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Legislative and Regulatory Update

August 2002 by Staff

• Endangered Species Act reform
The House Resources Committee passed HR 4840, a bill to reform the Endangered Species Act, by a vote of 22-18. The Sound Science for the Endangered Species Act Planning Act of 2002, requires the federal government to rely on field-tested and empirical data in making major decisions under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including the listing of species and determinations regarding critical habitat.

Similarly, the bill establishes a higher scientific threshold for petitioners wishing to list a species. There must be clear and convincing evidence the species is in peril. The bill requires that science used in major ESA decisions be peer-reviewed by a panel of scientists. The bill also requires the federal government to take into account the impact of an ESA mandate on the economy of a region.

If the bill becomes law, it could stop the proliferation of out of court settlements between environmental extremist groups and government agencies.

Committee Chairman James Hansenas stated, “This legislation is a first step in fixing the Endangered Species Act, which over the years, has been blatantly abused by federal agencies and environmental groups alike. This law has impacted millions of people and has caused ruin for thousands more. One recognizable problem corrected by the bill is the ESA’s lack of good science when making decisions that ultimately affect both the species and the people. This bill ensures the use of sound science through peer review and improves interagency cooperation between the federal and state agencies. As I have stated before, this will not fix everything that is wrong with the Act, but this is a common sense step in the right direction.”

The House Resources Committee vote was along party lines, with democrats against the bill and republicans in favor. However, one democrat, Cal Dooley of California, crossed party lines and voted in favor of the bill.

• Extremist groups blamed for catastrophic wildfires
Several US officials have been outspoken critics of environmental extremist organizations. Officials have placed the blame on environmental groups for the recent catastrophic wildfires because of their efforts to restrict or prevent timber harvesting and thinning of our national forests.

Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) complained that the Center for Biological Diversity protests, obstructs, and files hypertechnical nuisance suits to prevent the Forest Service from doing its job.

Kyl stated, “As that group’s executive director vowed in 1998, ‘We will bring hundreds of people. We will have people in the trees, blocking the roads. There will be an army of people the Forest Service is going to have to go through before they rev up the chain saws.’”

Dale Bosworth, chief of the Forest Service, referred to a study by the National Academy of Public Administration. That study found that regulatory compliance and legal planning—under the heading of planning and assessment costs—“consume 40 percent of total direct work at the national forest level.”

Kyl stated, “Lawsuits filed by radicals have contributed to the failure to properly thin forests. Many of these groups, in turn, have countered that they support thinning and are not obstructing forest-restoration efforts.

“So how do they explain a case filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in 2000 that sought to stop forest restoration and fuel reduction efforts at the Apache-Sitgreaves? Ground crews estimate that as much as 90 percent of the trees that were to be treated under that plan are now destroyed by the ‘Rodeo-Chediski’ fire.

“Or what about three separate appeals filed by the Sierra Club, the Southwest Forest Alliance, Forest Guardians, and other groups to stop a restoration project at Fort Valley in the Coconino that enjoyed widespread public involvement and comment and was endorsed by the Grand Canyon Trust?

“In fact, in 1996, at the Coconino, some of these same groups stopped a separate planned forest-thinning project—ostensibly to avoid disturbing areas surrounding a tree that held a goshawk nest. A major wildfire later that year rolled through the forest, destroying the very tree they were supposedly trying to ‘save’ and decimating the wildlife ecosystem there. These groups are part of the problem.

“We need to give greater appreciation to scientists with knowledge rather than a small but loud group of radicals who claim the environmental banner but only serve as obstructionists,” stated Kyl.

On a related note, the US Forest Service is under fire (pardon the pun) after it refused assistance from AngloGold during the Hayman, Colorado, fire. AngloGold was offering several Caterpillar tractors to help prevent the fire from spreading during the fire’s early stages, reported the Cortez Journal.

AngloGold and Ames Construction invested their time and $5,000 to move the heavy equipment into place, along with enough heavy equipment operators to run the equipment 24 hours a day. They were prepared to cut a fire break to prevent the fire from spreading.

Kim Martin, the Incident Commander for the Forest Service, told AngloGold operations manager, Ron Largent, “The equipment is too heavy. It will tear up the land.”

Largent expanded AngloGold’s offer of assistance. Not only would they cut a 20-mile firebreak to help contain the fire at no charge to the Forest Service—AngloGold would also commit to replant trees in the affected area once the fire was out. Martin still refused the assistance.

Approximately 90 acres would have been damaged by the bulldozers. Instead, over 25,000 acres burned.

• EPA revisits TMDL
The Bush administration is considering a plan to reduce federal oversight of a key Clean Water Act anti-pollution program and instead allow states to provide the oversight, reports the Washington Post.

The proposal would reverse a July 2000 Clinton administration rule requiring EPA approval of a states’ efforts to restore “impaired water bodies,” a designation given to about 300,000 miles of rivers and shorelines and 5 million acres of lakes.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has pledged to change the controversial rule, and described the Clinton rule as “too inflexible, too much EPA control.”

The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program has been viewed with skepticism. A study by the National Academy of Sciences concluded, “Considerable uncertainty exists about whether some of these waters violate pollution standards.” The TMDL program was put into place following lawsuits filed by several environmental organizations. Whitman announced she would extend a moratorium on the program until 2003 and change the rules before putting them into effect.

• National Heritage Act seeks to take control of lands away from local governments
The National Heritage Act, HR 2388, proposes to extend federal control over local land use in exchange for federal grant money. Citizens in Hinton, West Virginia, got a first-hand look at how the federal government takes control of local land use through the Heritage Act.

Area residents lobbied the federal government for several years to obtain funding for road improvements in what the government deemed a Heritage Area. Once they received the funding they learned that countless strings had been attached. The National Park Service announced that the funding would be used to create a Scenic Parkway, which included the condemnation of dozens of homes and the seizure of their property. This bill has passed the House Resources Committee and may come before the full House shortly.

The bill would create a “Heritage Area” program that would be run by the National Park Service.

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