Eye on Washington

Eye on Washington logoCorrection notice: In the Aug/Sep issue of EcoNews a sentence was accidentally changed in the editing process. The sentence should read: “Congressman Huffman was also in the news when he managed to shuttle an amendment that would stop mining in the Pebble Bay, Alaska.” Shuttle was edited to “scuttle” in error, changing the meaning of the sentence. Thanks to our eagle eye readers for catching the mistake and our apologies.

Drilling Looms in Arctic Wildlife Refuge 

The Bureau of Land Management took a major step toward oil and gas leases in the wildlife refuge by releasing the final Environmental Impact Statement which identified the largest lease swath as the preferred alternative. The Record of Decision and implementation steps could take place as early as October, though some members of Congress and conservation groups are trying to stop the plan in courts. In addition, Rep. Huffman pushed his bill (HR 1146) to block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). On September 12, that bill passed the House with a bipartisan margin of 225-193. The bill, which is not expected to pass the Senate, would repeal a controversial provision of the 2017 Trump tax law that mandated oil and gas leasing and production in the Coastal Plain of ANWR. “The Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act reflects a very simple proposition: there are some places too wild, too important, too unique to be spoiled by oil and gas development,” said Rep. Huffman. “The Arctic Refuge’s Coastal Plain is one of those special places…”

More Hope for Coastal Protections

In a move to prevent new drilling for gas and oil off the coasts of the United States, a bill authored by Huffman to block drilling for oil and gas off the Pacific Coast passed the full House on September 12. A second bill was introduced to similarly block drilling off the Atlantic coast co-sponsored by Huffman. Both permanent drilling bans passed the House by a majority of 238-189. To protect the Florida Gulf Coast, a bill that would establish a moratorium on drilling passed on the same day by a margin of 248-180. Even with these margins, none of the three bills is expected to move through the current Senate.

US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) Director 

President Trump nominated Aurelia Skipwith to be the next director of the USFWS. Her nomination has not been welcomed by those most familiar with the agency work and mission, namely former employees and partners. Twenty-seven former Fish and Wildlife Service employees along with the former Superintendent of Channel Islands National Park pointed to their combined 665.5 years of federal government experience and urged the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to reject Skipwith. In the letter the former employees stated:  “Ms. Skipwith lacks the training and experience necessary for this position. Her background consists largely of serving as a consultant or attorney dealing with non-wildlife and non-conservation issues.” In addition, they said they were concerned that Skipwith’s “job history includes potential conflicts of interest which raise serious questions about her ability to act in the public interest.”

Included in her resume are approximately six years with agribusiness corporation Monsanto. This is Skipwith’s second hearing. Her nomination is expected to progress, though with the unresolved autumn budget and other issues, time might slip away.

Endangered Species More Threatened Under Former Oil Lobbyist Sec. Bernhardt 

Secretary of the Interior Bernhardt announced plans to drastically reduce protections for threatened and endangered species covered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) despite the success of the Act and need for stronger protections. Conservation groups including the Northcoast Environmental Center have joined forces to write in opposition of the proposed new regulations. In addition, on September 17 Congressman Huffman introduced HR 4341, the “Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Act of 2019,” to enshrine full protections in law so that this and future administrations cannot diminish those regulations. A dozen members of the House immediately added their names as co-sponsors to Huffman’s bill.  Although it is disheartening to see the ESA continually attacked, it is encouraging to see support for the ESA’s long-term viability.

What to Expect in Coming Months 

As the nation moves into an election year, Congress will continue to work on legislation that is important to members who are up for reelection to show constituents they are working to support local concerns. Much of this legislation will not advance to law, but some will. It is hard to tell which bills will garner support through compromise or lucky timing. With the new Inquiry for Impeachment announced by Speaker Pelosi, it is difficult to predict if members of Congress will be more, or perhaps less, likely to work together for sound conservation legislation. The NEC will try to keep readers up to date on bills of interest and how they can add their voice.