12/1997 News Briefs
American Heritage Rivers Initiative
The Idaho congressional delegation has asked the President’s Council on Environmental Quality to allow Idaho to opt out of any AHRI programs, saying that the state is already doing a good job with Idaho water quality protection. The Texas and Colorado delegations are expected to follow suit. The Liberty Matters staff is leading a coalition of property rights groups, including PFW, on an opt-out drive, including preparation and distribution of a packet containing procedural guidelines and model resolutions for activists as well as state and local government entities interested in de-nominating their watersheds.
On October 8 the House passed HR-901, the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act, by a margin of 236-191. Under HR-901 as currently written, all existing UN Biosphere Reserves, Ramsar treaty wetlands, World Heritage Sites, and Biodiversity Treaty areas would be canceled by 2001 unless Congress specifically reauthorizes them. Future designations would require the Department of Interior to present findings on adverse impacts to lands within 10 miles of each site. Rep. Bruce Vento (D-Minnesota) managed to get an amendment added which requires Congressional approval of all commercial activity (extractive industry) within the core/buffer/human transition “zones” of Biosphere Reserves. Want to cut trees or drill for oil on your land? Call Congress and wait for them to vote on it! HR-901 was sent to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chaired by Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) October 9.
EPA’s proposal 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, is running on the rocks. There are 156 of these areas in 36 states, and they’re all downwind of something. The original idea was to force the expenditure of nearly $3 billion annually by sources that are responsible for only 6 percent of the “problem.” The congressional gambit to delay implementation of EPA’s primary air standards died both in the House and Senate, but it looks like Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) called in enough chits to have the issue revisited after the recess.
Endangered Species Act
California Gov. Pete Wilson signed a state ESA reform package into law which both sides say will set the pace for Dirk Kempthorne’s ESA reform bill, S-1180. Although the Kempthorne ESA bill lacks property rights guarantees, it contains provisions that will introduce stability into the landowner picture and place an emphasis on species recovery, not listing and enforcement.
The State of Montana is trying to get bull trout populations in the Kootenai and Clark Fork River drainages exempted from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s imminent listing of the species in the Columbia Basin. Bull populations are fairly strong in the state, while Greens hoping to use the listing as a lever to stop road construction on Forest Service lands are trying to get a Basin-wide listing. Greens accuse forest roads of wrecking watersheds, but Montana Best Management Practices audits have found that 92 to 96 percent of all operations in the state comply with sedimentation BMPs and the others had only minor infractions.
Global Climate Change
President Clinton unveiled his strategy for the Kyoto climate change treaty meeting in December to nearly universal condemnation. European nations accused the President of not being aggressive enough, and crowed that their planned percentage reductions were higher and on a shorter deadline. Our pals across the pond aren’t being real honest about this, though. First, U.S. emissions per unit of production are lower than in Europe, thanks mostly to more sophisticated existing emissions controls. All the European Union nations need to do is add on existing technology and achieve their reductions at a lower marginal cost, giving them a leg up competing for global markets. Greens howled about the long time frame, because it won’t force America back to the Stone Age fast enough. They wanted that yesterday.
The Idaho delegation continues to oppose introduction of bears into the state’s Selway Mountains, while Montana’s governor Mark Racicot has gone on record with a conditional endorsement contingent on no land use restrictions, continuance of black bear hunting, and most importantly, de-veto-izing the Secretary of Interior by demanding neutral arbitrators. The current Secretary is trying very hard to cement his legacy as an ideologue, and there’s no guarantee that his successors will be any more objective.
Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for ICBEMP comment deadline is now extended to February 6, 1998. The extension is being utilized by environmental groups to flood Northwest newspaper letters pages with screeds demanding roadless areas, cuts in logging, fencing riparian habitat, and wildlife “conservation reserves.” Get on it, people. Check out the ICBEMP web site: http://www.icbemp.gov. To get a copy of the ICBEMP draft, you can call the ICBEMP Project Office in Boise at (208) 334-1770. It’s 4,000 pages of plans for your life.
The House-Senate conference version of the $13 billion Interior appropriations bill contains funds for both the Crown Butte mine buyout and the Headwaters redwood stand purchase. Senators Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Larry Craig’s (R-Idaho) S-1102, an industry-backed reform of the 1872 Mining Law, cleared the Forests and Public Land Management subcommittee in August. 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 dealt with using the “unnecessary and undue degradation” standards of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The 3809 surface reclamation reform has not been killed off, but issuance of the draft standards has been moved back until November 15, 1998. Further, consultation with the governors of the affected states must be certified to Congress before implementation will go forward, with final implementation February 15, 1999.
