Eye on Washington - Aug/Sep 2014

August, 2014

A Little Honey with your Spoiled Milk?

As Congress moves into the final months of this session, their work will center on passing appropriations for the 2015 budget and large omnibus bills to cover several departments and agencies. These omnibus bills become opportunities to add sections—good and bad—of bills that have stalled in either the House or Senate (add-ons are referred to as “riders.”)  The conference committee meetings between the House and Senate result in the give-and-take compromises that are considered necessary for a bill’s passage before being sent to the President for signature. Think of mixing honey with spoiled milk to make it more palatable. With luck, some riders may include good conservation actions and policy (the honey!), such as designating new wilderness areas or making it easier for agencies to protect rare species and ecosystems—something Congress has not been prone to do in the last several years. But equally if not more likely is the opportunity for special interests to get that foul-tasting spoiled milk down our gullets. Here are some of the spoiled milk bills conservationists are concerned about as riders:

Doc Hastings promised a slow roll-out of changes to the Endangered Species Act and he began with what conservation organizations across the nation call Four Bad Bills. H.R. 4315, H.R. 4316, H.R. 4317, and H.R. 4318. Together, these bills could: 1) Require the government to provide locational data for endangered species—a poacher’s dream, 2) Require federal agencies not only to use all data available from federal, state, local and tribal sources, as they are already required to do, but to deem all that data “the BEST scientific and commercial data,” essentially falling into a trap of trying to make and defend decisions to list or de-list species with garbage data. 3) Put a severe dampening effect on citizens and organizations who try to enforce the endangered species act through litigation—the last resource citizens have when agencies fail and species disappear.  The Northcoast Environmental Center joined the Klamath Forest Alliance, EPIC and dozens of national and local conservation organizations to oppose the Bad Bills.

The so-called Sportsman’s Heritage Act, (actually a combination of several bills in the House and Senate) would set a new legal standard by which all federal lands, except National Parks, are open to hunting, fishing and trapping unless the agency goes through lengthy and expensive processes to close any part of lands to these activities. Hunting and fishing are already allowed on a vast majority of federal lands. The real, eventual goal by some of the groups who support the bill is access—all access by all means (such as off-road vehicles) to all public lands including wilderness and sensitive species conservation areas. The Sportsman’s Heritage Act is step one toward that goal. This bill would also result in much greater opportunities for hunting and off-road vehicle groups to sue the federal government.


Happy Birthday Yosemite National Park

150 years ago, President Lincoln signed a bill to create what would become Yosemite National Park. Senator Feinstein has authored the ‘‘Yosemite National Park Boundary Expansion Act of 2013,’’a bill to add over 1,500 acres to the park by purchasing from willing sellers. About half of the land is owned by a non-profit organization that will be forced to sell to the highest bidder if not added to the park. The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Boxer and has broad bi-partisan support both in congress and the communities around Yosemite. However, Yosemite is located in Congressman McClintocks’s 4th Congressional District and without his support the bill has little chance of passing. Unfortunately he has decided to block the bill through a catch-22 maneuver regarding planning.  This bill is one to watch.

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