As the new Speaker of the House, Representative Ryan from Wisconsin takes up the gavel in the U.S. House and takes charge of the legislative agenda. Congress’ remaining work to determine agency budgets (appropriations) is converging with the usual drama of using legislation to drive the national conversation relating to issues for the elections next year rather than to enact policies and laws. That convergence is leading to the usual backroom deals with a threat of bad environmental riders and little time for conservation organizations to speak up. Here is what is going on right now:
Using Public Money from Oil and Gas Leases to Protect Public Lands and Water
Though gas leases on public lands including the off-shore wells are of great concern within the conservation community, the emerging environmental movement was able to extract some minimal benefits from a brilliant program. The 1965 Land & Water Conservation fund (LWCF) provided more than $16.7 billion to acquire new federal recreation lands and was granted to State and local governments. However, as of this writing, the program was allowed to expire by Congress.
The program uses money collected from gas and oil leases to fund projects identified by the public and government to increase recreation and protection for our public lands and waters. Whether you are a hiker, biker, surfer, soccer player or angler, you probably have benefited directly from this program. Many of the communities receiving grants are in urban centers and areas of economic hardship.
Administered by the National Park Service, the program has been a boon across the country—and to our region in particular. Since the program began, just under $13 million funded projects ranging from the purchase of additional lands for state parks, to boat ramps and fishing ramps in local communities.
Statewide, California has received $287,719,583 to fund 1,542 projects approved by local, state and federal agencies. The Forest Legacy Program (FLP) is an example of conservation achieved through the LWCF. A local example is the Eel River Conservation Area which received money to acquire conservation easements on private forest lands with willing landowners.
Here is the breakdown by county:
HUMBOLDT: $7,223,882.46 for 31 projects
DEL NORTE: $4,474,365.45 for 9 projects
TRINITY: $29,540.90 for one project
MENDOCINO: $1,040,520.48 for 10 projects
This program is in limbo right now because of a debate that goes back to the Sagebrush Rebellion-era of President Reagan and Interior Secretary, James Watt: states vs. federal government. Though almost every county in the nation has received grant money, there has been a shift from using the money to purchase lands for federal uses like National Parks, to projects identified by states.
Representative Bishop of Utah, the leader in re-writing the legislation, has indicated he supports reauthorization but only if it shifts more funds to states to use. Bishop has also supported legislation to return federal public lands—such as Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service lands—to states or private use.
Hopefully Congress will resolve their philosophical differences soon so the funds can be used for the need to provide for outdoor recreation.
Congress may vote as soon as next week on H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015, which includes an alarming amendment with potential to limit the authorities of states, tribes, and natural resource agencies. The amendment, from Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jerry McNerney, also provides a pathway for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to bypass important environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.
In a statement to the press, Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said: “What started off as a productive bipartisan collaboration has imploded as the allies of fossil fuel corporations have hijacked energy legislation in the House. (H.R. 8) is a polluter grab bag giveaway” disguised as energy legislation. This reckless bill pushes dirty fuels, increases dangerous carbon pollution and fattens the wallets of oil and coal CEOs,” Pierce said.
Nuclear Waste Piling Up
California had more bad news regarding nuclear waste disposal and storage. Residents near the decommissioned San Onofre nuclear power plant were upset when the California Coastal Commission unanimously voted to leave over three million tons of radioactive waste from the power plant in dry concrete storage vaults near the Pacific Ocean. The Commission’s own report warned that “the proposed” storage … “could be required beyond 2051, possibly for many decades.” And the storage site “would eventually be exposed to coastal flooding and erosion hazards beyond its design capacity. “ Some residents attending the hearing were shouting at the commissioners as it approved Southern California Edison’s permit and residents are planning litigation to stop what they consider a permanent radioactive storage “dump” on the beach.
Climate Change in a Single Image
Lyell Glacier, the largest glacier in Yosemite National Park, was visited by John Muir in 1872. He was the first to understand the ice was, in fact, a glacier and used the glacier to describe to naysayers how the iconic valley and landscape had been created by glaciers. But that glacier has shrunk by 90% since Muir’s discovery and could be entirely gone in five years says park geologist, Greg Stock, in a report.
On a geological expedition in 1883, Israel Russell took the top photo (of the two photos below) of the Lyell Glacier, when its total volume was measured at 1.2 million square meters. The second photo was taken in 2015 by Keenan Takahashi from the same spot. In that span, the glacier had receded from 1.2 million square meters to 270,426 square meters, losing 90 percent of its volume and 80 percent of its surface area.