republicans becoming interested in climate at some level," per Axios.
— Federal dollars to be spent on clean coal R&D: The Department of Energy announced it will spend up to $64 million for research and development into more efficient coal plants. The news was shared by Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette at a Friday speech at the Atlantic Council, where he also said Canada and Mexico could help export U.S. coal to Asia as a way to get around Pacific coast states who have blocked coal trade for environmental concerns, Reuters reports.
- What was said: “That’s why the USMCA was so important,” Brouillette said during his speech. “We hope to work more collaboratively with both Mexico and Canada to find export facilities to get the coal from Wyoming,” and other states in the U.S. West to Asia and other global markets.
— The growing hazard of the illegal pesticide trade in Brazil: An illegal and unregulated trade, estimated to be $2 billion in Brazil, of pesticides is causing grave environmental and social consequences, The Post's Terrence McCoy reports.
- In Brazil: Pesticides are one of the most important products in the country. "In the farming regions, the feel of pesticides is everywhere. Billboards advertise them alongside signs for local restaurants. Planes pass overhead, dusting the crops. In some towns, pesticide stores seem to outnumber churches," McCoy describes.
- By the numbers: "Roughly 10 percent of the agrochemical trade — a quickly growing market valued at $220 billion — is believed to be illegal," per a 2007 estimate that is likely doubled now. But it's impossible to quantify exactly, McCoy writes.
- The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change will hold a hearing entitled "EPA’s Lead and Copper Proposal: Failing to Protect Public Health" on Tuesday.
- The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will markup Better Energy Storage Technology Act, Clean Industrial Technology Act of 2019 and more on Wednesday.
- The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs will hold a hearing entitled “Surface Transportation Reauthorization: Public Transportation Stakeholders’ Perspectives" on Tuesday, Feb. 25.