11/1999 Legislative Update

11/1999 Legislative Update
December 1, 1999


This bill, requiring Congressional approval for United Nations land designations on U.S. soil, has 14 Senate cosponsors for its run as S-510. ALSPA is expected to pass the Energy and Natural Resources Forest Health and Public Lands Subcommittee chaired by Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), while Energy chair Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) has said he will put S-510 on the main “mark-up” calendar for the full committee. Murkowski has signed on as a sponsor, as has Senator Craig Thomas (R-Wyoming).

Greens harangued last year’s bill as the “black helicopter” bill, branding supporting senators as sympathetic to “New World Order paranoiacs.” Paranoid or not, since last year international Greens have been trying to reprise their Yellowstone shutdown victory using UN World Heritage Site status to insert themselves into domestic resource production affairs in both Australia (the Jabiluka uranium mine) and Mexico (the El Vizcaino salt project).



Clean Air

Mount Rainier National Park, downwind of the Seattle-Tacoma region, saw the installation of ozone monitoring equipment in mid-July. The mountain air has violated federal standards at least 10 times this summer, while the city itself remains under the limits. Officials are worried that Rainier’s Class 1 air status will result in “upwind” compliance actions by the EPA in the Sea-Tac basin.



Corruption

The U.S. Office of the Special Counsel has announced a “favorable settlement” for retired U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist Jim Beers. While working in the USFWS Division of Federal Aid (the grantmaking department), Beers refused to approve grants to animal-rights organizations seeking Pittman-Robertson funds (an equipment tax paid overwhelmingly by traditional sportsmen) to produce anti-hunting and fishing documentary films. Beers was barred from his office and shuffled off to a corner in retaliation. He will get $150,000, leave time earned, and restoration of his good agency record.



Dams

The 162-year-old, 19-foot high Edwards Dam on Maine’s Kennebec River has been breached. This is the first river structure removed against the will of its owner in the United States. Activists have warned that they plan to participate in federal re-permitting of thousands of dams across the country now coming up for review.



Ecosystems

The Interior Columbia Basin Ecosytem Management Plan has been downsized somewhat, to cover “only” 64 million acres of Northwest public lands instead of 72 million. Out are the east Cascades (already covered by the owl plan), the desert along the Utah and Nevada border (not worth crossing bureaucratic turf lines), and the “Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” lands, for which the Greens probably have bigger, better plans. So much for “unified” management.

Greens are lathering up because Senators Slade Gorton (R-Washington) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho) inserted provisions into the Interior Department spending bill that would require federal officials to gather more public comment and report to Congress on ICBEMP’s cost and impact before it is completed. If the language sticks, ICBEMP will be delayed several more months past next spring.



Endangered Species

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service made its final determination of “critical habitat” for the pygmy owl. In four Arizona counties, some 731,712 acres of “riverine riparian and upland habitat” have been set aside under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. Last year, only seven little piggies were verified in Arizona. The associated population “estimate” ranges from 30 to 100 birds, or around 7,300 acres per bird. Anybody dare guess what the “price” per pound is--most of it feathers?

USFWS has also designated habitat for the Huachuca water umbel . . . 51.7 miles of streams in southeast Arizona including the San Pedro, which is embroiled in a pile of lawsuits over groundwater use by Fort Huachuca and the Sierra Vista area. The listing should generate even more suits.



Fish

An initiative ban of fish harvests with gillnets and trawl nets is on the November ballot in Washington State. The ban would exempt tribes from compliance. Commercial fishing outfits vowed to fight, of course, to beat this one back as they did a previous 1995 initiative. The Northwest Ecosystem Alliance has vowed opposition, as they believe a partial ban is not enough.

Meanwhile, the Portland Oregonian reports that the fight to save salmon is approaching the $1 billion a year level, but “nobody in the federal government keeps track of exactly how much money is spent saving fish.” Because of this “a new reality is sinking in” with members of Congress. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon): “I don’t think we can make a case that this $1 billion is being well spent.”

Down New Mexico way, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has set aside about 160 miles of the Rio Grande as critical habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow. The designation will grant Santa Fe-based Forest Guardians and DC-based Defenders of Wildlife (who sued to force the designation) standing to sue to dry up agriculture.



