TrumpWatch

How the New Political Landscape Affects Your Public Lands

We are keeping an eye on the decisions made by the Trump Administration and Congress that affect the public lands we protect here on the Central Coast. Information about how the new government is changing the way our public lands are conserved is vital to our mission. We are ready to defend our vision of public lands as places for people to enjoy and explore the outdoors, as safe havens for wildlife, as sources of clean water, and as the long-standing heritage of our nation. We also have an action plan for how we will fight to protect our public lands in this new political climate.

Read below for new updates on what is coming out of Washington, how we plan to respond, and how your voice can be heard. Click here to donate to our Forest Defense Fund. The challenges before us can seem downright overwhelming. But with your participation and support, we’ll have the resources necessary to fight back and defend our region’s public lands in the halls of Congress, in the courts, in the press, and in the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans who value and enjoy our public lands. Now is our time to speak up and get involved.

What You Can Do Today, Right Now, to Help Protect Your Public Lands

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  • Bookmark This Page – check back often for updates and simple steps you can take to protect your public lands

 

March 17 

Trump’s 2018 Budget Blueprint: What It Would Mean for Public Lands

Yesterday, the Trump administration unveiled a federal budget blueprint for 2018 that proposes widespread cuts to multiple federal agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Interior. While this is only a blueprint for Congress – which can vote to pass an entirely different budget if they see fit – it does provide a look into the priorities of the Trump administration.

Particularly worrisome are the major cuts proposed for agencies overseeing public lands and natural resources. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which houses the U.S. Forest Service, would see a $4.7 billion cut (about 21%). While the budget would fully fund the 10-year average budget for wildfire suppression, other important Forest Service efforts would likely be cut to make up the difference. The Forest Service has been experiencing budget cuts for years, and a massive cut to the funding that supports recreation area maintenance and restoration projects would leave trails in disarray, fewer law enforcement patrols, and a diminished capacity to protect plants and wildlife, clean water, Native American sacred sites, and other natural resource programs.

The Department of Interior, which houses the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service, would see a $1.5 billion cut (12%) under the proposed budget. The Bureau of Land Management would likely experience cuts to its land acquisition budget, and it may experience cuts to its maintenance budget for national monuments such as the Carrizo Plain. The Department of Interior also houses the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which is charged with safeguarding endangered species in our region like California condors, arroyo toads, Smith’s blue butterflies, and more than two dozen other critically imperiled species in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain.

The EPA would experience the most substantial cut compared to any other agency with a decrease of $2.6 billion (31%). Much of this cut would affect the climate change programs at EPA, but cuts to water quality programs could also occur. Funding for projects aimed at addressing nonpoint source pollution such as sediment from erosion – a concern for streams in the Los Padres – could be affected.

The budget blueprint also increases funding for oil and fracking development on public lands, a decision that would likely result in more drilling in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument. It even mentions that the permitting process will be streamlined to allow the oil industry to more easily access energy resources on public lands. Land acquisition is also specifically discouraged. This could impact the Los Padres National Forest, which contains over 100 “private inholdings,” which are private land parcels entirely surrounded by national forest land. These parcels often pose development threats and restrict public access to trails and other recreation areas. The Forest Service and nonprofit land trusts have worked for years to acquire inholdings from willing sellers, but without any funding, that program would be on the chopping block as well.

What We’re Doing

ForestWatch and over 130 other conservation organizations from across the country submitted a letter to Congress strongly opposing the cuts to conservation, natural resources, and environmental programs proposed in the administration’s 2018 budget blueprint. We will continue to voice our concerns with any budget that proposes cuts to our nation’s treasured public lands.

What You Can Do

Contact your representatives in Congress. The House and Senate have to work together to pass a federal budget for 2018, and this budget can look completely different from the Trump administration’s proposal. Let your Representative and two Senators know that you support public lands and conservation, natural resources, and environmental programs and would like to see a 2018 budget that fully funds the needs for important agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, and Environmental Protection Agency. Make sure to call your elected officials, as is this the most effective way to make your voice heard.

