Menendez, Senate Democrats Call on the Trump Administration to Help Combat Devastating Fires in Brazilian Amazon

Menendez, Senate Democrats Call on the Trump Administration to Help Combat Devastating Fires in Brazilian Amazon

 

WASHINGTON – As the Brazilian Amazon continues to be ravaged by tens of thousands of fires, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today led a group of his Senate Democratic colleagues in calling on the Trump Administration to intensify U.S. support and diplomatic engagement with Brazil to better address the environmental crisis. In two separate letters, Democratic Senators outlined the urgency for the United States to do more to help combat the fires and protect the Amazon, a natural resource critical to the health and sustainability of the global environment.

In a letter addressed to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, USAID Administrator Mark Green, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Senator Menendez and a group of 13 senators urged the Trump Administration to immediately provide financial and technical assistance to the Brazilian government, local authorities and non-governmental actors working to fight the fires. Similarly, the senators identified multiple foreign assistance programs funded by Congress that USAID, the Treasury Department, and the U.S. Forest Service could utilize to re-direct millions of dollars in aid to further support forest preservation efforts and emergency conversation programs.

“While the Brazilian government is ultimately responsible for the stewardship and conservation management of its territory, the Brazilian Amazon is widely regarded as a natural resource whose viability is critical to the health and sustainability of the global environment,” wrote the Senators. “We need to demonstrate to President [Jair] Bolsonaro that he cannot credibly claim that his government lacks the resources to confront this crisis,” adding their concerns about the Brazilian President’s misguided anti-conservation policies, his lack of urgency in addressing the environmental disaster, and his hostility towards the rights of indigenous peoples.

Joining Menendez in sending the letter to the three Cabinet members were Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif).

In a separate letter to the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Brazil, Senator Menendez and a group of 12 Democratic Senators also called on the U.S. diplomats in Brazil to intensify engagement with the Bolsonaro government to combat the fires and improve Amazon stewardship.

“[President Bolsonaro’s] reaction to this growing environmental crisis fits the pattern of malign neglect and exploitation of the Amazon that is threatening the health and safety of an increasing number of Brazilian citizens -- and the global population – from a climate and air quality standpoint,” wrote the Senators. “We encourage you to stand with the majority of Brazilians who strongly favor protecting the Amazon and disapprove of President Bolsonaro’s irresponsible mismanagement of Brazil’s unique and ecologically critical natural resources.” 

Joining Menendez in sending the letter to Charge d’Affairs William Popp were Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif).

A copy of both letters can be found below.

Dear Secretary Mnuchin, Secretary Perdue, and Administrator Green:

We are writing to urge immediate financial and technical assistance to combat the tens of thousands of fires burning across Brazil, including in the Brazilian Amazon. Scientists at Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research have determined that rampant deforestation, which has increased exponentially in 2019, has pushed the Amazon to an ecological tipping point, and the fires currently burning across the Amazon are exacerbating this situation.  Further, President Jair Bolsonaro’s hostility to indigenous peoples’ land rights and existing Brazilian conservation law is intensifying the crisis. Should President Bolsonaro accept the G-7’s offers to aid Brazil during this crisis, the U.S. must engage constructively with other G-7 members towards working with Brazil to halt and reverse the alarming rate of deforestation in the Amazon.

While the Brazilian government is ultimately responsible for the stewardship and conservation management of its territory, the Brazilian Amazon, is widely regarded as a natural resource whose viability is critical to the health and sustainability of the global environment. For that reason, the U.S., and many other foreign governments have for decades contributed millions of dollars to efforts to preserve and protect the Amazon. This investment and our historical leadership on global conservation warrant the U.S. to offer both emergency assistance to efforts on the ground to extinguish and control the fires as well as technical assistance to improve wildfire, forestry, agricultural, and watershed management capacities of national and subnational authorities in Brazil responding to the crisis.

President Bolsonaro is largely dismissive of the severity of the fires. He has claimed that Brazil does not have the resources to combat the fires, and without evidence, accuses his critics of setting the fires. Despite the President’s claims, we urge USAID, the Treasury Department, and the U.S. Forest Service to respond by offering assistance to the Brazilian government, local authorities and non-governmental actors working to fight the fires. We also strongly encourage you to exercise United States leadership through multilateral organizations like the Global Environmental Facility, the World Bank, and the Green Climate Fund to mobilize funds towards addressing the Amazon crisis. 

The Congress has programmed $11 million in the current fiscal year’s appropriations legislation for bilateral environmental cooperation with Brazil. These funds should be immediately re-directed to aid in forest preservation efforts and emergency conservation programs. Additionally, the Congress provided $125 million in the current fiscal year for sustainable landscapes programming to prevent forest loss. Unobligated balances in this account should be directed, to the extent practical, to help Brazil cooperatively combat the drivers of wildfires in the Amazon and other fire-affected regions. We need to demonstrate to President Bolsonaro that he cannot credibly claim that his government lacks the resources to confront this crisis.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and for taking our concerns seriously as you engage with the Brazilian government on this localized environmental crisis with serious global consequences. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

-30-

 

Dear Mr. Popp:

We are writing to urge your immediate engagement with the Brazilian government on supporting improvements to stewardship efforts of the Amazon Rainforest and to assist with urgent efforts to combat the tens of thousands of fires burning across the Brazilian Amazon.

The Brazilian Amazon rainforest is experiencing unprecedented stress and degradation, putting this unique and critically important natural ecosystem at risk of undergoing drastic changes that would not only transform the ecological characteristics of the region, but threaten our entire global environment. According to the Brazilian Space Agency, as of June this year, clearcutting in the Amazon has increased by 88 percent as compared to June 2018; representing a loss of more than 1,760 square miles of rainforest in an 11-month period. Adding to the crisis are more than 74,000 fires currently burning across the Brazilian Amazon that are harming air quality, darkening daytime skies in Sa Paolo, and releasing more than 200 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

By all accounts, President Jair Bolsonaro is dismissing the severity of the fires exacerbating the Amazon crisis; neglecting to take action to quell the fires or enforce Brazil’s conservation laws; and has gone so far as to blame his critics, without any evidence, for setting the fires. This reaction to this growing environmental crisis fits the pattern of malign neglect and exploitation of the Amazon that is threatening the health and safety of an increasing number of Brazilian citizens -- and the global population from a climate and air quality standpoint. We encourage you to stand with the majority of Brazilians who strongly favor protecting the Amazon and disapprove of President Bolsonaro’s irresponsible mismanagement of Brazil’s unique and ecologically critical natural resources. 

While the stewardship and conservation management of the Brazilian Amazon is the responsibility of the Brazilian government, the Amazon is widely regarded as a natural resource critical to the health and sustainability of the global environment. For that reason, the U.S., and many other foreign governments have for decades contributed millions of dollars to efforts to preserve and protect the Amazon. This investment and the United States historical leadership on global conservation make the need for you to elevate U.S. engagement on Amazon conservation a priority during this crisis. We are urging you to:

-          Encourage Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to enforce Brazil’s rainforest conservation laws;

-          Publicly condemn President Bolsonaro’s irresponsible policies contributing to the mismanagement and unsustainable exploitation of the Amazon;

-          Reinforce U.S. support for the important role civil society is playing to keep the public informed about the realities of President Bolsonaro’s misguided anti-conservation policies; and

-          Offer support for efforts to combat the fires that are exacerbating Brazil’s environmental crisis.

We would appreciate an immediate update on all engagements with the Bolsonaro government on Amazon stewardship, and expect a substantive response to this request as soon as practicable.

Thank you for your service and attention to this matter and for taking our concerns seriously as you engage with the Brazilian government. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

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