Oil and Gas
Still no word on the success of exploratory efforts on state and federal leases in the Grand Staircase National Monument. Despite strenuous efforts by grassroots organizers, Congresswoman Barbara Cubin (R-Wyoming), and Energy Secretary Frederico Pena, the ecoroyalty credit program for monies spent on environmental impact studies by oil and gas operators is dead for this session of Congress. The decision to close the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana to gas exploration for the next ten years tosses a wrench into Pena’s plans to present natural gas as a clean energy option. An interesting aspect of the decision by Lewis and Clark Forest supervisor Gloria Flora was that the vast majority of the comments received emphasized the “non-use” values of the Front. Only 12 comments were received favoring drilling.
Despite howls of protest from Greens, an attempt to gut the bill by Sierra Club-award-winning Congressman Sherwood Boehlert (R-New York), and a threatened Clinton veto, on October 23 the House passed Rep. Elton Gallegly’s (R-CA) Private Property Rights Implementation Act (HR-1534). The Washington Post hates it, so it must be good. If it and its Senate companion, S-1204, the “Access to Justice” act sponsored by Paul Coverdell (R-Georgia), survive to become law, parties affected by government takings will be able to seek compensation in federal court rather than have to exhaust the state court process (and their resources) first.
HR-1534 should be a useful tool for property owners, especially in combination with another bill, Rep. Lamer Smith’s (R-TX) “Tucker Act Shuffle Relief Act” (HR-992), which would allow takings plaintiffs seeking redress a choice between federal claims courts or federal district courts. HR-992 was reported to the floor October 9. 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), less the right to compensation. At least folks would be able to sue.
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. Sen. Chuck Hagel’s (R-Nebraska) S-709 requiring analysis of the impact on private property of proposed regulations before they are issued and Rep. Jerry Solomon’s (R-New York) HR-95 House version went to committee in January 1997 and there they sit. Also, PFW members should be asking their legislators to support the Enumerated Powers Act, HR-292, which would require the citation of the Constitutional source of authority in proposed legislation. Introduced by PFW member John Shadegg (R-Arizona), this bill has rotted since January 28.
The Senate version of Superfund repair offered by Senators John Chafee (R-Rhode Island) and Robert Smith (R-New Hampshire) offers 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. Greens called the reforms “worse than useless,” howling about provisions that would allow many states to take over Superfund work with little federal oversight.
On the House side, Superfund reform must pass through a subcommittee chaired by Sherwood Boehlert (R-New York), who introduced a version excusing businesses smaller than 75 employees from the joint and several liability nightmare of current law. That wasn’t “moderate” enough for a couple of Democratic congressmen, who lowered that limit to 30 employees in all cases except when EPA decides to exercise a discretionary exemption for outfits of over 60 employees. EPA Administrator Carol Browner also weighed in, saying the small business exemption would allow “heavy polluters” to weasel and force renegotiation of existing settlements. She also whined that an exemption for those who contributed “waste no more toxic than municipal waste” would increase litigation and impose more of a regulatory burden on EPA.
The Forest Service roads program may have passed both houses of Congress inside the Interior appropriations bill, but the House-Senate conference talks and Clinton’s line item pen are another matter. The purchaser roads credit is in the crosshairs, despite the fact that the net to the Treasury stays the same and the only result will be lower bid prices on sales, which in turn will reduce the 25 percent share of gross receipts that goes to counties with Forest Service lands. Nobody lives in those counties anyway, right? Good aspects of the Interior appropriations bill are such items as a prohibition against timber purchases by those who have no intent of harvesting, plus a mandate upon the Forest Service to complete social and economic assessments regarding the ICBEMP ecosystem plan.
After the Yellowstone bison fiasco, animal rights activists and environmental groups brought suit and forced an agreement by the National Park Service to close roads in Yellowstone to snow machines as part of a study on the impact of packed trails on bison. In essence, the bison disaster was used as a surrogate to get at something else. Rather than blame the larger policy of “natural management,” the suit blames packed trails for allowing bison too much mobility. Without trails, bison would move around less . . . deep snow would kill more animals “naturally” through starvation or through predation by wolves and bears. . . . Now, is it really better for the animals to slowly starve to death in the sticks away from the cameras?