06/1999 Legislative Update

06/1999 Legislative Update
June 1, 1999



American Sovereignty

The American Sovereignty Protection Act has been reintroduced as HR-883, sponsored in the House by Don Young (R-Alaska) with 137 co-sponsors, and S-510, sponsored by Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado). Last year, as HR-901, the bill passed the House 236-191, but died in committee in the Senate without ever coming to a vote.



Climate Change

Senators John Chafee (R-Rhode Island), Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut), Connie Mack (R-Florida), and six others have introduced a “Kyoto Lite” bill (S-2617) to reward corporations that voluntarily “get ahead of the curve”on emissions reductions, with government “incentives” for switching from coal to nukes or natural gas.

Meanwhile, in mid-March, Nature published a new study showing CO2 levels have been fluctuating since the Stone Age . . . and that warming preceded rises in CO2 (by about 400 to 1,000 years), not the other way around. That kind of data considerably weakens the case for shutting down civilization--but of course, any kind of data matters little to those who have already decided the sky is falling.



Endangered Species

New species coming down the pipeline include the shortgrass prairie plover, a critter that lives in the same biome as prairie dogs--which U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has approved for a nine-month study for threatened or endangered status (see www.r6.fws.gov). The plover (about 10,000 of them) has serious trouble surviving when grass gets taller than about four inches--about cow-dinner height.

In Colorado, four of 10 introduced lynx have died--of starvation. The first to go was an 11-month-old juvenile male, the second a mature female. Youthful lack of skill was blamed for the male’s death, but biologists are concerned with other losses. Indications are the lynx are eating a couple of local critters, then heading north for Canada, just like they did in New York.



Forestry

U.S. Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck finally dropped the bomb, announcing an 18-month moratorium on roads construction in all “roadless” forest blocs in excess of 5,000 acres located in USFS units without updated forest plans. In a Missoula, Montana speech to 200 USFS employees, Dombeck remarked “who would have thought” 20 years ago that timber harvest levels would today be reduced 70 percent. Then he went on to say that recreation interests had better start considering limits on their activities, too.



Land Trusts

Hearings were held before the House Resources Committee March 9-10 on competing versions of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): Representative Don Young’s (R-Alaska) HR-701 and Representative George Miller’s (D-California) HR-798.

Two LWCF deals making big news: In New Mexico, the 80,000-acre Baca Ranch deal went down in flames when the selling family would not agree to divulge the price. The California Headwaters redwood deal (some say siege) came within two hours of dying on March 2, thanks to habitat conservation restrictions that would have allowed only 60 percent of the harvest level that Pacific Lumber said it needed to stay in business. PALCO will be allowed to harvest 136 million board feet a year. Greens are already screaming that the restrictions and harvest are too much and that the 10,000-acre buy was a ripoff of American taxpayers.



Oil and Gas

Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources approved a sale of oil and gas leases on 4.2 million acres in the Cook Inlet basin. Although the leases have no-surface-occupancy limits within a half-mile of major rivers and 500 feet of fish-bearing streams, the Arizona-based Southwest Center is freaking out over “threats” to whales and other wildlife. Never mind that drilling platforms have operated in the Inlet itself since 1964 (there are 14 today) and monitoring shows no evidence of adverse environmental impacts. As market prices remain at the bottom ($9 at the wellhead), January 1999 was the worst “upstream” job loss month in over a decade, with over 11,000 production jobs gone. Rig counts worldwide from 1998 are down around 20 percent, with the U.S. “leading” at minus 42 percent.



Property Rights

In Arizona, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge William Schaefer tossed out a lawsuit by liberal Pima County to overturn the state’s anti-downzoning law--a law sponsored by State Representative Gail Griffin, a PFUSA member. County lawyers complained that Pima and three other counties were being denied equal protection under the law. State attorneys argued that the Constitution protects citizens from government, not government from government. Press reports noted the ruling was only five words long, but didn’t specify which. Our guess: “The Fifth Amendment remains valid.”

Meantime, the Sierra Club has resurrected its Citizens Growth Management Initiative for the November 2000 ballot. It would force cities, towns, and counties to adopt urban growth boundaries (Portland-style); make developers pay the full cost of roads, schools, and services for their projects; and subject to voter approval any growth management plans and subsequent amendments.

Finally, the Landowner’s Equal Treatment Act (HR-1142) has been introduced in the U.S. House by Representative Don Young and 25 others.



Regulatory Reform

Unfunded mandates reform got underway in February with the passage in the U.S. House of the Mandates Information Act, sponsored by Representatives Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Gary Condit (D-California). The bill (HR-350) would require a House floor vote to approve any mandate costing the private sector over $100 million a year. Sherwood Boehlert (R-New York) failed in his attempt to attach an amendment that would require a flip-side debate and vote on deregulation if the impacts (usually the overestimated and often unquantifiable“non-use” values touted by Greens) exceed $100 million. So, while the Senate deliberates, the House acts.

So does the Sierra Club, which has targeted Representatives Condit, Jim Kolbe (R-Arizona), James Rogan (R-California), John Sununu (R-New Hampshire) and Heather Wilson (R-New Mexico) with negative publicity for their votes against Boehlert’s amendment.



Road Rights-of-Way

In a follow-up to the fight to keep the parcel of the Targhee National Forest west of Yellowstone Park--allegedly a public land--accessible to the public, U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary James Lyons accused Representative Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho) of hype for claiming the Forest Service was building tank traps to close off roads. Two days later, Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) called Lyons on the carpet, along with Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck and Ag Secretary Dan Glickman, during USFS budget testimony before Craig’s committee. “I don’t know about black helicopters, but tank traps do exist,” said Craig as he displayed a tank trap photo to Lyons, who responded: “That’s quite a hole. I’m going to try to get out of my hole now.”

Craig invited Lyons to a firsthand inspection this spring. Hmmm. Remember when President Clinton, on hearing there were 250,000 or so cattle guards in Montana, suggested they all be laid off?



Wilderness

In early February, Representative Diana DeGette (D-Colorado--representing Denver) introduced a bill to designate 1.4 million acres of Representative Scott McInnis’s (R-Colorado) district as wilderness. Let’s just say that his reaction was rather firm, especially when just the week before, all six Colorado representatives and both senators signed on to McInnis’s Spanish Peaks wilderness package. The Peaks are a leftover from the 1993 Tim Wirth bill. Greens had tried and tried to expand “buffer zone” management around the area . . . but Senator Wayne Allard (R-Colorado) joined McInnis in making sure not only that the boundaries would remain where they are, but that rights would be protected. The locals are comfortable with the proposal--which illustrates which wilderness bill should pass, and which should not.