10/1999 Legislative Update

10/1999 Legislative Update
October 1, 1999



American Heritage Rivers Initiative

In early July, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals turned down a lawsuit filed by Representative Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho) and four other House members against President Clinton’s AHRI, ruling the members do not have standing to file because their rights were not violated by AHRI. In late July, Vice President Al Gore kicked off the pork with a canoe trip and an $819,000 check for 29 AHRI projects on the Connecticut River. To accentuate the “pastoral backdrop,” four billion gallons of water (in the middle of a monster drought, folks) were released to float Gore’s flotilla.



Appropriations

In a potential indicator of things to come, several provisions in the House Interior Appropriations bill went up or down in a manner unfavorable to resource producers and property rights. They would: eliminate commercial and recreational trapping on National Wildlife Refuge units; de-fund road building in “roadless” National Forest units; uphold the Leshy gambit (see Mining); and transfer funds from energy research to state matching money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Some good news: $11 million will go for mine cleanup; $20 million will go for federal use of state lands; and $39 million was stripped from a controversial visitor center at the Gettysburg battlefield.

Overall, Interior is going to get cut by $400 million, while the Administration wanted a boost of $1 billion. The Senate held the line on its side, but the bill now goes to the conference, where they must hold with the House . . . and against Clinton’s veto pen. Can you say “shutdown?”



Climate Change

A bill to kill the “early action” credits and backdoor implementation of the Senate-unratified Kyoto Protocol--the “Stand Up for Small Business, Family Farms and the U.S. Constitution Act of 1999” (HR-2221)--has been introduced by Representative David McIntosh (R-Indiana). It would also make the “Knollenberg provision” (which supposedly stops the government from blowing money trying to regulate compliance with Kyoto) permanent.

As for the government wasting money, the Administration is supposed to report on what it is spending on climate change, but a Government Accounting Office audit says users of the report can’t find line-item expenditures, what activities are planned or happening, or even performance goals for those activities. The Vice President isn’t having much luck reinventing government, is he?



Education

With public land timber harvests down 70 percent, rural counties dependent on their 25 percent share of timber sales revenue have been in a world of funding hurt, made worse by the elimination of the purchaser roads credit. Basic services such as road upkeep and schools have been slashed. The Clinton-Gore administration wants to “decouple” funding from timber sales--it sees the sales link as a perverse incentive to pillage the forests, so wants instead to create essentially a welfare program.

The House Resources Subcommittee on Forest Health considered and killed Representative Peter Fazio’s (D-Oregon) permanent decoupling bill. Another grassroots-initiated version, HR-2389, would provide interim funds replacement while looking at longer-term, non-welfare solutions. HR 2389 has cleared its first hurdle and now must go on the main House Resources Committee calendar.



Federal Preemption

Senator Fred Thompson (R-Tennessee) introduced the Federalism Accountability Act in mid-July. A 1987 Federalism executive order, which President Clinton tried to deep-six earlier this year with his own “bring in the Feds anytime we can get away with it” order, requires agencies to assess their impacts on state and local control. Only five assessments have been done out of the thousands and thousands of agency actions preempting state and local law. Thompson’s bill would require that the intent of the Reagan executive order be fulfilled.

That’s a nice dovetail with Senator Craig Thomas’ (R-Wyoming) State and Local Government Participation Act, which would require that local leaders be consulted on federal NEPA environmental review actions.



Forestry

DC-based Juno Advocacy Network carried out a project by the Heritage Forest Campaign, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts to ask 1.5 million of Juno’s seven million subscribers to send a form letter to Vice President Gore via e-mail. Some 170,000 e-mail messages hit the VP. The campaign is to pressure the White House into making the Dombeck roads moratorium permanent on any “unroaded” national forest land blocks larger than 1,000 acres, creating 39 million acres of de-facto wilderness. Juno told the Washington Post this was its most successful lobbying push so far.



Grazing

A June 14 press release from Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana) underscores the BLM grazing permit crisis: 5,364 permits are set to expire September 30, while only 1,737 had been reviewed. The official policy is that cattle cannot be turned out on expired leases that have not had a new assessment completed. At the same time, groups such as Defenders of Wildlife have threatened lawsuits on leases not assessed.

In a huge slap at BLM’s “full force and effect” policy, the Interior Board of Land Appeals issued a 26-page decision on BLM’s 1994 action reducing Wyoming rancher Hank Fillipini’s grazing rights by 50 percent. “[N]o convincing argument . . . failed to properly assess the ecological condition . . . erroneously interpreted . . .” Fillipini: “Junk science has no place in public land management.”



Land Trusts

The Appropriations bill wrangle is underway. Initial Senate committee versions in late June cut President Clinton’s “Lands Legacy” initiative from his request of $800 million to $200 million, and reduced funding for the Forest Service 8 percent below the Administration’s request. House Resources Committee Democratic staff leader John Lawrence said the committee allocations are “exhibit number one” on why the programs should be taken off budget.

In Washington State, the Loomis State Forest buyout of timber rights on 25,000 acres for $13.1 million went over the top with an anonymous $1.5 million donation the day before the deadline. The average gift, even after deleting several big ones from current and former Microsoft execs, was “well over $1,000,” according to Reuters. Money and trees to burn, apparently. The parcel will be managed as a wilderness.



Parks

The 500,000 acre-plus proposal to declare a new Sonoran Desert National Park and Preserve out of the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, and the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in far south Arizona hasn’t found a Congressional sponsor.



Property Rights

In early June, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) introduced a bill to end warrantless private property trespass by federal employees who lack any sworn legal authority to do so. Usually, the trespass is by feds looking for endangered species . . . without a warrant or even permission from the landowner. The bill, the Private Property Protection Act (S-1202), would require Interior Department employees to request permission before entering private land. If the owner declines, a court order would be required, unless the employees see an open violation of the law. Although this bill seems to be a no-brainer supporting common respect for basic property rights, Campbell remains the sole sponsor.



Recreation

In response to the Bluewater Network’s call for a total ban on snowmobiling in the 28 National Parks that allow it, the Park Service has initiated a “review” of snowmobile impacts to be completed by fall, at which time regulations may be proposed.



Utah Land Grab, Part MCDXXII

The BLM and San Juan County in Utah, which has assumed the lead role in the county fight to assert access rights in the state, declared a “truce” over certain routes the BLM had blocked off to fake wilderness units and Anasazi ruins. Associated Press reports say the truce was called shortly after BLM admitted “it failed to follow its own regulations when it closed the roads” the first time. The truce runs until October 1 . . . but county officials warned that agreement is still “a long way” away.

In the face of increasing administrative “moratoriums,” with this year’s total well over a million acres and climbing, work on a bill to require Congressional and public approval of Antiquities Act designations by the White House is intensifying in the Senate. The Deseret News reports that in testimony before Senate Energy, acting White House CEQ chair George Frampton said he could not promise that Clinton would not ever again create a monument quickly without public involvement. Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana): “We get the feeling out there, Mr. Frampton, that you don’t give a damn about what happens in Montana.”



Wilderness

In balance with the Green e-mail blitz (see Forestry) on “unroaded” areas on the national forests, the Forest Service agreed in late May to “cooperate” with recreationists led by the BlueRibbon Coalition in “a national roads and trails inventory and evaluation.” This is an important tie-in to the current BLM/Utah “wilderness” documentation struggle, in that the agency has agreed to accept collected data on the true status of access and infrastructure on the lands it manages.