10/1997 News Briefs
American Heritage Rivers Initiative
Touted by the Clinton administration as a way to “protect and restore” America’s rivers, this initiative is opposed by many who consider it a threat to local control of water and riparian areas. That did not stop President Clinton from signing the executive order establishing AHRI on September 11. The administration’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) intends to implement AHRI as quickly as possible (the first public comment period was just three weeks), so it looks like Congress will have to write legislation to kill AHRI. Unfortunately, the Senate voted 57-42 on September 18 to kill an amendment by Tim Hutchinson (R-Arkansas) that would have stopped AHRI. In the House, the Resources Committee held a September 24 hearing on Representative Helen Chenoweth’s HR-1842, which would kill funding for AHRI.
While the House on July 15 passed the Coburn Amendment to ban federal funding for the UN’s World Heritage Convention and Biosphere Reserve programs, the Senate later deleted the defunding provision in its version of the Interior Appropriations bill. The American Land Sovereignty Act HR-901 was reported out of committee to the House floor on September 24. While the bill has 170 co-sponsors, a veto-proof majority of 292 votes isn’t assured. The bill, introduced by Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), is designed to protect American public and private lands from jurisdictional encroachments by UN programs.
EPA, already under fire for its proposed new particulate matter and ground-level ozone air standards, is now seeking to establish a secondary (economics-based) PM2.5 standard in what are called “mandatory Class I federal areas,” such as national parks, monuments, and Indian reservations. There are 156 of these areas in 36 states, and they’re all downwind of something. Ironically, the new EPA plan would force the expenditure of nearly $3 billion a year by sources that are responsible for only 6 percent of the “problem,” while ignoring the fire program federal agencies have planned for the West.
Endangered Species Act
The Kempthorne-Chafee ESA reform package was introduced the fourth week of September. It includes a no-surprises provision and landowner-originated habitat conservation plans, places the scientific burden of proof on the government, and allows anyone--even affected citizens--to request a scientific peer review of an endangered species listing. Green activists are trying to head off reform by having Representative George Miller (D-California) introduce “benchmark” legislation, doing the current ESA one better by requiring that land be managed not just for survival of a species, but for “full recovery.”
Global Climate Change
Vice President Al Gore visited Glacier National Park’s Grinnell Glacier on September 2. The glacier has lost 80 percent of its mass since the turn of the century, which Gore attributed to greenhouse gases. He apparently has never heard of the Little Ice Age, which ended about 1850 and might just have something to do with the existence of those glaciers in the first place. The day after Gore’s visit, a study was released showing a 25 percent drop in the size of the ice shelf surrounding Antarctica from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, for which the cause is “entirely unknown.” One thing that may be causing the current melting is all the hot air coming out of the White House.
The comment deadline for the Selway reintroduction was pushed back from October 9 to November 6 to allow more time for what is turning into a full-scale states’ rights war. The State of Idaho continues to oppose any bear introduction at all and is gearing up for a Tenth Amendment suit, the outcome of which will have massive implications for land use policies across the country. The preferred alternative to the bear plan gives the Secretary of the Interior unilateral veto power over “citizen management,” essentially reducing such management to window dressing and indicating that the federal government really has no intention of following the wishes of those most directly affected.
The emergency injunction granted by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which voided hundreds of Forest Service grazing leases in New Mexico and Arizona, has generated a firestorm in the West. Ranchers in northern New Mexico have vowed to “resist any effort” to remove cattle from the affected leases. Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) has been quite vocal in his condemnation of the activist Ninth and his support for creating a new Twelfth. Representative Joe Skeen (R-New Mexico) has asked the Forest Service to appeal the injunction to the Supreme Court. And on September 4, Skeen met with Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck and asked that secret legal negotiations between Green activists and the Forest Service be “sunshined” open meetings.
Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for ICBEMP comment deadline is now officially extended to February 6, 1998. No matter where you live, this bears watching. It is the embodiment of ecosystem management, and by definition ecosystems do not “recognize” manmade boundaries. Don’t be lulled into thinking there won’t be any fence-jumping on this one. In the Missouri “Ozark National Scenic Riverway” (not just River) plan are statements regarding “systems that extend beyond the park unit to nearby lands.” Check out the ICBEMP Web site at http://www.icbemp.gov.
