Eye on Washington: August 2020

by Dan Sealy, Legislative Analyst


For Grizzly Bears and Their Fans: Good News – Bad News 

Yellowstone grizzlies got some good news.  The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld a determination that the US Fish and Wildlife Service must reexamine its rule to remove the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears from the Endangered Species listing. The courts found the Service’s 2017 delisting rule did not use the best available science and did not utilize new data to inform future decisions for the bear’s long-term health. 

“[B]ecause there are no concrete, enforceable mechanisms in place to ensure long-term genetic health of the Yellowstone grizzly, the district court correctly concluded that the 2017 Rule is arbitrary and capricious in that regard,” wrote Senior Judge Mary Schroeder in the court’s opinion. 

“The court rightfully rejected the misguided proposal to subject Yellowstone grizzlies to trophy hunting for the first time in 40 years,” Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso said.

Sadly, grizzlies fared worse at the hands of Sec. of the Interior Bernhardt who put the kibosh on an Obama-era study to restore grizzlies to the North Cascades of Washington State. Although there was strong support for the reintroduction by local and national conservation organizations, the Interior Department cited local opposition in their decision to abandon the reintroduction project.  “Homeowners, farmers, ranchers and small business owners in our rural communities were loud and clear: We do not want grizzly bears in north-central Washington,” said Rep. Newhouse (R-WA.). Grizzlies have been reported only a few times in the Canadian North cascades in over the last ten years.  

Equitable Public access to Clean Water

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the “Water for Tomorrow Act of 2020,” S. 4188 to assure water sustainability during drought conditions with an emphasis on low-income and disadvantaged communities. The bill, which includes $3 billion for implementation, incorporates some provisions of Rep. Huffman’s (D-CA) “FUTURE Drought Resiliency Act” such as water recycling and reuse.  “Every American has the right to clean water,” Harris said. “Unfortunately, our nation was already facing a water safety and affordability crisis.”

Preliminary 2021 Federal Budget Hearings

Various subcommittees, primarily in the Democratically-controlled House, are moving budgets for programs and agencies related to conservation and land management that are more favorable to those programs in defiance of the President’s proposed budget.  

In particular, the House Democrats beefed up funding in several areas:

  • $65 million toward the Pacific coastal salmon recovery program.
  • $5.45 billion for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that includes millions more on climate research, new weather forecasting technology and fisheries management. Budgets were also increased to fight harmful algal blooms and to pay for additional Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) education. 
  • $819 million for aeronautics research to improve fuel efficiency, passenger safety and air traffic noise reduction.
  • $8.55 billion for the National Science Foundation, an increase of $270 million for help pay for additional Artificial Intelligence (AI), quantum information science, cybersecurity and neuroscience.
  • $36.76 billion for the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.) That figure is $5.11 billion more than requested by the Trump administration.

There are areas of common ground between the two parties, especially regarding firefighting in western states and additional funds to address the community impacts of the coronavirus on indigenous communities. But naturally, priorities identified in the early funding targets are also a guide to future budget fights. For example, Republican House members opposed Democrats’ $15 billion in emergency infrastructure funds which they called “fantasy.” Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) complained about “components of the infrastructure bill that was pushed through the House last week without Republican involvement.” 

As currently proposed, the fiscal 2021 Interior-environment budget included language offered by Rep. Jeffries (D-NY) to deny use of federal funds for the purchase or display of any Confederate flag on National Park Service grounds, except for in an appropriate historical context such as a Civil War  battleground and would require removal  of “all physical Confederate commemorative works, such as statues, monuments, sculptures, memorials, and plaques,” in national parks and  require the Interior Department to provide an inventory all of agency “assets” named for Confederate figures.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding was increased in these preliminary budget proposals.  “I’m really pleased to see that the bill continues to reverse past cuts to the EPA,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME). “These are so critically important. Clean air, clean water, environmental justice…” EPA’s environmental justice program would receive almost five times more funding than proposed by President Trump.

In a surprisingly bipartisan push to increase the overall budget for the Dept. of Agriculture, legislators largely ignored the Trump administration’s requested deep spending cuts. 

Oil and Gas Pipelines 

In spite of some court wins for interstate pipelines that carry oil and gas from source to destination, the pipelines face financial uncertainty. Overall costs and uncertainty of the outcome of environmental review and court actions paired with the public concern with climate impacts by fossil fuel  lead to hesitancy by some corporations to continue to invest in projects that can directly pollute the water if there are leaks and link to poor air quality and destruction of lands. Legal experts fear any success in courts may be temporary stopgaps but may provide opportunities for future, more conservation-friendly legislators and administrations to pass permanent laws regarding oil and gas pipeline safety.