 

March 15, 2017

New Bill Threatens Endangered Species Management in National Forests

A bill known as the Litigation Relief for Forest Management Projects Act (S.605) was introduced into the Senate last week by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Collin Peterson (D-MN).  Currently, when a new species is added to the nation’s threatened and endangered species list, the Forest Service is required by law to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service (the agency that oversees endangered species). After this consultation, the Forest Service is required to update its forest management plan to ensure the newly-listed species is adequately protected from threats. If the agency fails to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the public has the ability to ask a judge to order the Forest Service to do so. This new bill would eliminate this consultation requirement, limiting the public’s ability to take the Forest Service to court for not adequately addressing endangered species concerns. The bill would also apply to the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees national monuments such as the Carrizo Plain.

If passed, S.605 would have a direct impact on the Los Padres National Forest, which is home to three species currently being considered for threatened or endangered status: California spotted owl, western spadefoot toad, and foothill yellow-legged frog. When these species are added to the list of threatened and endangered species, the Forest Service will not be required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service about how to better address threats to those species — and our options will be limited.

What You Can Do

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. You can contact the committee directly to let them know you oppose S.605 because you value the protections for threatened and endangered species and think the Forest Service should be required to update national forest management plans to protect newly-listed species:

Committee Majority Office (Republicans)
410 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510-6175
phone: 202-224-6176

Committee Minority Office (Democrats)
456 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510-6175
phone: 202-224-8832

Executive Order Seeks to Reorganize or Eliminate Federal Agencies

On Monday, President Trump signed a new Executive Order that would develop a proposal to eliminate, reorganize, or consolidate some or all of the functions of every federal agency, including the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The White House’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget will develop a plan that incorporates proposals and comments from each agency head, “persons or entities outside the Federal Government with relevant expertise in organizational structure and management,” and the general public within 180 days of the order. You can read the Executive Order in its entirety here.

This order has the potential to reorganize or eliminate agencies that manage our public lands, limiting their ability to protect wildlife, soil and water resources, and recreation areas. We will be following this development very closely, and we plan on submitting comments regarding the agencies that are crucial to public lands management.

 

March 8, 2017

Update: Senate Rescinds BLM Rule, Ending Public Involvement With Land Planning

Despite the letter we submitted along with 16 other conservation groups, the Senate voted 51-48 to rescind the new Planning 2.0 Rule by the BLM. This rule would have effectively improved the way land planning is conducted for BLM lands, which include national monuments such as the Carrizo Plain.

Congress used the Congressional Review Act to rescind the rule, meaning that the BLM cannot propose a similar rule at any point in the future. In other words, the BLM may never be able to update its land planning process. This will have serious consequences as the impacts of climate change worsen, our understanding of the effects of certain types of land use continues to change, and new land strategies are developed. The BLM will continue land planning as though they are stuck in the 1980s.

Bipartisan Bill Fully Funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund Introduced

Yesterday, Senators from both sides of the aisle introduced a bill that would permanently authorize and fully fund the $900 million Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Congress established the LWCF in 1965 to support projects that help create or fund new recreation areas and parks in urban areas throughout the country. The LWCF has successfully enhanced public access to trails, created open space that is good for wildlife, and preserved air and water quality. According to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who cosponsored the bill with Richard Burr (R-NC) and 20 other Senators, places such as Olympic National Park would not have been possible without the LWCF.

Since Congress authorized the LWCF to be funded up to $900 million annually by a portion of revenue from offshore drilling back in 1965, only once has it been fully funded. Interestingly, the new Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke ( a former Republican Representative), is a staunch supporter of the LWCF and has repeatedly called for it to be fully funded. In fact, he was the only Republican who opposed Rob Bishop’s (R-UT) attempt at reforming the LWCF to focus on state instead of federal lands last year.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced a similar bipartisan bill to the House of Representatives  in January. However, while that bill would permanently authorize the LWCF, it would only ensure that $10 million would be funded. Sen. Cantwell’s bill in the senate would ensure that the LWCF is fully funded.

What You Can Do

Call your Senators to tell them that you support the Land and Water Conservation Fund and think it should be fully funded. Urge them to support the bipartisan Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act.

 

March 7, 2017

Update: Senate Moving Toward Vote on Rescinding Smart BLM Rule

As we discussed in last week’s update, the House of Representatives passed a bill last month that would rescind a new Bureau of Land Management rule dubbed Planning 2.0. This rule updated a 30 year-old planning process based on science and collaboration by several agencies and other organizations. We sent a letter to the Senate last week urging senators to oppose the bill. Last night, the Senate motioned to advance the bill to a vote following debate, which could begin as early as today.

