Update on Environmental Legislation and Regulations

Update on Environmental Legislation and Regulations
July 1, 1997

The following summary of pending legislation and recent regulatory decisions is provided by arrangement with The National Coalition for Public Lands and Natural Resources, a nonprofit 501(c)6 corporation advocating continued multiple use on public lands. The Coalition is better known by the title of its flagship publication, People for the West!

People for the West is a grassroots organization with over 120 chapters in Western states and a growing presence in the South and Midwest. Its members are concerned that policies implemented to “protect the environment” are undermining property rights and the eocnomic foundations of many communities. They challenge the notion that man’s use of natural resources is “unnatural” or incompatible with effective environment protection.

Annual individual membership is $25. Members receive eight issues of People for the West! To become a member, or for more information, contact the Coalition at 301 North Main, Pueblo, Colorado 81003, phone 719/543-8421, or send e-mail to pfw@usa.net.


American Heritage Rivers

Just when you thought you were safe from the Heritage Corridors program, President Clinton announced this scheme in his State of the Union address. On May 19, the Council on Environmental Quality announced rules for the program in the Federal Register with only three weeks’ comment time. In a nutshell, the President gets to designate ten rivers every year for permanent status as Heritage Rivers. A “River Navigator” (caseworker) is assigned to a five-year term coordinating federal aid to “River Communities” seeking to “restore and protect their river resources.” It sounds all warm and fuzzy, but it’s broadly worded enough for abuse. If an activist group can get the sympathetic ear of a “navigator,” it concentrate its influence at a point where governmental power is concentrated as well. Congressmen and senators from all over the map fought for and won an extension on the comment deadline, which now runs until August 16. Furthermore, understandings have been reached that will allow adequate time for comments in the future (if this program has a future), standing for agricultural interests equal to others (none existed before), and provisions that a congressman’s approval and overwhelming public support will be needed for nomination and later designation. On June 10, Idaho Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth introduced HR-1842, which prohibits all funding for this program. Let’s ask our congressmen to cosponsor HR-1842, and our senators to introduce a companion bill.

American Land Sovereignty Act (HR-901)

Congressman Don Young’s (R-Alaska) bill to protect American public and private lands from jurisdictional encroachments by United Nations programs such as Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites was referred to the Resource Committee on February 27. Hearings are being held on the bill.

Clean Air

On June 12, Congressman Robert Ney (R-Ohio) introduced a bill in the House to prohibit EPA from implementing its standards proposal, following a June 11 introduction by Congressmen Ron Klink (D-Pennsylvania) and Fred Upton (R-Michigan) of a bill that would delay EPA implementation until after a five-year study period. On June 25, President Clinton officially came out in support of the full EPA proposal, stunning everyone--even Greens had expected him to weaken the proposal. Congress has the authority to veto the EPA plan, but may not attempt it since it’s politically awkward to appear to vote against youngsters, the elderly, and others that the EPA insists will benefit from the proposal. The incredibly far-reaching measure would automatically classify the air in more than 400 counties as unsafe, forcing American cities and states to mount aggressive, costly efforts to meet the new standards. Under the Clean Air Act, the government is required to set standards for air quality without consideration of the economic impact.

Clean Water

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released a five-year draft “Strategic Plan” in early April. “The Reality” statement illustrates the general approach of the Bureau for the near future, which is “no ‘new water’ to develop [and] no new dams to store water for the dry season.” Irrigation runoff is slated to become a focus as the Bureau works with the Interior Department at “reducing the point and non-point water quality impacts” of operations. We might not just be talking cows in streams, but also irrigated pasture. According to The National Waterline, the “Strategic Plan makes no mention of the authority of States over the allocation of quantities of water,” conflict resolution, and “reduction of the backlog of deferred maintenance.” Deferred by ESA requirements, perhaps?

Endangered Species Act

What a mess! Congressman Richard Pombo’s (R-California) HR-478, which exempted repair and maintenance of flood control structures from ESA review, was blown out of the water during the floor fight on the supplemental flood aid bill. Flood-control ESA exemptions were yanked completely out of the conference bill. As for Senator Dirk Kempthorne’s (R-Idaho) ESA reform package, introduction is expected sometime in August. It is being hashed out in semi-secret by Clinton officials (including Babbitt and McGinty) and Senators Kempthorne, Max Baucus (D-Montana), John Chafee (R-Rhode Island), and Harry Reid (D-Nevada). The secrecy is to tone down the rhetoric, at least until a basic package is put together. One thing the reform bill will not have is takings provisions. To pave the way for his larger bill, Kempthorne has introduced a bill providing tax incentives to private property owners who voluntarily assist in habitat preservation.

