Federal Update for April 2007

Download Priority Bills

Download Federal Update

Congress and other components of the Federal Government. Also attached is the latest PRIORITY FEDERAL BILLS list which provides the titles and status, etc. of federal bills pertaining to natural resources, the environment and other tribal-related bills. All comments welcome.

Note: Congressman Jay Inslee will soon be introducing a bill on tidal power. I will distribute it to tribes as soon as possible. Also, below is a brief on the NOAA Undersea Research Program Act by Senator Ted Stevens, fyi. (This is just to whet your appetite. Wait till you see all the exciting bills in the attachment 🙂

Overview of FY 2008 Funding Requests
House Interior, Environment & Related Agencies
Total request: $22.287 million for the following programs:
In testimony to be given on April 18, NWIFC Chairman Billy Frank, Jr. will provide the U.S House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment & Related Agencies, chaired by Rep. Norm Dicks, D-WA, a briefing on tribal programs and natural resource management funding needs. He will acknowledge the budget challenges Congress faces, given the obvious priorities of the current Administration. But he will urge that tribal natural resource funding be restored and increased, particularly in the Northwest, due to its great importance. Objectives of the effort are to 1) Secure and enhance Western Washington fisheries management base funding, restoring $1.8 million to BIA/Natural Resources Management/Rights Protection. (The reduction targeted the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty, the Northwest portion of which, 67%, amounted to $1.2 million); 2) Adequately fund Salmon Habitat Restoration, Hatchery Maintenance/Rehabilitation & Reform; 3) Maintain The Timber-Fish-Wildlife (TFW) Program; 4) Maintain the mass marking program; 5) Protect the marine resources of the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound, co-management of natural resources; 6) Strengthen tribal wildlife management and assure treaty-protected hunting rights and 7) Ensure that the Puget Sound Regional Shellfish Settlement Commitment is met.

House Science, State, Justice and Commerce and Related Agencies
Total request: $9.5 million for the following programs:
On April 24, Chairman Frank will deliver testimony to the House Science, State, Justice and Commerce and Related Agencies Committee, making a request for $500,000 for coastal marine resource management, and $9 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. The $500,000 amount would be intended to increase funding for sanctuary management discussion. The NOAA/Marine Sanctuary Program has provided tribes with nominal funding from their base of about $100,000 for the four tribes participating in sanctuary management discussions. This funding will allow Tribes to build their staffing expertise and support their policy involvement in the process. Also in this testimony, Frank will request $100 million per year for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund through NOAA/NMFS, with $9 million to be provided to NWIFC and its member tribes. The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund (PCSRF) is a multi-state, multi-tribe program established by Congress in FY-2000 with a primary goal to help recover wild salmon throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

Rep. Norm Dicks, D-WA, and senior Democrats warned the Department of Interior recently against making major changes in the Endangered Species Act without involving Congress. The quick and unambiguous response came one day after reports that the Interior Department has been working for months to reinterpret the 1973 law in a way that environmentalists said would gut the primary tool for protecting plants and animals on the verge of extinction. The Bush administration and some Republicans have been working for years to change the act, which they say is onerous and overly expensive for landowners. At each step, however, Congress has blocked the changes. The new approach would change the law unilaterally by changing the way it is interpreted. Those changes surfaced in a 117-page document and in departmental memos that discuss ways to restrict the law without needing congressional approval. Dicks spoke recently with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, and said he was especially concerned by a proposal that would require extra protection only in areas where endangered species are found. That would significantly narrow protections because current practice includes habitat that historically supported a species, even if that species no longer lives there. “If you’re only going to protect it in its current range, it’s an incentive to unscrupulous people to minimize the range,” Dicks said he told Kempthorne.