What You Can Do

Call your Senators. Tell them that you support our nation’s public lands, and urge them to oppose H.J. Res. 44. This bill is moving fast, so quick action is needed to protect the Planning 2.0 rule.

House Natural Resources Committee Wants Federal Budget Change Making Sale of Federal Lands Easier

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT). the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee has asked the House Budget Committee to devote $50 million of the federal budget to offsetting the cost of selling federal lands to the states and other entities. According to a document recently released by the Natural Resources Committee, a transfer of federal lands would be considered a loss to the federal government, and the request would ensure that any sale of federal lands would not be reflected in the federal budget as a loss.

Essentially, the request would make it easier for the government to sell federal lands such as our beloved national forests while transferring the $50 million bill to taxpayers (money that could have been spent on useful programs such as funding the U.S. Forest Service) and pretending the cost does not exist. The document released by the Natural Resources Committee also states that the federal budget should contain language that eliminates other barriers to selling federal lands to state and local governments.

This is just another in a string of attacks on federal lands lately, including bills that aim to transfer lands to the states (or even private adjacent landowners), eliminate Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management law enforcement, and increase oil and gas drilling on federal lands.

What You Can Do

You can contact the House Committee on Natural Resources to let them know you disapprove of their requests to offset the sale of federal lands in the federal budget. You can email the committee directly here, or send a letter to:

House Committee on Natural Resources
1324 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

 

March 3, 2017

Senate Confirms Zinke as Secretary of Interior

On March 1st the Senate voted 68-31 to confirm Ryan Zinke as Secretary of Interior. Zinke, a former Republican Representative from Montana, is an interesting pick by Trump to lead the Department of Interior which includes the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service among other agencies. Zinke has been a critic of the sale of federal lands, and he has even said he would prioritize funding for maintenance of national parks and other federal lands once confirmed.

However, Zinke has also been a long-time supporter of mining and drilling on public lands. During his confirmation hearing, he said he would be willing to revisit Obama-era decisions regarding federal lands such as a halt on coal leasing, a ban on oil and gas drilling in Alaska, and the designation of national monuments.

On his first day as Secretary of Interior, Zinke rescinded a phase-out of the use of lead ammunition on national wildlife refuges. Lead ammunition has been linked to increase lead levels in soil and water, which can have toxic effects on plants and wildlife.

We will continue to monitor Zinke’s decisions as Secretary of Interior. While we appreciate his support of much-needed maintenance funding for the National Park System, his willingness to open up our public lands to even more resource extraction is troubling.

 

See Our Letter Urging Senators to Keep Smart BLM Planning Rule

Today we submitted a letter along with 16 other conservation groups to the Senate opposing a bill that would rescind a new Bureau of Land Management rule dubbed Planning 2.0. This rule updated a 30 year-old planning process using a new, collaborative, science-based approach to land use planning by engaging the public, improving administrative efficiency, and increasing responsiveness in planning on the country’s largest public land system. Planning 2.0 would help address pressing issues such as wildlife, invasive species, and increased domestic energy demand.

You can read our letter here.

What You Can Do

The bill already passed the House of Representatives, but you can still call your Senators (each state has two). Tell them that you support our nation’s public lands, and urge them to oppose H.J. Res. 44.

 

Senate to Vote on Bill Allowing Methane Waste on Federal Lands

Last month the House of Representatives passed a bill that would rescind another Department of Interior rule requiring the oil and gas industry to reduce methane emissions from their operations on federal lands. The rule, referred to as the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, was issued in November of last year, and it updated 30 year-old regulations on the release of methane as waste by oil and gas operations on federal lands.

The BLM estimated that between 2009 and 2014, these companies wasted enough gas to power 5.1 million homes for a year – yet the companies did not have to pay any fees to the governments for this gas production. For decades, the industry has only had to pay a fee for oil and gas produced on federal lands that they then sell (and see our February 17 update for information on how these companies were already finding ways to get out of paying those fees). So not only has the industry been able waste methane, a greenhouse gas approximately 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide in regard to climate change, they have been getting away with not having to pay the full amount of fees for degrading our public lands to pad their profits.

The new rule would require that companies capture this methane as well as prevent methane leakage. The practice of “venting,” or burning off excess methane would no longer be allowed, requiring that all methane be captured and assessed a fee that would fund federal programs such as national park maintenance, national forest management, and other activities from which we all benefit. H.J. Res. 36 would rescind this new rule.

