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Legislative Update

Summary

1. Grassroots Groups are Again Targeted for Federal Registration and Control. H.R.417 would prohibit communications by grassroots groups without "registration," strict controls and full disclosures of membership and financial information.

2. Aggressive Federal Land Acguisition Programs Underway. A massive $1-billion/year off-budget "Trust Fund" bill (S.25) has been proposed to increase funds for the purchase of private land to add to Federal wilderness.

3.Endangered Species Act Amendment and Reform. New ESA bills have been introduced in the 106th Congress to reform the ESA—so far, H.R.494, H.R.495 and H.R.496.

4.Clinton's New Executive Order (EO) Would Control Property Containing "InvasiveAlien Species."  New EO creates Federal "Invasive Species Council" to control virtually all farmland, crops, farm and domesticated animals, and more; and critics claim Clinton is attempting to enforce the unratified 1992 UN Biodiversity Treaty.

5. Ousted Santa Cruz Island Rancher Gets $12.7-million Jury Verdict Against Feds. 84-year-old Francis Gherini was forced to give up his Channel Island ranch. He rejected the inadequate Park Service offer and sued for "just compensation" for the taking of his ranch.


Comments 

1. Grassroots Groups are Again Targeted for Federal Registration and Control. "Campaign Finance Reform" and "Lobbyist Control" involve the disclosure and tracking of money paid to politicians for campaigns or to influence legislation.

"Campaign Finance Reform" bill (H.R.417) with a new twist has been introduced in the House by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and by Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA). H.R.417 would strengthen the present controls on campaign financing—but would also add severe restrictions on communications to politicians by grassroots groups, and other groups not involved with contributions.

H.R.417 opponents agree that registration, control of campaign contributions, and of money paid out by lobbyists is reasonable, but that it is quite another thing to prohibit communications with politicians to express views on legislation without Federal "registration."

In September 1994, restriction and control of communications by grassroots groups was attempted when efforts were made in the Senate/House Conference Committee to add some strict new reporting and registration requirements to the pending "Lobby Disclosure Act." A brief review of this September 1994 effort is important now, not only for historical interest, but because it is happening again today.

The 1994 attempt to restrict the communications of grassroots groups caused a massive "Citizen Alert" with thousands of calls and faxes deluging Congress and the Conference Committee. The Committee abandoned the 1994 "Lobby Disclosure Act," and its "Grassroots Regulation" provisions.

The current 1999 situation is similar, but differs in that the "Grassroots Regulation" provisions are now in the original bill (H.R.417), unlike 1994 when the grassroots regulation was added at the last minute by the Conference Committee. This should give interested parties time to review the bill with its "Grassroots Regulation" provisions, and to make their views known to Congress.

H.R.417 is aimed in part at controlling money paid to political candidates by lobbyists and other contributors, but buried in the bill are new provisions that would destroy the effectiveness of "Grassroots" action groups by requiring Federal registration of each group, along with its membership and financial information—even though the group does not give money or "campaign contributions" to anyone. Without full Federal registration as a Political Action Committee-(PAC), under H.R.417, no grassroots group would be permitted to communicate with any member of Congress regarding any pending legislation.

The legitimate purpose of "Campaign Finance Reform" and "Lobbyist Control" laws is to keep track of money paid by PACs, by other lobbyists, or by anyone, to influence legislation or to support candidates. Most grassroots groups "lobby with votes," not with money—and the influence of grassroots groups throughout Washington has become stronger and much more noticeable over the last 10 years—hence the efforts to silence these renegades that have many active voters, but that generally do not make substantial campaign contributions.

Let your members of Congress know your views on the "Grass roots Regulation" provisions of H.R.417, referred to as the "Campaign Finance Reform Bill."


2. Aggressive Federal Land Acguisition Programs Underway. In 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was created; and since 1965, the LWCF has been used by the Feds to buy up lands, mostly from or through escrows or lease arrangements with environmental groups, primarily the Nature Conservancy (See Santa Cruz Island discussion, below). These arrangements tie up the land, usually as Federal Wilderness, remove the natural resources from private control, and have frequently resulted in substantial profits to the environmental group.

The Administration, through President Clinton, V.P. Gore, and Interior Secretary Babbitt, have announced their plan for a Federal land acquisition fund of a minimum of $1-billion per year. In January, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) introduced the Reinvestment and Environmental Restoration Act of 1999 (S.25), which would create a $1-billion per year dedicated off-budget Federal land acquisition trust fund for the purchase of private land.

Senators Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) have signed on as cosponsors of S.25; and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has announced his intention to introduce a similar bill in the House. The support of these three powerful Republican Congressmen would make the Administration's task of passing S.25 easier in Congress. The reported primary targets for the prospective Federal purchases are the smaller community areas in the West, and the private forests of New England and northern New York.

In opposition to S.25 there is a strong and growing nationwide coalition of property rights groups, Western groups and Congressmen-led by the American Land Rights Association, Frontiers of Freedom, Blue Ribbon Coalition, Western Mining Council, and many others. Opposition to S.25 is based generally on the principle that there should be "no net loss of private land" in the U.S., and that such massive Federal purchases would destroy many smaller communities resulting in lost homes, lost history, lost culture—and subs tantial lost local tax base.

The battle lines are forming on S.25 and on the conversion of the LWCF into a gigantic Federal real estate purchasing Trust Fund. It looks very much as though S.25 will be one of the more active issues in the 106th Congress. Contact your members of Congress, and the pertinent Committee Chairmen and members (including those named above), and let them know your views on the proposed $1-billion annual off-budget Federal land acquisition fund.


