After decades of congressional service, Congressman Norm Dicks, D-WA, has submitted his first major spending bill to the House of Representatives as chairman of Interior Appropriations. The bill would hike spending for the environment, national parks and global warming research. In leading floor debate, Rep Dicks said, “Mr. Chairman, I have waited 30 years for the honor of presenting an Interior and Environment bill to the House of Representatives as subcommittee chairman, and I am very proud to present H.R. 2643 as my first Interior Appropriations bill.”
The measure would allocate $27.6 billion for the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Forest Service and other agencies, a 4.3 percent increase over current spending. While Bush’s budget office and some GOP lawmakers have criticized the bill as overly generous, Dicks said spending for national parks and other environmental priorities has been shortchanged for years. “I do not know of one increase in this package which can’t be fully justified based on need or on the ability to spend the money wisely,” Dicks said. Between 2001 and 2007, funding for the Interior Department fell by 16 percent, EPA by 29 percent and the Forest Service non-fire budget by 35 percent.
Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, the ranking Republican on the Interior Appropriations subcommittee, praised Dicks’ handling of the bill. “Norm Dicks has led the committee with a firm and steady hand, and I appreciate the bipartisan approach he has taken as chairman,” Tiahrt said. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-WA, also saluted Dicks, although the two men disagreed on some of the specifics. Hastings said he was concerned that – at a time when federal land agencies are struggling to manage land they currently own – the House bill would provide tens of millions of dollars for the federal government to buy up more land. “This takes private property off of local tax rolls and leaves county governments with a heavier burden to pay for emergency services, roads, and schools,” he said, adding that Congress should reauthorize a program to reimburse rural counties hurt by cutbacks in federal logging before buying more federal land.
Dicks said he was especially proud the bill provides a $223 million increase for national parks, as part of a 10-year, $3 billion effort to restore parks for the 100th anniversary of the Park Service in 2016. The additional spending will support 3,000 new seasonal employees and 590 year-round staff. It would also increase spending for national wildlife refuges by $56 million, or 14 percent. The funding would allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to reverse staffing shortages on hundreds of wildlife refuges nationwide, where nearly 600 jobs have been lost since 2004.
The Senate Side
Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, says she’s included $2.4 million in a Senate appropriations bill to help tribes support natural resource management and safety. If the bill is passed, tribes statewide would get $1.74 million for TFW, the Spokane and Colville tribes would get $350,000 for Lake Roosevelt management and Upper Columbia United Tribes would receive $315,000 for fish and wildlife management. The money is included in the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, which passed the appropriations committee. Murray, who is on the Senate Appropriations Committee, is standing up to Bush’s recent budget proposals. Murray said she stepped forward to restore the funding so tribes can continue to play a key role as partners in protecting Washington’s natural resource management. More specific highlights will be distributed following the full committee markup, but initial highlights of the Interior bill as marked by the subcommittee include $27.15 billion (chairman’s mark) for DOI overall, approximately $1.5 billion more than Bush’s request; $2.46 for National Parks, $98 million more than Bush; $1.38 billion, up $94 million over Bush; $2.27 for BIA, up $36.8 over Bush; $1.01 billion for USGS, $35 million over Bush (for base scientific research programs) and $1.89 billion for BLM, topping Bush by $76 million.
NOTE: PORTMAN OUT, NUSSLE IN AS WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR
White House Budget Director Portman is resigning and will be replaced by former Rep. Jim Nussle of Iowa, who chaired the House Budget Committee. Nussle lost his last bid for re-election. He lost the Iowa governor’s race in November. Portman, an Ohio Republican, left Congress in 2005 to become U.S. Trade Representative. He took over as Bush’s budget director last year.