What You Can Do

The bill already passed the House of Representatives, but you can still call your Senators. Tell them that you think oil and gas companies should have to pay their fair share for degrading our public lands, and urge them to oppose H.J. Res. 36.

 

February 17, 2017

Senate Confirms Scott Pruitt as Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency

Today the Senate voted 52-46 to confirm Scott Pruitt as the new administrator of the EPA. Pruitt is the former Attorney General of the state of Oklahoma, where he closed his office’s Environmental Protection Unit and sued the EPA 14 times, 13 of which had big business polluters and financial supporters as co-litigators. While in Oklahoma, Pruitt ceased the state’s legal battle against poultry producers who were polluting a scenic river. He has also promulgated the myth that scientists are still debating whether human activity is causing climate change or that it is even occurring. Pruitt has claimed that mercury, a well-documented neurotoxin and pollutant of coal-burning, poses no health risks.

Just looking at his political contributors gives a sense for how friendly Pruitt is with the oil and gas industry: Exxon, Devon Energy, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, to name a few. It is highly likely that as the EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt will work to roll back regulations and give polluters flexibility not seen since before 1970 when the EPA was founded.

We will continue to fight to ensure the Los Padres National Forest and other public lands on the central coast are protected and that any entity conducting activities on or near these public lands will be held accountable for adhering to the environmental regulations that keep these special places safe and healthy.

 

Bill Introduced to Expedite Conveyance of Small Parcels of Federal Land to Local Landowners

Yesterday, Rep. Mark Amoedi (R-NV) introduced the Small Tracts Conveyance Act (H.R. 1106), which would allow for the transfer of National Forest land and land administered by the Bureau of Land Management to private landowners, state and local governments, or Indian tribes with adjacent lands. Qualifying parcels would be 160 acres in size or less, and the process of transferring these parcels would be limited to 18 months.

Currently, federal land acquisition by a private entity or state/local government can be a lengthy process (up to 10 years) and require Congress’ approval. There is a very high level of scrutiny involved in any transfer of federal lands, and H.R. 1106 would expedite the process to the extent that federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service would not have adequate time to review such transfers.

While the bill does exclude “lands with established federal protection for cultural, biological, or endangered species issues,” it would not exclude land currently being reviewed for federal protection and it leaves vague how those lands would be determined. This could be a serious problem for federal lands that support critical habitat for a species that is under review for Endangered Species Act protection, which could be transferred under H.R. 1106.

What We’re Doing

We do not support the acquisition of federal land by any non-federal entity. Federal public lands such as the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument are critical to the overall health and way of life on the central coast. Federal lands are subject to far greater regulation than private lands, and we strongly believe that public lands should remain in the hands of the public.

What You Can Do

Contact your representative to let them know you oppose H.R. 1106. Let them know that you don’t support the sale of any National Forest System or National Park System lands.

The joint resolution has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, where it will eventually be referred to a subcommittee. We will update this post with contact information for whichever subcommittee this legislation is referred to so that you can write letters to the subcommittee’s members.

 

Joint Resolution Introduced to Undo Obama-Era Update to Mineral Production Valuation 

On Monday, Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colorado) and Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) introduced H.J. Res. 71, which would undo changes made to the way oil, gas, and coal extracted on public lands is valued. Since regulations were developed in the 1980s, companies with leases to extract oil and gas from federal lands have been required to pay a percentage of their sales revenue back to the federal government. Not only has this percentage remained unchanged since the 1980s, but companies have been able to circumvent paying the entirety of what they owe by first selling what they produce on federal lands to an affiliated company at an artificially low price. That company can then sell the oil or gas for a higher price on the open market without having to pay any percentage of the revenue back to the government.

The new rule, which was finalized last June, requires that companies pay a higher rate that is affixed to what they make when selling oil and gas produced on federal lands to a company to which they are not affiliated. This would ensure that companies utilizing federal lands for their own private financial interests are paying their fair share back to the taxpayers.

Now, Congress wants to undo this rule and maintain the status quo: letting oil and gas companies avoid paying approximately $100 million back to the government each year. That is $100 million that would go to maintaining national parks, fighting wildfires in national forests, and other important activities our taxes support.

The final regulation was issued last June so Congress still has time to disapprove the rule. The resolution would need to pass both the House and Senate and be signed by the president to take effect. It will likely move through both legislative bodies relatively quickly to meet the time limit for congressional disapproval of a new rule.

