Eye on Washington Apr/May 2017

April, 2017

 

 

Running Backward With Scissors

In spite of the news that the President and Congress seem to be preoccupied with conspiracies and legal maneuvering, the first couple of months of this Congress and presidency have begun moving the country backward in a perilous fashion. They have pulled the rug out from under conservation accomplishments. Here are some of the current actions in Washington and how you can use your voice to stop them.

Oil & Coal Move In

Oil and coal have been the most obvious friends of the new administration. The appointment of former Exxon CEO, Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State and of former Oklahoma Attorney General and outspoken climate change denier Scott Pruitt as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new administrator speaks to this friendship. The administration announced plans to cut the EPA budget by approximately 25 percent and the EPA staff by 20 percent, reducing the agency’s ability to enforce environmental laws. Polluters know that they will not be policed and will freely put toxins in our air and water without regulation.  The EPA is also the agency that oversees the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the environmental analysis tool that gives citizens a voice in federal actions. These vital structures will all be diminished.

Public Lands

The rules and rituals behind Congress are as complex as a spy novel. Each new Congress establishes “rules” for conducting business within the legal framework of the Constitution. This January, the 115th Congress decided that they could sell off federal public land without accounting for its value to U.S. taxpayers. That means a National Forest, National Monuments, or other federal land could be sold without being considered “decrease revenues” for the American taxpayers who have supported these entities for centuries.  Try telling that to the visitors of Yosemite National Park.

Though neither President Trump nor Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have expressed support for selling off public lands, Senator Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announced plans to sell over three million acres of public lands, primarily in Utah, to the state. The national outcry was so loud that Senator Chaffetz (R-UT) reversed his position. This showcased the power of the people’s coordinated voice.

Clean Water and Wetlands

If the federal government is responsible under the Clean Water Act for protection of the “navigable waters” (a confusing phrase) of the United States, it seems logical that the government should protect smaller streams and wetlands that feed into those waters. The question of authority surrounding this issue has stumped the EPA, the agency responsible for enforcing the Clean Water Act, and has resulted in numerous lawsuits.

The Obama Administration attempted to clarify the definition with a new rule in 2015. However, that rule never took effect due to unresolved lawsuits, leaving an opening for the Trump Administration to take a more conservative, limited approach on the matter.

Administrator of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is writing a new rule based on restrictive language written by former Justice Scalia: “In applying the definition to ‘ephemeral streams,’ ‘wet meadows,’ storm sewers and culverts…the Corps has stretched the term ‘waters of the United States’ beyond parody.”

The issue is whether a citizen or group has the right to sue the EPA for not using the Clean Water Act to protect wetlands or seasonal streams that are a source for rivers and/or lakes. As former Attorney General in oil-rich Oklahoma, Pruitt cut his teeth on similar lawsuits and is expected to essentially gut the Clean Water Act with his new rule.

What you can do: Write to Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. Tell them to support a full budget for the EPA in the 2017 budget. 

Diane Feinstein
D.C. Office:
331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
202-224-3841


CA Office:
One Post Street, Suite 2450
San Francisco, CA  94101
415-393-0707

Kamala Harris
D.C. Office:
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
202-224-3553


CA Office:
501 I Street, Suite 7-600
Sacramento, CA  95814 
916-448-2787

Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior

The former governor of Montana made a warm and fuzzy splash his first days in office by riding a taxpayer-owned U.S. Park Police horse from a nearby Park Police stable to his D.C. office. He sent a reassuring letter to the Department employees invoking the names of Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir. Within 24 hours, however, Secretary Zinke issued the following two Secretarial Orders, neither are good for conservation.

Secreterial Order No. 3346

This order removes the ban on lead ammunition on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges.  This was most likely done as a nod to the National Rifle Association. Lead ammo is less expensive to buy, but its environmental costs are real and long lasting. Lead is particularly lethal to birds of prey such as eagles, owls, and condors. As the National Park Service and Yurok Tribe consider reintroducing the California Condor, lead from ammunition is the number one threat.

Secreterial Order No. 3347

Though this order refers to studying ways to increase access for recreation, Secretary Zinke and his supporters are not looking to increase access for hikers, campers, rock climbers, or birders. They want access, preferably motorized, for hunters and fishermen to remote areas of our public lands. The public fought Congress on similar laws attempting to force land management agencies to put consumptive activities like hunting and fishing above less consumptive and more passive recreation. Now, Secretary Zinke is the new proponent of these consumptive activities in the Department of the Interior.

What you can do: Write to Secretary Zinke. Tell him, “No new areas for motorized vehicles in our remote lands. Access is for all; do not go back on our promise to keep these lands whole for future generations.”

Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240
Phone: 202-208-3100

Endangered Species Act

The 115th Congress wasted no time in putting the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in its crosshairs. Why? Strong and well-funded lobbying groups want fewer regulations that require oversight on energy exploration. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) held a preemptive hearing on plans to modernize the ESA, most likely meaning a plan to gut the Act.

What you can do: Write to our new Senator, Kamala Harris. She is on the Committee considering this action. Tell her why the protection of endangered species and their dwindling habitats is important to you.

Kamala Harris
D.C. Office:
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
202-224-3553


CA Office:
501 I Street, Suite 7-600
Sacramento, CA  95814
916-448-2787

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