OIL SPILL PREVENTION
Senator Cantwell has joined Senator John Kerry, D-MA, in introducing the comprehensive Oil Pollution Prevention and Response Act of 2007 (S.1620.IS) to help protect Puget Sound and the outer coast from the threat of a major oil spill. The state legislature and Governor Gregoire chose not to provide funding for a permanent, year-round Neah Bay rescue tug or increased oil spill prevention efforts this past session. Yet a catastrophic oil spill in Puget Sound or on the coast could spell the end of many species already on the verge of extinction. It could also undo many years of hard work to restore habitat. Cantwell’s bill is intended to prevent such an event and safeguard orca whales, salmon, seabirds and other species. Section 111 of the bill codifies and provides funding for the state Oil Spill Advisory Council and Section 206 concerns response tugs. The bill was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on June 14.
SUPREMES SAY ENDANGERED SPECIES NO FACTOR IN CLEAN WATER
A closely divided U.S. Supreme Court has held, 5-4, that the Endangered Species Act does not require EPA to consider listed species when transferring Clean Water Act permitting authority to states. In National Association of Home Builders v. Defenders of Wildlife , the court reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on grounds that transferring CWA authority is non-discretionary, and federal agencies need not consider ESA-listed species when taking non-discretionary actions under statutes, such as the CWA, that do not independently require such consideration.
JUDGE SAYS BUSH ADMINISTRATION ERRS ON SPECIES PROTECTION
A federal judge in Seattle recently overturned a Bush policy under which federal agencies considered the numbers of hatchery-bred salmon and steelhead when weighing whether to extend species protections. District Judge John Coughenour ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service erred when it listed upper Columbia River steelhead as threatened instead of endangered. The “threatened” listing was based on a decision by the government to count millions of hatchery fish alongside wild salmon when determining what protections to place on several Washington state runs. Coughenour maintained there is a difference between hatchery and wild fish, and said government policy must be focused on preserving natural life cycles. “Though it scarcely seems open to debate, the Court concludes that in evaluating any policy or listing determination under ESA, its pole star must be the viability of naturally self-sustaining populations in their naturally-occurring habitat,” Coughenour wrote. “To be sure, the inclusion of hatchery fish alongside natural fish … strikes the Court as odd.”
Environmentalists heralded the decision, while a property-rights group vowed to file an appeal.
Against the advice of many scientists, NMFS published its proposed policy for considering hatchery-bred fish in endangered-species listings in 2004, then received more than 27,000 critical comments. Environmental and recreational groups, such as Trout Unlimited, the Sierra Club and Federation of Fly Fishers, filed a lawsuit to reverse the administration’s decision. Sonya Jones, an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, a property-rights group that repeatedly has sued to overturn Endangered Species Act listings, said the group was “quite surprised” by the judge’s ruling. “If this decision stands, it opens up a floodgate of listing decisions,” she said. “One more time, the ESA is used to regulate the use of private property.”
FAMILY FORESTRY CRISIS
Nearly 60 percent of the nation’s forests are privately owned, the majority by families and individuals and most of these owners are 55 or older. A huge swath of forest land is about to change hands as aging landowners pass the land to heirs or buyers. It’s the largest inter-generational transfer of forest land in the history of the U.S. and there are serious concerns about the forest land conversion, subdividing and new development that will result. Forestland is already disappearing at a nationwide rate of four acres a minute. A survey of “next generation family forest owners” recently conducted by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation found that heirs who will inherit the land are often professionals living far away in cities, with weak bonds to the land, and little if any involvement in forest management. High taxes were a top reason heirs cited as deterrents to keeping the land.
GLOBAL WARMING AND ENERGY
Passing The Buck?
Friends of The Earth, a national environmental organization, says Congress is trying to pass the buck on global warming and energy issues. As currently written, says FOE, legislation coming to the floor in the Senate and developing in the House not only comes up short, it will likely go backwards. FOE called a biofuels bill that Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, and Pete Domenici, R-NM, moved out of committee earlier this session “misguided.” That bill has apparently formed the basis of the major Democratic energy package in the Senate. FOE adds that under pressure from industry, this Senate package is getting worse. Among other FOE objections are inadequate fuel efficiency standards, stripping of EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse emissions, and inclusion of highly polluting liquid coal as an alternate energy source. (Coal-burning power plants emit the most U.S. carbon dioxide at about 40 percent, and cars emit about a third of the total.)