Fish

On June 10, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed listing Klamath River bull trout as endangered and Columbia Basin bulls as threatened. The big rush is because of a lawsuit by Friends of the Wild Swan/Alliance for the Wild Rockies claiming that USFWS wasn’t heading toward a conclusion fast enough . . . after FOWS/AWR had won a case against FWS’s deciding not to list bull trout in 1995. However, a proposal is not a listing. In fact, FWS proposes to lift ESA incidental takings restrictions on bulls in the Basin as long as state laws are followed. Of course, if USFWS decides not to list, Friends of the Wild Swan crusader Steve Kelley says, “I’m filing more lawsuits than ever before.”

Forest Health

The “Act to Save America’s Forests” introduced in the House by Congresswomen Anna Eshoo (D-California) and Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) was joined by a Senate version introduced by freshman Senator Robert Torricelli (D-New Jersey). Seems like saving the West is more important to Torricelli than catering to New Jersey constituents’ real needs.

In other forest health news, the General Accounting Office has found that of the Forest Service’s $1.3 billion budget, $250 million was spent per year on environmental analysis of proposed projects (not including forest planning).Yet GAO determined that the Forest Service’s “decision-making process is clearly broken and in need of repair.” The recommended solution was a cleaning up of the NEPA process by the Council of Environmental Quality to eliminate duplicative research.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and House Resources Committee Chair Don Young (R-Alaska) say their committees are ready to begin oversight hearings on the new management plan for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. The long-awaited plan would slash the logging volume in half over the next decade and is being bitterly opposed by the timber community, and also by Green activists who say it isn’t drastic enough.

Global Climate Change

Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) has obtained 47 cosponsors for a resolution calling on the President not to sign any global climate agreement that will hurt the U.S. economy. That’s 13 more cosponsors than the 34 needed to block ratification of a treaty, which requires a two-thirds majority. Included are conditions that we not sign unless carbon emissions limits are binding and applied to developing as well as industrialized nations. At the Denver Summit of the Eight on June 21, President Clinton refused to join European Union leaders who have committed to reducing their emissions by 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. But he promised to come up with his own emissions reduction plan in time for the international meeting in Kyoto, Japan in December. And on June 26, the President launched a major public relations campaign to sell the American public on the need for policies addressing global climate change. Green activists are upset that this new campaign contains no targets, timetables, or specifics in general for reducing U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. Clinton appears to be engaging in the sort of political maneuvering for which he is famous, appeasing business leaders by withholding his support for drastic global climate measures, while pandering to the Greens by supporting the EPA air standards proposal.

Grazing

The BLM Strategic Plan released April 7 failed to mention agricultural uses of BLM lands as a priority. There appears to be progress on the issue of state-specific grazing policy. Oregon, Colorado, and Nevada have been through the process, and other Western states should have their own conditional policies by August.

Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for ICBEMP has been released. The data are in several parts, an executive summary, and full EIS drafts for the Eastside and for the upper Basin. The draft EIS is a monster at 1,200 pages, so you might want to share a copy among other chapter members. Frankly, the executive summary is too sparse for an issue like this. There’s heavy emphasis on road closures, burning, and treatment. Timber production is a valid use, but secondary to overall forest health. We speculated last issue that sedimentation from roads would be a biggie, and projected road closures confirm it. Back that up with salmon and bull trout ESA listing activity, and you get the picture. The ICBEMP DEIS is to have a 120-day comment period and the final EIS is scheduled for release by summer 1998. It covers a 144 million acre area, half of which is private, and it has cost $35 million so far. Estimates of its first year of implementation come to $125 million. We need to know what we’re buying. Western Republican senators are lining up against it. See the ICBEMP web site: http://www.icbemp.gov. To get on the mailing list, you can call the ICBEMP Project Office in Boise at (208) 334-1770.