What We’re Doing

We supported the new rule as it increased accountability of private companies using public lands for oil and gas production. We oppose H.J. Res. 71 and will continue to monitor its movement through Congress.

What You Can Do

Contact your representative to let them know you oppose H.J. Res. 71. Let them know that you support public lands and think companies that use federally-owned land for private monetary gain should have to adhere to a royalty rate that reflects the oil and gas industry of this century.

The joint resolution has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, where it will eventually be referred to a subcommittee. We will update this post with contact information for whichever subcommittee this legislation is referred to so that you can write letters to the subcommittee’s members.

 

February 14, 2017

Bill Introduced to Eliminate Law Enforcement Functions of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management

We mentioned this issue a couple of weeks ago, but we wanted to provide some more information about what it means and how you can help. Last month, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced H.R. 622, which would eliminate Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management law enforcement officers, and place their workload onto local sheriff departments who are already struggling to keep up with their workloads in our communities. It would mean less law enforcement presence – not more – in the Los Padres National Forest. That would translate into more lawlessness and degradation of natural resources, and would make our forests less safe to visit and enjoy.

Forest Service law enforcement officers are best equipped to handle the job, in cooperation with local sheriffs. They are most familiar with remote areas of our forests and the federal laws that ensure these places are kept safe. We support them, and see Rep. Chaffetz’s bill as a misguided attempt to wrest control of federal public lands. It is no coincidence that he introduced this bill on the same day that he introduced HR 621, which would sell of federal public lands in his home state of Utah to private development interests. He ultimately withdrew this ugly piece of legislation due to overwhelming public outcry, and we urge him to similarly withdraw HR 622.

Congress should focus on providing our federal law enforcement officers with the tools and funding they need to address critical issues facing our forests, like illegal marijuana plantations, wildfire hazards, motorized trespass, graffiti, litter, and environmental crimes. Stripping them of their authority is an affront to the rule of law on our public lands.

What We’re Doing

The bill was referred to House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Agriculture late last month. The bill was then moved to the Subcommittee on Federal Lands (Natural Resources) and the Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry (Agriculture) a few days ago. Neither committee has scheduled a hearing for the bill yet. We will continue monitoring its movement through the House.

What You Can Do

Contact the House Subcommittees to which the bill has been referred. You can write a letter to the each subcommittee to let them know that you do not support this bill:

Attn: Subcommittee on Federal Lands
House Committee on Natural Resources
1324 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Attn: Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry
House Committee on Agriculture
1301 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

You can also contact Rep. Chaffetz’ office by calling (801) 851-2500 or (202) 225-7751 to let him know that you support the safety provided by Forest Service and BLM law enforcement officers on our nation’s public lands, and urge him to withdraw H.R. 622.

 

February 7, 2017

House Votes to Eliminate BLM Planning Rules

Congress today voted to repeal new regulations governing how the U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees 245 million acres of public lands, including the Carrizo Plain National Monument and thousands of acres adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest. The BLM regulations — dubbed Planning 2.0 — were issued late last year to modernize management plans for federal public lands. House Republicans argued that the new Planning 2.0 rule would eliminate state and local input, even though the rule actually improves public participation and transparency. Congress could have passed a minor tweak to the rule, but today’s vote seeks to obliterate the rule in its entirety.

To unravel the planning rule, Republicans are invoking an arcane law called the Congressional Review Act that allows Congress to review and overturn any regulation finalized within the last 60 days of a previous presidency. The vote was mostly along party lines.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) authored the House resolution, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) along with 16 other Republicans introduced a similar measure in the Senate. After likely Senate approval, the matter will go to President Trump, who issued a brief statement today in opposition to Planning 2.0. Once the President signs the resolution, the new rules become null and void and BLM will revert back to its outdated and inefficient 1983 regulations.

What We’re Doing

ForestWatch joined 17 conservation organizations on behalf of millions of members from around the country supporting the BLM’s Planning 2.0 rule and opposing the House resolution. We have also added our name to a similar letter to the Senate, to be delivered next week.

What You Can Do

Call your Senators (each state has two of ’em). Tell them that you support our nation’s public lands, and urge them to oppose S.J. Res. 15.

