Eye on Washington: Hearings, Busses, and Bad Actors, oh my!

Eye on Washington logoNorthwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act Hearing

A coalition of local and national conservation organizations that have been working on legislation to address protection of public lands and waters for several years—or “since the dawn of time,” as Congressman Jared Huffman described it—saw that work move forward in July. The subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands in the U.S. House of Representatives heard testimony on seven bills, including Huffman’s Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act.  When several bills are heard in one hearing, there is little time for much in-depth discussion on specific aspects of any individual bill. Nonetheless, Huffman’s bill did draw two witnesses. One, Mr. Collard—the owner of Bar 717 Ranch, which his family has run since 1930 to immerse young people in the mountains and forests of Trinity County—who strongly supported the bill.  The other, Trinity County District 1 County Supervisor Groves, was invited by the Republican minority to testify regarding concerns with the bill but was somewhat tempered by a recent vote of “neutrality” by Trinity County Board of Supervisors. E&E News, a nationwide conservation and energy news service, however, led coverage of the bill’s hearing with notes that Supervisor Groves opposed the bill—an unfortunate result.

Action Opportunity: Write to Congressman Huffman and tell him why wilderness, wild rivers and outdoor recreation are important to you!

Congressman Huffman was also in the news when he managed to shuttle an amendment that would stop mining in Pebble Bay, Alaska, a major salmon fisheries area. Rep. Don Young, who has represented Alaska for almost half a century, vocally attacked Huffman’s success and vowed to block the previously described Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act. But Huffman’s ability to halt the destruction of this important resource area was widely praised within the conservation community.

Budget: Do we Have a Bus to Ride?

Will the government shut down over a partisan budget impasse—again? Will Congress try to avoid such a shutdown with an omnibus budget bill funding most government agencies and work through one large bill where lots of unrelated bills can be attached—like wilderness bills or military budget increases? Or will Congress repeat the last budget strategy through passage of several minibus bills aimed to fund separate departments with little or no riders? Watch for news in September for the answer to these questions before the October 1 bill deadline.

“Acting” Badly

This President has used “acting” designations for the people he chooses to lead departments and agencies, rather than officially making nominations, in order to avoid congressional and public scrutiny and limit public input. Acting appointees are not subject to congressional oversight and dupe the American public. Mark Esper has served as Acting Sec. of Defense since James Mattis resigned last year. Dan Smith, a former National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbyist who was reprimanded by the Inspector General for ethical violations, has been Acting Director of the National Park Service for almost the entire Trump administration. The Bureau of Land Management is being run by an unconfirmed associate director, Casey Hammond. Dr. Neil Jacobs is the Assistant Secretary of Commerce and is acting head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA.) The recent resignation of the Sec. of Labor Acosta in July, after concerns of improprieties, left a cabinet Secretary position vacant.

How can a member of the public hold an “acting” designee—who can be removed or replaced without any oversight whatsoever, and who may have a history of working against the mission of the agency they now run—accountable? How can chaos serve the public good? This seems to be exactly how this administration prefers to run our nation’s most important conservation agencies, as well as other important national security and defense agencies. “This is the Teapot Dome scandal on steroids,” said Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University.

If you have questions regarding who to contact with your concerns, or how to write to the head of a conservation agency, don’t worry, the NEC can help! Please email Dan Sealy, NEC’s Legislative Analyst, at [email protected] for more information.

 

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