09/1999 Legislative Roundup
American Heritage Rivers Initiative
The National Wilderness Institute reported this little tidbit which, although not naming names, shows why you better keep the AHRI program on your radar scope.
The Potomac River is one of the first 14 rivers designated. According to NWI, concerns were raised in a closed hearing about placing an Environmental Protection Agency employee in the “river navigator” position--a justified concern, given EPA’s zealotry. The spin? Transfer the appointee to the National Park Service and present him as an NPS staffer, while EPA continues to pay his salary.
Honda Motors has yanked the plug on its EV Plus electric vehicles, to howls from Greens and the California Air Resources Board. California has regulations mandating that 10 percent of all cars sold in the state by 2010 be juice jacks. But the EV+ was a big fat zero for Honda . . . slow, heavy, and expensive. In stop-and-go (barely), the units could make only 50 miles on a charge. For $450 a month lease?
EPA’s bogus new ozone standards (blown out in court) had fingers pointing: In California, rural counties along the Sierra Nevada are now finding themselves in “non-attainment” while CARB admits most of the smut is blowing in from cities on the coast. Now that the area is suddenly over the limits, any new industry that would have been allowed under the old standards cannot contribute to the emissions load.
Denver is considering mowing bans and other measures previously not needed, such as urging folks to gas up only at night so the sun can’t catalyze fuel fumes into ozone.
California’s ongoing flood problem in the Central Valley has got some people in the state thinking realistically. On the heels of the greenish Nevada County government seeking a Wild and Scenic designation for the South Yuba River, the Sacramento Bee declared that such a designation would be premature--“backward public policy.” Amazing how attitudes change when it’s your butt in the way.
In a weird twist, Greens held a protest in Duluth to stop the destruction of the Orienta Dam on Wisconsin’s Iron River. They don’t want introduced Great Lakes steelhead and salmon (or miserable pests like lampreys and mussels) swimming up the river and competing with brook trout. Although wildlife officials plan to build a weir to block upstream invaders, the Greens don’t want to take that chance.
Trout Unlimited has threatened to join Defenders of Wildlife in its suit against the state of Maine over Atlantic salmon. Greens wanted to list them as endangered, but Governor Angus King convinced the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to try a state-administered voluntary plan. The squabble is over faster-growing European salmon being fish-farmed on the Maine coast. Some have escaped and interbred with the American fish. King is reluctant to hurt this relatively new but important part of the state economy with excessively tough control measures.
A coalition of grazing associations from five Western states (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Oregon) representing about 37,000 permittees brought federal suit April 14 against the BLM, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and Acting BLM Director Tom Fry over Babbitt’s “rangeland reform.” As we reported last year, “reform” means subjecting each and every public lands grazing permit to an “Environmental Assessment,” with public comment and appeals--the whole nine yards. The net effect has been a monster backlog of permits needing review, roughly 4,500. The official policy is that cattle cannot be turned out on expired leases that have not had a new EA completed. At the same time, groups such as Defenders of Wildlife (the wolf people) have threatened lawsuits on leases not assessed. Congress passed a law buying time, until September 30, but the backlog isn’t clearing up, and passage of a new emergency law isn’t assured with a slightly Greener Congress than last session. So, see ya in court, podner.
Urban lawmakers are clambering all over the Land and Water Conservation Fund pork bandwagon (S. 25/Murkowski and H.R. 701/Young). Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino called LWCF “our money for parks, for preservation, for all the things we care about.” Massachusetts stands to get $24 to $44 million. Well, if Bostonians really cared, they would scrape up the dough themselves, right? And what was the last LWCF money used for? To renovate existing parks . . . which wouldn’t be needed if folks cared enough to maintain the “things we care about.”
Partly as a result of PFUSA/Alliance for America testimony given by Bruce Vincent, Senator Craig Thomas has introduced S. 826, which would mandate “no net loss of private lands” in states more than 25 percent owned by the government.