 

Trump Announces Supreme Court Nominee

President Trump has nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the empty seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Gorsuch currently serves on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the son of Reagan-era U.S. EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford. While Gorsuch’s record is relatively light on environmental cases, he has consistently ruled against environmental and outdoors advocates on procedural issues. In 2013, he argued that environmental groups should not be allowed to intervene in a lawsuit filed by off-road vehicle groups in the Santa Fe National Forest

In 2013, Judge Neil Gorsuch dissented from his colleagues on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who allowed environmental groups to intervene in a lawsuit over off-highway vehicles in the Santa Fe National Forest. In 2015, he ruled that a sportsmen’s group did not have legal standing to challenge an order allowing off-road vehicles on certain trails in the San Juan National Forest. He also joined an opinion in 2011 dismissing environmental actions in another case challenging opening up of federal land to off-highway vehicle use. On the flip side, Judge Gorsuch is a fly-fisherman and enjoys the outdoors. His confirmation hearing could be scheduled anytime within the next few months.

 

February 6, 2017

Senators Introduce Bill to Strip Federal Oversight of Oil Drilling & Fracking

Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), and Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) introduced S. 316, the “Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act” to give states primary authority over energy development on federal public lands. The legislation would prevent federal regulations governing oil drilling and fracking from taking precedence over state law, even if those state laws are weaker than federal standards.

Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla) likewise reintroduced a pair of bills this week aimed at giving individual states the sole decision-making authority over energy sources within their boundaries – S. 335, the “Federal Land Freedom Act” and S. 334, the “Fracturing Regulations Are Effective in State Hands Act.”

The bills were all referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. House Republicans also introduced similar measures this week.

 

February 3, 2017

Bill Introduced to Ease Environmental Restrictions on Logging & Clearing Projects

Congressman Tom McClintock (R-California) introduced legislation today to ease environmental restrictions on logging projects targeting trees affected by insect infestation and disease. The legislation – H.R. 865 – would exclude projects from environmental review whenever a loosely-defined “state of emergency” is declared. To offset the estimated annual costs of $300 million, the bill proposes requiring the Department of Agriculture to sell off timber within five years. These revenue-generating projects would also be excluded from environmental review.

The bill would reduce public input on these projects and eliminate the ability of groups like ForestWatch to file objections prior to filing a lawsuit challenging a particular project based on environmental grounds. The bill was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

 

House Votes to Rescind Methane Waste Regulations on Federal Land

Today, the House voted to rescind a regulation issued in the waning hours of the Obama administration that would have eliminated leaks and waste of methane at oil drilling sites on federal lands. This practice is common in the Sespe Oil Field in the Los Padres National Forest.

The regulation being targeted would crack down on leaks of methane from natural gas wells on federal land. It would also restrict flaring, the practice by which drillers burn off excess natural gas produced at drilling sites.

The House resolution (H.J.Res. 36) was sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, along with 40 other Republican senators. Its passage was applauded by the oil industry. The Senate is poised to approve a similar resolution (S.J. Res. 11) sponsored by Rep. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, along with 14 other Republican senators. That vote will take place next week.

What We’re Doing

ForestWatch joined 75 public health and conservation organizations on behalf of millions of members from around the country supporting the methane waste regulations and opposing the House resolution. We have also added our name to a similar letter to the Senate, to be delivered next week.

What You Can Do

Call your Senators (each state has two of ’em). Tell them that you support our nation’s public lands, and urge them to oppose S.J. Res. 11.

 

February 1, 2017

Idea Floated to Move Forest Service to Department of Interior

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) is resurrecting an old idea to move the Forest Service out of the Department of Agriculture. Zinke, President Trump’s pick to lead the Interior Department, has told senators he’s interested in transferring the Forest Service from USDA to Interior, where the forest agency’s predecessor resided before 1905. The Interior Department also houses other federal land management agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (which manages National Monuments and other public lands) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (which manages National Wildlife Refuges).

 

January 31, 2017

Today marks the 12th day of the new Trump presidency and the fourth week of the new Congress. While every new administration brings a changing set of values (and threats) to our nation’s public lands, we’ve already seen enough to know that the next four years are going to be a long, tough fight for our public lands. ForestWatch is up to the task of fighting back, from the halls of DC to the Central Coast. We’ll bring you occasional updates on how the changing political climate is affecting our region’s public lands.

Here’s a brief look at what has transpired over the last 12 days that impacts the Los Padres National Forest and other public lands right here on the Central Coast:

On Day One, the new Congress put a procedure in place to make it easier to transfer or sell off public lands.