Any change in ESA would have significant consequences in the Pacific Northwest, especially for efforts to restore dwindling salmon populations. Environmentalists criticized the Interior proposals, saying they would allow the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration, among others, to sidestep a 2005 federal court ruling that limited the amount of water that could pour through Columbia River dams. Another proposed change would narrow when species can be considered in danger of extinction. Currently, that is interpreted as the statute directs some time “in the foreseeable future.” The draft papers suggest a more specific timetable of 20 years for some species and a specific number of generations for others. Other changes would allow logging, development and other projects even if those activities threaten a species but stop short of “hastening” its extinctions. The proposal also calls for states to have greater authority over protecting species. Dicks said he told Kempthorne that the changes being considered are major and shouldn’t be enacted without Congress’ imprint. “I told him we don’t want to see a lot of things changed by rule,” he said, adding that he told Kempthorne, “If you’re going to change the law send up a bill.” Many of the proposals were included in past legislation that was defeated.

In a recent dispatch to businesses and industries across the country, Jim Sims, President and CEO of the Western Business Roundtable, said, “After three years of intense work both inside the Beltway and at the grassroots level by the Roundtable, the Partnership for America and our many allies, we may finally be on the cusp of securing very significant reforms of the Endangered Species Act. In recent months, we have been working intensely to encourage the Bush Administration to release a package of ESA reforms via various administrative processes.” In the dispatch, Sims said the reforms, such as regulatory reforms, new agency guidance, Secretarial directives, etc., may be close to releasing such a package of reforms. Sims indicated that the reform package (links provided below) was apparently linked to environmental organizations by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The side-by-side analysis, he said, was performed by environmentalists, not the business roundtable.
• Side-By-Side Analysis
• DOI 114 page synthesis of draft regulations
• DOI draft transfer to state regulations
• DOI task list
Sims said the Business Roundtable is analyzing these documents now, and that if the Administration does proceed with a significant reform package the Roundtable can support, “we will need to launch an immediate and overwhelming grassroots and grasstops campaign to support these reforms. The focus of this effort must be to ensure that these reforms go forward and the Congress does not pass legislation to hobble or block their implementation.”

According to its letterhead, “The Roundtable is a non-profit, 501(c)(6) organization that unites a wide variety of business and industry leaders to work on a bipartisan basis for public policies that promote a common sense balance between economic growth and environmental conservation. Its website is:

A report just released by the Inspector General of the Department of Interior has found that Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald, who has no biological training, rode roughshod over numerous decisions by agency scientists concerning protection of endangered species. The report also found that MacDonald violated federal ethics rules by sending what the IG’s office called “nonpublic information” to industry lobbyists with groups such as the Pacific Legal Foundation. This self-proclaimed “national leader” in the effort to reform ESA has successfully mounted a number of legal challenges to critical habitat reviews on behalf of their clients such as the California Farm Bureau, the Washington Farm Bureau, and the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association. The report was conducted at the request of Congressman Nick Rahall, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. The IG was asked to investigate based on an anonymous report that MacDonald had “bullied, insulted, and harassed the professional staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to change documents and alter biological reporting regarding the Endangered Species program.”

“Through interviewing various sources, including FWS employees and senior officials, and reviewing pertinent documents and e-mails,” the IG wrote, “we confirmed that MacDonald has been heavily involved with editing, commenting on, and reshaping the Endangered Species Program’s scientific reports from the field,” according to the IG. MacDonald admitted that her degree is in civil engineering and that she has no formal educational background in natural sciences, such as biology. Nevertheless, the report found that MacDonald interfered with field reports such as the sage grouse risk analysis, a critical habitat decision for endangered bull trout, a designation of California’s northern and southern tiger salamanders as distinct populations, a decision about California’s delta smelt, and an analysis of California’s vernal pools as critical habitat. In a number of e-mails and comments on the bull trout critical habitat decision, an agent of the IG’s office wrote, “MacDonald forced a reduction in critical habitat miles in the Klamath River basin from 296 to 42 miles.” A former Endangered Species Director, not named in the IG’s report, said that overall, “MacDonald did not want to accept petitions to list species as endangered, and she did not want to designate critical habitats.” A former Interior Department assistant secretary, not named by the IG, who was interviewed for the report, said, “she had a fundamental suspicion of FWS employees because of her belief that they were close with the environmental groups.”