Oil and Gas
Provisions extending beyond October 1, 1999 the moratorium on the Minerals Management Service proposal to, among other things, charge royalties on prices that include marketing costs, survived the tangle on the Kosovo war and hurricane emergency bills (H.R. 1144, signed by Clinton May 21). Also on the front burner are new BLM regulations proposing to charge “fair market value” not only for the surface estate, but for exploration rights. Apparently the attitude is now “if we can keep you from looking, you’ll never find anything.”
The coalbed methane rights dispute between the Southern Ute tribe (which owns the coal) and gas producers (who see methane as under petroleum law) has now been heard by the Supreme Court. At issue is who owns methane gas extracted from coal beds . . . a multi-billion dollar question. Physically, methane is part of coal beds, but it is a liability from a mining standpoint. Extraction would make later mining safer. And never mind that raw methane is a greenhouse gas--but a clean fuel.
The National Park Service, in response to lawsuits from animal-rights and Green groups over management of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, has taken scoping comments over the past year or so. The “preferred” alternative for winter use management in Yellowstone was finally announced in late April. The road from West Yellowstone, Montana to Old Faithful is to be . . . plowed. BlueRibbon Coalition’s Clark Collins remarked: “[NPS was sued over claims] that groomed roadways are harmful to wildlife. . . . It makes no sense whatsoever.” Shuttle buses would be run, servicing new ski trailheads and outhouses.
The official spin was that buses would make “the cost of getting to Old Faithful affordable.” Well . . . if you’ve traveled cross-country to Yellowstone, you’ve already spent a bundle, so the difference between a snowcoach ride and a bus isn’t going to make or break the trip now, is it?
Two years ago, the administration bragged big time about how “reinventing government” would help clean up “brownfields” (old industrial sites, to be reclaimed for new industry), claiming 196,000 new jobs and $5 billion in investment. EPA even scammed a “Renew America” award for its “innovations.” Well, the General Accounting Office has found that two years and $400 million later, EPA cannot document any jobs or investments. Boy, that’s a “reinvention” all rightee.
Still, some don’t get it. In early May, Democratic legislators cranked out a “Dear Colleague” letter and introduced a separate $100 million brownfields bill (apart from the hopelessly tangled Superfund mess) to keep the money coming. As for getting cleanups done, after four years the Western Governors’ Association has put forward proposed “good Samaritan” legislation that would allow companies to clean up some 400,000 mine dumps without fear of Superfund liability for past sins of other companies. A “shell” corporation condition is included that prohibits a company from setting up a subsidiary in order to scam out of liability.
Utah Land Grab, Part MCDXXI
Green stalwart and wilderness “expert” Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-New York) introduced (with 139 co-sponsors) in early May a bill designating 9.1 million Utah acres as wilderness. The Senate version was introduced in April by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois). Hinchey has repeatedly introduced the Green wish list as H.R. 1500, but this year that number was claimed (in a “nasty trick”) by Representative James Hansen (R-Utah) for a bill that would require a final resolution of all wilderness issues and permanent multiple-use release for non-wilderness public lands within ten years.
In the meantime, the Salt Lake Tribune reports that a “quiet holy war” has been going since the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was created. The National Park Service is miffed that BLM is in charge of the new monument . . . such an expansion of mission is seen as “a potential threat” to NPS. One Park Service superintendent said: “I don’t know if we can afford competition.”
In yet another iteration of “let’s screw someone else’s constituents to scam cheap Green attaboys,” Senator William Roth from the great wilderness state of Delaware has introduced S. 867, which would declare the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (which is bigger than Delaware) wilderness. Joining Roth in sponsorship are 23 esteemed colleagues including John Chafee (R-Rhode Island), while the 128 sponsors of the House version (H.R. 1239) are led by Bruce Vento from the great wilderness stronghold of St. Paul, Minnesota. Fifty-five of 60 Alaska state legislators have signed a letter of protest to Senator Roth and the other co-sponsors.