Grizzly Bears

The delisting work continues . . . nothing has been released for comment as of yet. However, for those of you wondering what Dirk Kempthorne has been up to since he left the Senate to take over the Idaho governorship from Phil Batt, the American Bar Association’s Journal reports that Kempthorne had a three-word answer for wildlife people asking him about a Selway-Bitterroot reintroduction: “No grizzlies. Period.”



Land Grabs

Another parcel has been added to the mineral moratorium/withdrawal pot. The Forest Service is proposing to withdraw about 24,000 acres for 20 years from location and entry “to protect the Wahatoya Recreation Area” in Colorado. The land remains open to mineral leasing.



Mining

At the beginning of July, mine operators made their first Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reports. TRI reports for the chemical industry have generally been used by Greens as “lies, damned lies, and statistics” to distort the situation. The mining industry has made its reports ahead of the TRI deadline and further requested (along with the Western Governors’ Association) that the Environmental Protection Agency do its duty to prevent “information abuse” by developing and providing contextual materials to communities and the general public. Some 80 to 99 percent of the TRI materials “released” are actually still contained in processed rock and dirt--where they occur naturally. Greens, of course, don’t want the public to know that.

In mid-July, the House killed (273-151) an Appropriations provision that would block implementation of Interior Solicitor John Leshy’s “legal” opinion that the 1872 Mining Law allows only one mill site per claim. The Senate went the other way 55-41, so it’s now up to Conference. Operative policy since day one for both the Forest Service and BLM has been to grant the land necessary to operate--no more, no less. Speculation has it that Interior intends to “ransom” future mill sites with forced land and water-rights swaps.



Oil and Gas

In mid-June the Arctic Coastal Plain Domestic Energy Security Act (HR-2250) was introduced in the House by Don Young (R-Alaska), while a companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska). The bill would allow oil and gas leasing in a small part of the Arctic coastal plain now being proposed for wilderness. It is similar to a 1995 version that passed Congress but was vetoed by President Clinton.

U.S. Geological Survey studies show potential reserves run between 11 and 31 billion barrels of oil, plus gas--important in a day when America is now importing 55 percent of its daily supply. Projections are that this winter, OPEC cutbacks should bring a shortage and higher prices. Bringing the new field on line will take at least 10 years. . . we’d be only six years out if the President had signed the 1995 version. The field may also create 700,000 related jobs nationwide, a real boon considering that 500,000 oil-related jobs have vanished in the last year.



Regulatory/Superfund Reform

In mid-July, the House Ways and Means Committee took up Superfund. Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R-Texas) wants to combine the Superfund trust fund and leaking underground storage tank trust fund into a remediation trust fund, making the money available to both programs. The new fund would include language that would prevent the allocation of money to unrelated programs.

On the Senate side, Superfund leader Robert Smith’s (I-New Hampshire) defection from the Republicans is “precarious” in its timing, but not expected to disrupt Senate Environment and Public Works Committee negotiations on Superfund reform.



Water

In mid-June, an Iowa pig farm pled guilty to Justice Department charges that it “negligently discharged and caused to be discharged, untreated liquid swine manure” from its Howard County farm into Crane Creek, killing 109,172 fish, including 302 of the threatened American brook lamprey.

In New Mexico, the Rio Grande River between Elephant Butte and Conchiti reservoirs has been designated critical habitat for the 3-inch silvery minnow--despite strong objections from local farmers who will have their water rights suborned to maintain instream flows.



Wolves

Northwest wolf populations are up, and they are spreading. The New York Times reported in early June that central Idaho has 180 pups and adults in 12 packs, Yellowstone has 170 wolves in 11 packs, and northwest Montana 110 in eight. Way back when, it was expected that once the Montana wolves got to 10 self-supporting packs, they would be delisted.

Three separate Yellowstone packs are now at least 50 miles outside the park, and at least one has started from offspring of two different populations . . . so pretty soon both the “real” and “fake” wolves will be part of a single large population.

In Alaska, Governor Tony Knowles vetoed a bill allowing state officials to kill wolves and other predators to help caribou and moose populations.