Wrapping up 2014 in Congress—What Just Happened?
Although Congress, especially Republican members, are adverse to large “omnibus” bills that gather up all the crumbs of several years’ of legislation, a large omnibus bill was attached to the Defense Authorization bill. Although it sounds odd to attach conservation legislation to a Defense funding bill, it is not actually unusual. The bill is full of very exciting and very disturbing new laws.
The Exciting News
The bill adds nearly 250,000 acres of wilderness in Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington state and Montana as well withdrawing hundreds of thousands of acres from mineral development on public lands.
The bill also establishes or expands more than a dozen national park units. This is the most significant expansion of the National Parks system in five years. This includes the addition of 4,000 acres to Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve.
In addition, Congress added approximately 140 miles of rivers to protected status under the Wild & Scenic River program including Oregon’s River Styx as the first underground river to receive wild and scenic status.
The package also includes provisions to study fourteen additional rivers, totaling close to 140 river miles, for possible Wild and Scenic designation. Rivers to be studied include Oregon’s Cave Creek, Upper Cave Creek, Panther Creek, Lake Creek, and No Name Creek as well as rivers in the East.
Disgusting Provisions in the Omnibus Bill
• Gives away federal lands sacred to indigenous Americans to Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of the British/Australian multinational cooperation.
• Gives away tens of thousands of acres of public lands in Tongass National Forest to a for-profit corporation for logging with limited public oversight.
• Undermines riparian buffers on rivers and streams for salmon protection, preventing the use of Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery funds to implement grant guidelines or requirements for minimum riparian (stream-side) buffers.
• Prohibits the Obama administration from paying the salary for the nation’s climate change leader.
• Leaves millions of acres of BLM wilderness lands vulnerable to drilling for gas and oil in contradiction to current wilderness law.
• Postpones any possible listing decisions for the sage grouse which could threaten their survival and delay their recovery.
• Chips away at the ability of the public to assure enforcement of environment law through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on lands administered by the US Forest Service and Department of the Interior by removing the ability of citizens to recover the costs of their lawsuit efforts even when they win.
• Adds nonsensical requirements to elevate even inferior wildlife data as a primary source to inform Federal land use planning, and related natural resource decisions in order to tie the hands of wildlife conservation agencies.
Bonus Year-end Gifts from the Obama Admin
• President Obama took measures to permanently protect Bristol Bay, Alaska, from being despoiled by oil and other operations. Perhaps as proof that Senator Murkowski can be a moderate, she supported the President’s action.
• Just as President Teddy Roosevelt acted to save Muir Woods in 1908 and Jimmy Carter doubled the acreage of the National Park Service by adding lands in Alaska, President Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to set aside 346,177 acres of national forest land in the San Gabriel Mountains in southern California as the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, a success in a long, hard-fought battle lead by local citizens.
Congress 2015—Are You Ready to Rumble?
Water: CA Representative Valadao wasted no time in setting the tone for how he wants to bring more water from Northern CA to his area of Southern CA. Although Senator Feinstein was prevented from moving forward with her back-door water provision in 2014, she may have secretly been happy to see Rep. Valadao introduce HR on Dec. 5. The NEC has signed a support letter for a competing strategy that emphasizes water conservation strategies and less intrusive water storage plans.
Keystone Pipeline: While the last Congress repeatedly blocked legislation to build the Keystone pipeline, the issue was the first item up in the new Congress. The pipeline would bring Canada’s dirty tar sands bitumen to Texas for processing and export.
After a bill forcing construction of the pipeline passed the House, the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, headed by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), quickly passed a pro-Keystone XL bill out of committee on January 8. Climate Change activists responded nationwide with protest rallies to block the legislation. As EcoNews went to print, a stack of amendments were on the table, including some symbolic amendments from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and others stating unequivocably that climate change is real, urgent and human-caused, in an effort to push Republicans on the issue. A final vote is expected within weeks.
The State Department also gave eight federal agencies until February 2 to “to provide their views on the national interest with regard to the Keystone XL Pipeline permit application” while the department continues its review.
On January 6, President Obama issued a statement announcing that he would veto a Keystone bill—potentially the only barrier to the legislation becoming law. Republicans believe may be a possibility his veto could be overturned.
Boxer Announces Retirement
Senator Barbara Boxer, a progressive congressional voice for California for since 1983, announced she would be leaving congress after her current term to run her political action committee—presumably to work on Hillary Clinton’s un-announced presidential campaign.