Eye on Washington – Aug/Sep 2018

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Good News

Sometimes when competent staff members of government agencies are fired for political reasons, they come out winners. When President Trump’s appointee, Scott Pruitt, arrived at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), his reputation as a lawyer from Oklahoma who sued the EPA proceeded him. He made it clear his goal for the EPA was to remove regulatory hurdles under EPA purview that protect Americans from environmental pollution. EPA staff who had worked to assure success with the EPA’s primary mission of protecting public and environmental health were pushed aside and resigned or were fired. Some of those staffers are fighting back by establishing the “Environmental Protection Network” (EPN).

The stated mission is “…to preserve and advance the nation’s bipartisan legacy of progress towards clean air, water, and land, and climate protection for all Americans.” The board is made up of former EPA staff and associates, and President of the Board is Ruth Greenspan Bell. This month, as Scott Pruitt resigned from the EPA in disgrace, the EPN Board announced the selection of Michelle Roos as the organization’s new Executive Director. “All in all, EPN is helping to answer the call for objective analysis, scientific rigor and facts about the environment and the EPA,” when all of these are under siege,” wrote Ms. Roos.
You can learn more about the Environmental Protection Network on their website: https://www.environmentalprotectionnetwork.org.

More Positive News

This summer the Endangered Species Coalition (ESC) is launching “Get out the Vote,” a non-partisan campaign to educate voters on the importance of voting for representatives who support protection of Endangered Species. There will be designated days organized for visiting district offices of members of Congress during the August Recess, as well as alerts for news about elections and events. The goal is to register and educate voters before the November 2018 elections. The NEC is an active, longtime member of the Coalition and will be sharing some of the alerts and encouraging citizens to engage in this opportunity for positive change. You can read more on the ESC website here: http://www.endangered.org/vote.

Endangered Species

Now for the bad news—really bad news. Endangered species are going to need all the support they can get this year. Along with the continuing barrage of amendments and riders on bills designed to chip away at the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Senator Barasso (R-WY) is now leading a bold, direct attack on the ESA. Sen. Barasso held a hearing in July to discuss a bill he intends to push that would cripple the foundations of the Act itself. Though Barasso has adopted an environmentally friendly title for his bill, conservationists have already dubbed it the “Eliminating Species Act.”

“This attempt to eviscerate key provisions of the Endangered Species Act is a blatant giveaway to industry, and not a genuine effort to improve species preservation. The changes proposed in this bill would expose an increasing number of species to extinction,” said Cathy Liss, president of Animal Welfare Institute.

In a move similar to other end-runs to federal regulations, Barroso’s bill would reassign endangered species enforcement and decision-making to states. Although the concept sounds benign, the result would put many species at great risk. Industry and developer influence is often greatest at the local level and the integrity of the Act’s purpose is diluted by “foxes guarding the henhouse.” Species under ESA stewardship do not recognize state boundaries. Primary responsibility is with the federal government.

Barroso’s bill would also reduce the use of the best available science, which is the critical element in determining species status, habitat requirements, and measures required to assist imperiled species. Why does Congress keep attacking a bill which has been successful at protecting 99% of the listed species? Because the Act recognizes the need to monitor and protect both the species and their habitat on private as well as public lands. As development of private lands pushes further out to rural and outlands, species are crowded out of their homes. An example: Congress is proposing a rule that would limit habitat for the 15 remaining wild red wolves to a tiny area of North Carolina and allow any wolves that wander beyond the wildlife refuge to be killed.

In related news, if Judge Brett Kavanaugh is appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court as expected, the courts may align more with property rights groups. He has a reputation for narrow interpretations of federal law including environmental laws. He will have a chance to immediately weigh in on a case that could set a precedent for all future ESA cases. The case of Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service challenges the USFWS’s ability under the Endangered Species Act to designate critical habitat on private land in Louisiana for an endangered frog if it limits development opportunities.

What you can do:
Contact your U.S. Senators and encourage them to only vote for acceptance of nominees who will rule to clearly enforce environmental laws.

Status of the Farm Bill

The Farm Bill is a recurring funding bill for the U.S. Department of the Agriculture which is closely followed because it includes provision for Food Stamps, referred to as SNAP. The Farm Bill is also a popular bill to add riders unrelated to agriculture. This year, the NEC has followed and engaged in efforts to remove bad environmental provisions from the bill.

Those provisions included:
1. Numerous categorical exclusions (CEs) from environmental review and public comment for nearly every land management activity the Forest Service conducts, including road building and allowing clear-cuts on up to 6,000 acres (nearly 10 square miles).
2. Attacks on the Roadless Rule, including the creation of a loophole that would allow logging and roadbuilding on millions of acres of protected roadless forest.
3. Provisions to weaken the Endangered Species Act protections by eliminating expert opinion about whether actions would harm endangered species and critical habitat. This approach has been declared unlawful by the courts.

The Senate version of the bill had fewer onerous provisions and passed the Senate with a strong 86-11 bipartisan vote, while the House version was bitterly debated and narrowly passed 213-211. The final version that emerges from the committee is expected to closely resemble the Senate version. At the time of publication, sources say the extreme anti-conservation measures of the House bill are gone or made ineffective for now.

The Conference Committee made up of representatives of both House and Senate will work on the compromise over the August recess. Congress will take up the compromise bill when they reconvene and the new bill could be passed by the end of September, the deadline for passage to avoid impacts to Food Stamp recipients. A caveat, however: the specifics of who receives food stamps and how much Congress budgets for that program are still hotly contested. There is a slight possibility the bill may not pass by the September deadline which would require temporary funding or recipients could be severely impacted.