3.Endangered Species Act Amendment and Reform. Three ESA Bills have been introduced in the 106th Congress by Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA/Bakersfield) to reauthorize and reform the ESA—these bills are H.R.494, H.R.495 and H.R.496. H.R.494 would reform the ESA by requiring independent scientific peer review and impartial referees to make final decisions on listings committees, economic impact analyses, experimental populations, and other criteria to make the species listing process more open, fair, and scientific.

H.R.495 would set the "trigger" level of loss of value to private property at 50% before a landowner could receive compensation for a "partial taking" under the 5th Amendment. "Mitigation" is the term for the landowner's payment of money and/or a "set aside" of property for the right to continue to use that landowner's own land that contains a listed species or a "habitat." H.R.495 requires the landowner to pay for the fencing and preservation in perpetuity of the set aside land. H.R.496 is very similar to the 105th Congress' ESA ReformlReauthorization Bill (the old S.1180), that fully reauthorizes the ESA and has specific codification of Secretary Babbitt's "No Surprises" and "Safe Harbor" rules.

Keep your eyes on these and other ESA reform reauthorization repeal bills. Simplistically stated, the battle is between the radical environmentalists who want to reauthorize and strengthen the ESA, and the conservative property rights groups that want to repeal the ESA and leave the matter to the states for regulation as each state sees fit. Stay tuned.


4.Clinton's New Executive Order (EO) Would Control Property Containing "Invasive Alien Species." On February 3, the President signed another of his growing number of EOs providing for expanded Federal controls over private property. This new EO will give power to the Executive Branch:

"[T]o prevent the introduction of invasive species and provide for their control and to minimize the economic, ecological and human health impacts that the invasive species cause..."

No, it does not refer to extraterrestrial aliens invading the earth. The term "alien species" means any animals or plants that are not native to that land. Essentially, all of the millions of acres of corn and wheat grown in the U.S., the Kentucky bluegrass in your lawn, your dog and your canary are "alien species," since they are not native to the land upon which they now grow.

Implementation of this EO would mean that virtually all of the farmland, crops, and domesticated animals would fall within this EO's very broad definitions of "control", "alien species", "invasive species", "native species" and "ecosystem." It is notable that there are currently plenty of laws on the books to control and eradicate "noxious" or dangerous weeds and animals, and this EO would not be needed to implement the existing laws and regulations to eradicate or to conduct a major attack upon any noxious plants or animals.

Critics of this new "Invasive Species" EO have called upon Congress to revoke this Executive Order, and the specific charge has been made that by this EO the Administration is wrongfully attempting to implement Section 8(h) of the 1992 UN Biodiversity Treaty (More precisely: The "1992 Convention on Biological Diversity"), without this treaty ever having been ratified by the Senate.


5. Ousted Santa Cruz Island Rancher Gets $12.7-million Jury Verdict Against Feds. Francis Gherini owned and resided on a ranch on Santa Cruz Island that had been in the Gherini family since 1869; and Mr. Gherini had worked this family ranch for most of his 84-year life.

Santa Cruz Island is the largest of the Channel Islands, off the coast of Southern California. In 1987, more than 90% of Santa Cruz Island passed into the control of the Nature Conservancy, in a cooperative escrow arrangement with the National Park Service (NPS). Since 1987, the NPS has successfully pressured all of the other landowners on Santa Cruz Island to abandon or to sell their land to the NPS—all, that is, except Mr. Gherini, who did not want to sell his family ranch.

In 1996, the NPS wanted the one remaining Santa' Cruz Island parcel, the Gherini Ranch, to be the NPS Channel Islands Headquarters and as a "UN World Biosphere Reserve." In 1996, the NPS finally got the ranch by means of a "taking" by Act of Congress. Mr. Gherini was then thrown off of his ranch, but had "just compensation" due to him under the 5th Amendment to the Constitution.

The NPS offered Mr. Gherini $4-million as the "reasonable value," which was less than one-third of the appraised value of the ranch. Mr. Gherini rejected the NPS offer of "just compensation," filed suit to determine the value, and just recently received an award of $12.7-million.

Besides a success story of a landowner receiving just compensation for his land under the 5th Amendment, the Gherini/NPS/Santa Cruz Island story has been the subject of several television documentaries and more are coming.

Conclusion

There is currently an aggressive multi-faceted Federal effort to acquire land—by purchase, by lease and by complex exchange/purchase escrows primarily with the Nature Conservancy and its affiliates.

The current flurry of Congressional Bills, Administrative Regulations and Executive Orders must be viewed in light of the well-known objectives of the leadership of the large and influential World Environmental Movement.

You should let your views be known to your members of Congress and, importantly, to the Chairman and members of the Congressional Committee having responsibility for that particular matter. If you do not know the Committee or Chairman, simply call your own Representative and ask—and also ask that they send you a copy of the specific Bill or Executive Order, and ask them to send copies of any other materials related to that matter. This simple call will be a tremendous source of information on the subject, and will give you the bill's updated current status.

We can also obtain a lot of information from the Federal administrative agencies, specifically including the US Forest Service, the BLM, the National Park Service, and the many other Federal, state, local and international agencies—by simply calling and asking. If you don't know who or which agency to call, simply call the office of your member of Congress, and ask them. Congressional members and their aides usually enjoy helping you by mailing or faxing copies of bills and reference materials, and by providing telephone numbers of agencies and other offices.

The addresses and telephone numbers of all of your U.S. Senators and Representatives are as follows:

Direct your letters, calls and faxes to both their local and Washington, D.C. offices.

Senator      (fill in the blank)       
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
(202) 224-3121

Representative       (fill in the blank)      
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
(202) 224-3121
© ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal, CMJ Inc.
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