Congressmen Brian Baird and Doc Hastings of Washington State have introduced a bill to allow killing of the more aggressive sea lions who prey on Columbia River salmon, which just now are heading upriver to spawn. The sea lions, protected by the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, gather at the base of Bonneville Dam to wait for and feed on the migrating salmon. Wildlife officials have tried harassing the sea lions with large firecrackers and rubber bullets, but with little effect.

Congressmen Norm Dicks and Greg Walden are co-sponsors of the bill, which would create a temporary fast-track process for Oregon, Washington and the four Columbia River treaty tribes to get permits to kill a limited number of the sea lions when nonlethal harassment has failed. In recent years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says, the sea lions have killed thousands of returning salmon, mostly at Bonneville Dam. The fish and the sea lions began entering the river in large numbers in the 1990s, and many sea lions return year after year. Oregon, Washington and Idaho applied last year for federal permission to kill some troublesome California sea lions. That approval process could take five years. In 1995, NOAA Fisheries gave Washington state permission kill sea lions eating endangered steelhead swimming through Ballard Locks in Seattle, but before the executions, Sea World in Florida took the three worst offenders. By some estimates, the sea lions eat about 3 percent of the fish that arrive at the dam, where the salmon school up and are most vulnerable to the sea lions. Eventually, the salmon climb fish ladders to get around the dam Animal rights activists say the sea lion issue takes attention from the larger problems of pollution, destruction of habitat and spawning areas, the dams themselves and other factors that reduce the size of the runs.

Senator Patty Murray, D-WA, has expressed concern about the lack of progress of the Hanford 300 Area replacement project. Questioning Department of Energy Undersecretary of Science Dr. Raymond Orbach, she focused on the need to use funding she secured for the project, including $10 million in the Office of Science for Fiscal Year 2007. Much of that funding is currently being held as a result of new and different Office of Management and Budget demands for third-party financing. Orbach told Murray he will be releasing a plan to meet the third-party financing requirement within days, and that OMB’s decision should be made within a month. Orbach responded to a series of pointed questions from Murray by saying he is taking it “one year at a time” and that he “hopes that some resolution will be found.” Murray was in no way satisfied with the response and pledged to keep pressing the issue. Some scientists believe nuclear waste from Hanford is affecting Columbia River ground waters and threatens major devastating effects on the Columbia and parts of the Pacific.

In a 5-4 April 2 decision (Massachusetts v. EPA), the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed with the Natural Resource Defense Council that carbon dioxide and other global warming emissions are “pollutants” under the Clean Air Act. It also ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to start curbing those pollutants and ordered EPA to stop relying on illegal excuses and to start getting serious about the problem of global warming pollution from new cars, SUVs and trucks. This obliterates the Bush Administration’s leading excuse for doing nothing about global warming, that it has no power to control carbon pollution.

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs conducted a hearing on March 29, to check tribal reactions to a $7 billion offer from the Administration to settle outstanding Native property rights and land issues, including the landmark Cobell trust fund case. The committee had invited representatives of the Administration to lay out its concept of “acceptable” Indian trust reform and settlement legislation. Elouise Cobell and other Indian experts were asked to respond to the latest proposal to address 119 years of the U.S. government’s neglect and mismanagement of Indian trust accounts for which it is the trustee. Secretary Dirk Kempthorne testified at the hearing that the trust fund issue is of “crucial importance to the Department of Interior” and added that “it is time for the Federal Government and the Congress to tackle an issue that has been raised by commission after task force after commission for almost a hundred years.” His appearance and willingness to move forward brought praise from committee members.

However, the specifics of the Administration proposals and amounts were less favorably received. Committee Chair Byron Dorgan, D-ND, suggested that individual trust accounts and tribal trust accounts are distinctly different, implying that the Cobell case deserved a settlement of its own. He appeared skeptical about the Administration’s decision to group so many reforms in one package. A representative of the Justice Department also testified. Committee members expressed unhappiness that tribes had had no input into the Administration’s proposed legislative package. If passed, the proposal would mean a middling payment to each of the hundreds of thousands of individuals involved; the settlement amount would be paid out over 10 years–without any interest during that period. Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff, was clear in her testimony that she and hundreds of thousands other Indians view the Administration’s proposal as “a slap in the face of every Indian trust beneficiary.”