Dozens of Bills Introduced
Will Rogers once joked that everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it. With impacts of global warming heating up, the concept of doing something about the weather isn’t a joke anymore. Dozens of bills have been introduced by 110th Congress that, in one way or another, take the issue to task—ranging from bills to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and make big oil companies more accountable to bills focused on the development of alternative energies and gearing up the federal infrastructure to deal with the problem. One bill, aiming to end frustrating debates by once and for all officially acknowledging the existence of the problem, just passed the House by a vote of 272-155. The House also approved an environmental funding bill that would increase federal investments in basic research on climate change and establish a new commission to review scientific questions that need to be addressed. That bill would also beef up EPA funding by $8 billion next year, mainly for water cleanup and clean air programs. Bush has threatened a veto of the $27.6 billion bill, which the Senate has not yet debated. Meanwhile, some stubborn politicos, such as Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, still refer to global warming as a “hoax.”
A few of the many bills introduced include HR 2338, by Rep. Norm Dicks (referred to the House Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry on June 26) which would establish a federal policy to “use all practicable means and measures to assist wildlife populations in adapting to and surviving the effects of global warming”; S 485 by Sen. John Kerry, D-MA (referred to the Committee on Finance on Feb. 2) to establish an economy-wide global warming emission cap and trade program; S 1389, by Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL (referred to the Committee on Health on May 14) to authorize the National Science Foundation to establish the Climate Change Education Program and HR 620 by Rep. John Olver (referred to the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans on Feb. 7) to reduce greenhouse emissions through market-driven trade-able allowances. There is discussion in both the house and senate about distilling the intentions of a number of these bills into more manageable legislation. The Senate Environment Committee, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, is moving on one such effort—a bill that would place caps on emissions of heat-trapping gases from power plants, cars and factories, a first for the country. Bush opposes mandatory limits on any emissions, saying they would harm the economy. Instead, he has set a goal of reducing the intensity of emissions – as measured against economic growth – by 18 percent by 2012.
CHAIRMAN FRANK WOWS CROWD AT NCAI MID-YEAR
With a record 1,200 tribal delegates in attendance, NWIFC Chairman Billy Frank, Jr. drew a rousing standing ovation at the National Congress of American Indians Mid-Year Session in Anchorage recently and for three days tribal leaders praised his “frank” comments about the environment and tribal rights.
“It’s good that the federal government is paying attention to the needs of tribes in Iraq. But it should first keep its promises to tribes here in this country. The credibility of the nation is at stake. We’ve been ignored far too long, and we’re still being ignored today. Our lands, waters and natural resources are being poisoned. Here in Alaska, 30 percent of the Native people live without running water and electricity. Their villages are being washed away because of global warming. Their natural resources are dying as the permafrost melts and the glaciers disappear. Pollution and habitat destruction are killing our treaty-protected natural resources throughout the country, and the federal government has got to do more to work with tribes to stop it,” said Chairman Frank.
The session, themed “Strengthening Economies and Culture Under the Midnight Sun,” centered around agenda items considered to be of highest priority in Indian Country. In reference to comments by Frank and others, NCAI President Joe Garcia commented, “Tribal leaders are talking and NCAI is listening.” NCAI will convene again in Denver for its 64th Annual Convention November 11-16. At NCAI’s mid-year session next year, a special fund raising event will be held for the Billy Frank Jr. Endowment. That part of the session will be held June 1 in Reno, and will feature an exhibition, dinner and program on global warming. The Billy Frank, Jr. Endowment is a scholarship program to support students seeking bachelor degrees in natural resource management through the Northwest Indian College.