One of Congress’ first orders of business was to quietly enact a new procedure that will make it easier for them to pass future legislation to transfer or sell off your public lands. The change would make it easier from a budgetary standpoint to reduce the federal government’s land holdings.

Trump announced a hiring freeze throughout the federal government — including agencies charged with managing our public lands and wildlife. 

Trump signs exectuive order freezing new federal hires. Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images.

Trump signs exectuive order freezing new federal hires. Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images.

On January 23, Trump issued a Presidential Memorandum stating, “I hereby order a freeze on the hiring of Federal civilian employees to be applied across the board.” This hiring freeze affects public lands agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service (which manages the Los Padres National Forest), the Bureau of Land Management (which manages the Carrizo Plain National Monument), and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (the agency charged with managing the Hopper Mountain and Bitter Creek wildlife refuges, along with endangered species like the California condor), all of which have already been victims of repeated budget cuts for decades. The Los Padres National Forest budget is diminished, and most of what’s left goes to fighting wildfires each year rather than maintaining trails, roads, and campgrounds as well as keeping fees affordable. Now, positions that are open at the national forest will not be filled, and it’s likely that they will face even more budget cuts over the next several years.

We contacted these agencies to ask how the hiring freeze would affect their operations. The Forest Service stated that their non-fire staff have been reduced nearly 50% since 2008 (from 102 to 66), leaving a skeleton crew to manage nearly two million acres of public land. Three dozen positions, including a hydrologist, archaeologist, and other natural resource and recreation positions will remain vacant under the hiring freeze. The BLM has seven full-time positions devoted to the Carrizo Plain National Monument, but one of them will remain vacant under the hiring freeze. The FWS has one vacant position in its California Condor Recovery Program that will remain vacant. We are still awaiting a response from BLM’s Bakersfield Field Office.

Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue nominated to serve as the Secretary of Agriculture.

President Trump has nominated Sonny Perdue to serve as the Secretary of Agriculture, the top position in the Department of Agriculture, the umbrella agency for the U.S. Forest Service. His stance on the management of national forests is unclear. Perdue must be confirmed by the Senate before taking the reins, but a hearing has not yet been scheduled.

We will also be closely monitoring the selection of the Department’s Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment and the Forest Service Chief, two positions that set policy for national forests. The Undersecretary must also be confirmed by the Senate. It is vitally important to have these positions filled by folks who understand the value of protecting our public lands, not exploiting them for profits.

Trump also announced a federal regulatory freeze that halts any new regulations, including those necessary to protect clean air and water and properly manage our public lands.

Trump promised to scale back environmental and other regulations once in office, and he has wasted no time in doing so. Yesterday, he issued an Executive Order that requires all agencies to withdraw two regulations for every new regulation on the books.

The administration silenced public communications from agencies such as the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The stifling of communication between the agencies that manage public lands and affect public health and the citizens of the U.S. is alarming and unprecedented. Some public land managers are speaking out by launching underground sites on Facebook and Twitter that are not subject to Trump’s gag order. Some of these directives were withdrawn following public outcry, and ForestWatch will continue to demand transparency when it comes to new management decisions regarding our national forest.

Congress Takes Aim at the Environment

In its first month, bills have been introduced in Congress that would severely undermine our country’s system of national parks, forests, and monuments. Here’s a sampling of what’s coming down the pipeline:

  • A bill was introduced to hinder the President’s authority under the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments. The Central Coast boasts two national monuments — the Carrizo Plain National Monument and the California Coastal National Monument.
  • Legislation was introduced to strip the authority of Forest Service law enforcement officers, placing it instead into the hands of local sheriff departments which do not have the experience or resources to manage millions of acres of remote land.
  • Attempts to roll back regulations passed in the waning hours of the Obama administration, including a regulation that would prevent oil companies from burning off (“flaring”) natural gas on public lands, a regulation that seeks to protect streams and rivers, and a rule requiring stricter greenhouse gas emissions standards for oil and gas drilling facilities.

The White House released its America First Energy Plan, which emphasizes oil drilling and fracking on public lands.

An oil well is drilled as part of a fracking operation in the Sespe Oil Field.

An oil well is drilled as part of a fracking operation in the Sespe Oil Field.

Within hours of the Presidential Inauguration, the White House released its “America First Energy Plan” that relies heavily on giving the oil industry more access to our public lands. The plan identifies a need to “take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own.” The plan is silent on pursuing alternative energy sources that would secure our nation’s energy independence while protecting the environment.