American Land Sovereignty Act (HR-901)
Congressman Don Young’s (R-Alaska) bill to protect American public and private lands from jurisdictional encroachments by United Nations programs (such as Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites) came out of committee the first week of July, with 174 co-sponsors. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) has a similar bill in the Senate (S-691). S-691 includes Antiquities Act provisions, similar to efforts by Rep. Jim Hansen and Sen. Bob Bennett (both R-Utah). The political wisdom is that the Antiquities Act and the way it was used to shaft Utah isn’t nearly as unpopular with the rest of the nation as is the idea of handing over the country to UN geeks. However, many proponents of HR-901, while they sympathize with Murkowski’s intent, would rather see Antiquities Act repeal language removed from the Senate sovereignty bill on the grounds that it weakens the bill’s chance of survival, and the President isn’t likely to sign a law voiding any of his authority. In related news, the House on July 15 voted to ban federal funding for the UN’s World Heritage Convention and Biosphere Reserve programs.
Recall that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released a five year draft “Strategic Plan” in early April that works on an assumption of “no ‘new water’ to develop [and] no new dams to store water for the dry season.” Unless, of course, you can be politically correct in your plans. The umpty-ump-times-in-29-years delayed Animas-La Plata project in southwest Colorado is being reshaped by a coalition of Indian tribes and members of the Colorado and New Mexico congressional delegation into a $260 million 57,100 acre-foot diversion strictly for irrigation of Indian lands. Gone is the diversion to the La Plata drainage. This will at least satisfy the obligation to honor the water rights the Utes handed over back in the 1960s in order to make other water projects (since constructed) possible. However, the funding merely to keep the project alive is in question. The Senate has set aside $6 million, while the House appropriations bill contains zero.
Endangered Species Act
Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho) hopes to introduce his ESA reform package just prior to or immediately following the August congressional recess. As might be expected, his efforts are already opposed by people on both sides of the philosophical fence who believe it goes too far or doesn’t go far enough. Nobody is going to get everything they want, but at least Kempthorne has gotten the ESA reform debate off its dead butt. As for reasons why reform is needed, here’s a couple more: On July 18 the feds declared about 600 miles of Southwestern streambank protected habitat for the willow flycatcher. The reaction? “The designation is outrageous!” Yeah . . . but guess who is complaining–Kieran Suckling of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity. Suckling is carping that a USFWS biologist recommended 1,200 miles of habitat, and is all huffy because Lake Mead and Roosevelt Lake weren’t included. Thank goodness! That would have fried irrigators and power generation. SWCBD is also howling mad at USFWS and Judge Roger Strand, who ruled that USFWS had to make a designation either way on the flycatchers . . . and the pygmy owl. USFWS had proposed 290 miles of Arizona riparian turf for designation in order to protect a population estimated at 20 critters (145 miles per owl)–but then backed away from critical habitat designation. Interior Solicitor John Leshy said such a designation would “require us to shift scarce resources away from other species” just as deserving of protection . . . and how! Has anyone priced waterfront lately?
Forest Service roads credits squeaked by in the House again this year during negotiations for the fiscal 1998 budget. This year’s defunding version was sponsored by Reps. Joe Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), John Porter (R-Illinois), and retiring Elizabeth Furse (D-Oregon), and supported by budget hawk John Kasich (R-Ohio). Norm Dicks (D-Washington) came riding to the rescue, sponsoring a “compromise” amendment that cut some roads funding ($5.6 million), but didn’t take a meat axe to the $41.5 million program. One interesting tidbit came to light during the floor debate: 90 percent of road use in the National Forests is for purposes other than logging. That says something about the real recipients of the benefits of such “subsidies,” doesn’t it? However, Richard Bryan (D-Nevada) is planning to offer an amendment in the Senate to deep-six the program entirely.
Global Climate Change
Since the science isn’t there, President Clinton is going ahead with his public relations campaign to convince Americans that it is “. . . now a fact that global warming is for real. We have evidence, we see the train coming, but most ordinary Americans . . . can’t hear the whistle blowing.” This campaign is being conducted out of the White House using tax dollars to buy Al Gore’s train set. Clinton has hired staff to begin an overt campaign from the bully pulpit to “educate” Americans about climate change in preparation for the international meeting in Kyoto, Japan in December. But one bunch he might have a difficult time indoctrinating is the Senate, which voted 95-0 on July 25 to warn the President that the Senate will not sign any international treaty that gives away the store. Ratification of any global warming treaty would require a two-thirds majority of the Senate.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a draft bear management plan for the Selway country in Idaho, selecting 10j nonessential experimental reintroduction of grizzlies under the auspices of a Citizen Management Committee as the preferred alternative. This is a first for local cooperative control of ESA issues, supported by some Idaho industries as well as local Green activists. However, Idaho Governor Phil Batt and many other Idahoans oppose the draft plan because it includes provisions allowing the Secretary of Interior to pass unilateral judgment on whether local control is “inadequate” for bear recovery. Many Idahoans oppose any efforts to reintroduce grizzlies. But the unfortunate political reality is that if bears are not reintroduced under a 10j designation, it is very likely that under the current ESA, the USFWS will be sued into engaging in bear recovery under full Section 7 threatened status, with the affiliated land-use restrictions and their impacts on the local communities.