Mining

An amendment by Senator Dale Bumpers (D-Arkansas) to eliminate the depletion allowance was rejected in the Senate last month, saving mining and other industries from huge new tax increases. The “3809” reform scoping meetings (regarding hardrock mining on BLM lands) seemed to go well for mining supporters. Meetings held in the Intermountain region were well-attended by the good guys. BLM extended the comment deadline until June 23. Regarding the Crown Butte buyout, when Clinton’s scheme (for taking all $65 million of compensation from Montana Conservation Reserve Program funds which were in turn sourced by oil and gas leases on federal lands in Montana) was exposed, Congress turned to Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) monies, which come from general appropriations. The last two years LWCF has been funded at $160 million a year, but Clinton is looking for a boost to $900 million this year, and GOPers wary of being hammered by Greens are sympathetic. The plan now is to allocate funds from LWCF over the next two years to Crown Butte, as well as for buying the Headquarters Forest redwoods from junk bond king Charles Hurwitz--a $380 million chunk, for 7,500 acres at $50,666 per acre. This is classic political economics, and explains why we have a deficit.

Oil and Gas

The Minerals Management Service has dropped plans to eliminate posted prices for valuing oil for royalty purposes, but is working on another proposal to increase royalties. BLM has decided that NEPA requirements for Conoco’s Reese Canyon wildcat well on the Kaiparowits will be satisfied by a 45-page Environmental Assessment rather than the full EIS rigamarole demanded by opponents. Conoco wasted no time getting started on June 11. There was a 30-day comment period on this decision to expire June 27. The Reese Canyon site will take up 2.5 acres with a 0.1 mile driveway from an existing roadway . . . which is why BLM said the “overall suitability” of 317,274 acres of wilderness study lands would not be “impaired.” But BLM in Colorado seems to take its marching orders directly from Green groups--clearly breaking the law in the process and provoking a lawsuit from Marathon Oil.

Property Rights

Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth’s (R-Idaho) bill to give citizens standing under the law to seek compensation for ESA property takings was reported to the union calendar on March 21. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that Tahoe-area landowner Bernardine Suitum will finally be able to seek compensation for losses incurred when the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency prevented her from building on her lot, instead trying to buy her off with “development credits” worth a fraction of what a marketable house would have been. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced his property rights bill in late May, but it lacks sponsors, most notably Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi). The sticking point is the wording establishing a right to compensation . . . where most supporters feel a more “realistic” approach would be a law establishing standing in court, a la Suitum and the Lost River sucker case in Oregon.

The influential Senator John Chafee (R-Rhode Island), chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, still stands between property owners and the enactment of takings provisions--in any bill, even Kempthorne’s. But on July 6 the senator’s chief counsel Steven Shimberg is to end a 16-year run with Chafee to go to work for the National Wildlife Federation. Watch out for that revolving door!

Road Rights of Way RS-2477

It was a good fight! Western legislators in the House and Senate, most notably Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), tried to get RS-2477 provisions favorable to the states and localities into the flood bill that Clinton vetoed. Greens went wild over that, branding the Stevens amendment the “Pave the Parks” rider and creating a news media sensation. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill with language from Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) prohibiting future spending on any Clinton Administration regulations pertaining to RS-2477 roads. (No federal statute has ever granted the Interior Department the authority to regulate, adjudicate, or otherwise interfere with the proper exercise of RS-2477 rights.)

Superfund Reform

In mid-May “bipartisan” meetings on Superfund were held in both houses of Congress, with a goal of starting to draft reform bills by June 1. House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley (R-Virginia) called on the Clinton Administration to work with Congress on reforms that would address liability issues, preferred treatments, figuring natural resource damage, and the “proper role” of each level of government in the process. Bliley noted that lack of resources isn’t a factor in Superfund delays--it’s all the finger-pointing over liability. Another unfortunate reason for reform delays: unwillingness by federal regulators to devolve any authority to the rabble at the state and local levels, demonstrated by EPA’s air programs, BLM’s mining reform and road policies, federal resistance to self-audit laws, etc.

Utah Land Grab

After President Clinton established the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah last year, Congressman Jim Hansen of Utah introduced HR-1127, which would limit such land grabs to 5,000 acres. It was amended in committee to set the cap at 50,000 acres. The bill went to markup May 21, but the House Resources Committee failed to act on it. Congressman Bruce Vento (D-Minnesota) is among those who have promised to strongly oppose it. Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah) introduced S-357 to protect valid existing rights and multiple uses in the monument. The Bennett bill is supposed to codify promises made by the President during the designation ceremony. But the election is over, and the Administration is opposing S-357. On June 23, the state school-trust lands agency and all 29 Utah counties sued the federal government over formation of the Monument (Mountain States Legal Foundation has a separate suit going).