Utah State University

Homepage

Economic Impact of WildEarth Guardians Litigation on Local Communities

Wild Earth

WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofit and environmental activist organization that
claims their mission is “to confront the threats facing the beauty and diversity of the
American West.” They use several strategies to pursue that mission including litigation,
science, media, and lobbying. Their primary strategy is to file lawsuits to uphold their
interpretation of environmental laws, called “litigating for the wild.” This report
includes a statistical analysis of the effects WEG’s actions have on the communities they
litigate in, as well as one case study in each of their four areas of interest to illustrate
their operations.
Statistical Analysis
Using standard regression analysis we evaluate the effects of activities by
WildEarth Guardians on three variables that act as proxies for county economic
conditions. Controlling for other factors influencing county economic conditions, we
find evidence that interventions by WildEarth Guardians, on average, are associated
with lower median household income, but higher county tax receipts. Legal and policy
interventions by WildEarth Guardians often generate costs for the affected county. In
order to cover those costs the county must generate new revenues, usually through
increased taxes. So, not only are local communities suffering from lower household
incomes, but they also are forced to pay higher taxes to cover the costs associated with
legal fees from litigation efforts.
Oil and Gas Leases
WEG’s challenge to the drilling industry is titled the “Wild Skies of the West”
initiative. A 2009 legal settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
resulted in theEPA proposing new, stronger nationwide air quality rules for oil and gas 2
development. WEG continues to litigate to reduce the amount of drilling across the
West, especially in the Rocky Mountain Region including Colorado, Montana, New
Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.
Coal Mining
One of WildEarth Guardians’ areas of interest is coal mining. Although they focus
primarily on Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, which produces 43% of all coal burned in
the U.S., they have extended their interests to include the Colorado Plateau with the
purpose of having no coal mined or burned in the Colorado Plateau. They are
attempting to prevent the construction of any new coal-fired power plants, pushing to
retire existing plants, and promoting stronger enforcement of the Clean Air Act.
Grazing Permits
WEG have always emphasized grazing permit retirement. They argue that public
lands’ grazing has negative effects on native species, water use, large carnivores, fire
ecology, and aquatic ecosystems. They are especially frustrated with the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service’s practice of removing Mexican Wolves when they conflict with cows in
the Greater Gila Bioregion.
Listing of Endangered Species
Another of the group’s aims is getting as many species as possible listed as
threatened or endangered under the premise of the Endangered Species Act (ESA),
despite the impacts that listing these animals has on private and public use. WEG have
petitioned to have 681 more species listed under the ESA (there are approximately 1,385
species listed currently). As part of their wildlife protection efforts, they have created a
program they call, “Saving the Sagebrush Sea,” that hopes to create a system of
sagebrush reserves.
The argument often stated by the environmental community is that increased
intervention by environmental groups through litigation and other activities does not
negatively impact local communities is not supported by the data. Taken together, these
efforts may jeopardize industries representing $3.98 billion in economic benefits for
local economies. These costs do not include the fiscal and budget implications, increase
costs to local legal systems, and the cost of new regulations. But, environmental groups
seldom justify their actions in economic terms. Instead these groups are primarily
interested in emotional, ecological, and cultural goals. Our results show that those goals
are accomplished at a cost to local economies.

Download the article: Wild Earth Guardians

Latest News