Animal Damage Control came under attack yet again as a “pork scheme for the exclusive benefit of Western welfare ranchers” in an Appropriations amendment sponsored by retiring Oregon Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse. The truth is that ADC operates in all 50 states, and nearly half of the over 200,000 requests for assistance ADC gets every year come from urban and suburban areas. Fortunately, procedural moves in the House prevented the amendment from reaching the floor. The Western Congressional Caucus is thinking seriously about reviving grazing reform this year. Chair Bob Smith (R-Oregon) suggested using last session’s Senate-passed grazing bill (S-1459) as a starting point for writing a new bill over the August recess. Included in the bill will be provisions for local involvement, codification of the RAC role in policy, grazing fee stabilization, sublease controls and a range health monitoring framework.
In an unfunny aside to the Crown Butte mine buyout, it turns out the Forest Service continued its environmental impact research on the mine in order to retain the science for future projects in sensitive areas. The analysis, done by Klohn-Crippen Consultants (Canada), found that the New World Mine as proposed would have posed “low to moderate risks.” Not exactly a “World Heritage Site in Danger” now, was it? Green activist Bob Ekey of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition claimed that finishing the $148,000 report was a waste of money. Not if it saves $65 million! The 1994 moratorium on hardrock patenting looks like it is on for another year. As for 3809 reform, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) got a committee amendment passed to freeze funding for the 3809 surface reclamation rules changes. Retiring anti-mining Senator Dale Bumpers (D-Arkansas) is expected to blow what remains of his political capital trying to revive the “reform” during full Appropriation Committee hearings, but Reid says he is “confident” in the strength of his western Senate coalition. In Idaho, EPA has ordered 71 mining companies to turn up all documentation since 1880 in an effort to trace responsibility for pollution in the Silver Valley mining district. Utah miners are suing Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to force him to process pending patent applications as required by law. Babbitt continues to insist he will not abide by the General Mining Law (one of the laws he was sworn to uphold) because he does not agree with it.
Oil and Gas
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt made a trip to Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve in early July in order to see firsthand the possibilities of new exploration and production on the North Slope. BLM is doing an 18-month study on a field said to hold 365 million barrels of oil. However, Babbitt made no promises, being careful to say that “a leasing decision is the goal,” not leasing itself. In other news, drilling is underway in Utah on state lands in Escalante, while federal applications to drill are still pending . . . but likely to go forward. Of course, the feds are praying like mad for a dry hole, as there are over 100,000 acres of valid existing rights within the Monument. The ecoroyalty idea suggested by the Green River Basin Resource Advisory Committee (GRBAC) is still hanging because Interior Solicitor John Leshy says royalty law won’t allow credits. GRBAC members have turned to Wyoming Congresswoman Barbara Cubin to get the law changed to at least allow a pilot program of $4.8 million of credits for environmental impact studies already paid for by industry in southwestern Wyoming.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) is sponsoring S-701 and Rep. Gerry Solomon (R-New York) has authored HR-95, both of which would mandate “takings impact analyses” for regulations effecting private property, and further allow owners to seek redress in either Federal District or Claims courts.
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. Greens hate the idea of cost-benefit analysis, instead clinging to the idea that something as priceless as wilderness has no real cost. But if a regulation is based on flawed data and as a result costs you an arm and a leg while returning no benefits, wouldn’t you like to see that regulation put where it belongs?
Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colorado) in June introduced HR-1884, The Voluntary Environmental Self-Evaluation Act, to grant firms across the country immunity from penalties for voluntarily disclosing and fixing pollution violations. About 20 states have approved self-audit laws since 1993 and 10 more are considering them this year.
Tax bill negotiations prompted another round of finger-pointing on Superfund incentives. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Vice President Al Gore, and several big city mayors were miffed when draft tax-cut bills passed by the House and Senate supposedly “ignored” inner-city brownfields development credits.
Utah Land Grab
On June 23, the state school-trust lands agency and all 29 Utah counties sued the federal government over formation of the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. (Mountain States Legal Foundation and Western States Coalition have a separate suit going.) At issue is the loss of funding for Utah schools from mineral royalties on 176,000 acres of trust lands within the Grand Staircase. The promise is “full equity” for Utah school funding. Let’s expect years of debate over exactly what constitutes full equity, especially since exploration and extraction would be the only sure full equity.
Meanwhile, in the face of a certain veto, the House Resources Committee on June 25 approved HR-1127 to end unilateral presidential designation of national monuments larger than 50,000 acres. Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah) and nine co-sponsors have proposed a government study and inventory of every parcel of Eastern U.S. land of 500 acres or more that might be added to the wilderness system. Says co-sponsor Bob Smith (R-Oregon): “I have watched and sat and listened to Easterners trump up Western wilderness programs until I am sick of it, frankly. . . . If it’s a good policy for the West, it must be a good policy for the East.”