The latest from Montana indicates that Crown Butte landowner Margaret Reeb of Livingston has agreed to be bought out. In exchange for a promise not to mine her land, she will get an undisclosed sum out of the $65 million to be paid to Crown Butte Mining. Now it is up to Congress to appropriate the money. In Idaho, the Silver Valley Superfund lawsuit ($600 million) has gained momentum. EPA ordered 71 firms to turn over all their papers since 1880, then dropped 52 small outfits from the suit, but as of September 1 has requested to add ARCO, BNSF, Union Pacific Railroad, and 20 other firms to the defendant list. Gotta love those big, rich targets.
Looks like Interior is going after small targets as well, with a new rules proposal that will automatically grant stays when BLM decisions are under appeal. However, there is a provision where stays can be protested by any party, or not granted if in the “public interest.”
Senators Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho) have introduced S-1102, an industry-backed reform of the 1872 Mining Law. It establishes a 5 percent net smelter royalty and once again allows patenting of claims. Fair market value would be paid for surface rights, and reclamation would be addressed using the “unnecessary and undue degradation” standards of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
Oil and Gas
No word yet on whether the Reese Canyon state drill site in the Escalante National Monument has scored. Green publications have already printed telephoto “spy” pictures of what looks like a good, tight operation. The feds have decided to let Conoco drill with approval of an EA rather than an EIS.
The ecoroyalty idea suggested by the Green River Basin Advisory Committee (GRBAC) got a boost from new Energy Secretary Federico Peña, who promised to “break the logjam” in Washington over the idea. “Ecoroyalties” involve reducing the usual 12 percent royalty by 1 or 2 percent to pay back gas producers for environmental studies and improvements on the field. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyoming) has scheduled a hearing before the House Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee October 9 to consider a bill enabling ecoroyalties. At the same time, the green Wyoming Outdoor Council has been pestering BLM to establish “mitigation funds” paid by oil and gas royalties for general off-site environmental improvements.
Speaking of mitigation, BLM’s Record of Decision for the Cave Gulch gas field in Natrona County (west of Casper, Wyoming) is calling for highly restrictive seasonal buffers around raptor nesting sites. Previous projects mandated buffers of one-quarter to a half mile--now it’s a one-half to one mile radius. Some BLM staff are said to be pushing for year-round buffers--in essence, no surface occupancy at all.
House Immigration and Claims Subcommittee Chair Lamar Smith (R-Texas) held a hearing on September 10 on HR-992, the “Tucker Act Shuffle Relief Act of 1997,” which he introduced to make it easier for property owners to mount legal challenges against federal action that reduces the value of their property. The bill is said to be a scaled-back version of S-781, the “Omnibus Property Rights Act of 1997,” being sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)--which is similar to the Dole bill of the 104th Congress. Its aim is to ensure just compensation for the “taking” of private property for public use. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) is sponsoring S-709 to require analysis of the impact on private property of proposed regulations before they are issued. The House version of this is Representative Jerry Solomon’s (R-New York) HR-95.
The bipartisan regulatory reform bill introduced in late June by Senators Fred Thompson (R-Tennessee) and Carl Levin (D-Michigan) would require agencies to conduct cost-benefit analyses on new regulations and periodically review existing ones. Green activists hate the idea of cost-benefit analysis, instead clinging to the idea that something as priceless as wilderness has no real cost. But if a regulation is based on flawed data and as a result costs you an arm and a leg while returning no benefits, wouldn’t you like to see that regulation put where it belongs?
Superfund reform finally got under way in early September, when EPA Administrator Carol Browner appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee along with a long list of witnesses who offered testimony to the House Commerce, Finance, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee. The Senate version of the reform bill, offered by John Chafee (R-Rhode Island) and Robert Smith (R-New Hampshire), presents new options for remedy selection and community input while releasing some small polluters and municipal landfill operations from joint and several liability for pollution occurring before 1980. It backs off on the preference for permanent cleanup options while creating new preferences for highly mobile and toxic substances.
Utah Land Grab
Folks are still furious at President Clinton’s use of the Antiquities Act to designate the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. Documentation has been provided to the House Resources Committee that reveals the Clinton administration operated secretly with Robert Redford and other Green friends for nearly six months on the designation plan while misleading Congress and reporters about it. As late as September 13, 1996, the Administration was telling Congress that the President was not close to creating the monument--which he did five days later. The documents also prove the decision was made for political, rather than environmental, reasons. The House Resources Committee has approved Representative Jim Hansen’s (R-Utah) HR-1127 to end unilateral Presidential designation of national monuments larger than 50,000 acres, but the bill still hasn’t reached the House floor.