Environment Under Attack Again in Interior Appropriations Bill

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Senate Up To Its Old Tricks

(06/24/1999) - Defenders of Wildlife panned today’s Senate markup of the FY 2000 Interior Appropriations Bill as "unfortunate business as usual." Citing multiple anti-environmental riders attached to the bill in subcommittee, Defenders warned of excessively damaging and dangerous, precedent-setting attacks on various aspects of the environment.

"Here we go again," said Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife. "We’re on defense, trying to prevent the anti- environmental forces in Congress from rolling back environmental protections that the American public has stated time and again they want. These forces have learned that attacking our environmental laws outright is a terribly unpopular thing to do. That’s why they continue to resort to these secret, back-door tactics, hoping no one will notice."

During the Senate Appropriations full-committee markup today, at least ten anti-environmental riders were included. On Tuesday, the Senate Interior subcommittee attached nine riders to the Interior spending bill for FY 2000. The riders approved today ranged from attacks on grazing policy to national forest planning to site-specific riders such as one to increase red cedar harvest on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Two riders are of particular interest to Defenders. One is designed to prevent grizzly bear introduction in Montana and Idaho, and the other would undermine science-based management of national forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.

The rider to prevent grizzly introduction (Sec. 328) not only would be disastrous for grizzly recovery but also would set a very dangerous legal precedent. The rider would ensure that no grizzly bears could be introduced in Montana or Idaho without written consent from the governors of those states. This would create a situation in which a federal Endangered Species Act program on federal lands would be regulated by the states. In addition, this rider would derail a collaborative effort by local timber, conservation, and labor interests to restore grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem in Idaho and Montana.

The rider that attacks science-based management of certain public lands (Sec. 329) aims to nullify a recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling and provides the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior broad discretion during FY 2000 to choose whether or not to collect any new, and potentially significant, information concerning wildlife resources on the National Forest System or BLM lands. The secretaries could exercise such discretion prior to amending or revising resource management plans, issuing leases, or otherwise authorizing or undertaking management activities.

"At least they’re consistent," said Schlickeisen. "Every year, they try these same closed-room, back-door tactics knowing that in a full floor debate, most of these measures would not stand a chance. So they throw them on as riders, hoping they’ll get lost in the shuffle and that no one will care. They’re wrong; we care, and the American public cares. Americans have a right to a strong environment and to a healthy natural heritage to pass on to their children. Congress needs to stop these sneak attacks on our environment and on our rights. And if it won’t do so, then the President has to use his veto pen."

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Anti-Environmental Riders
FY 2000 Senate Interior Appropriations Bill

  • Sec. 117: Allow Grazing Without Environmental Review
- would allow the Bureau of Land Management to reauthorize grazing permits without allotment-specific National Environmental Policy Act documents, Federal Land Policy Management Act analysis or Endangered Species Act requirements through FY 1999 or until the Bureau completes processing. This provision provides an escape clause for the Bureau that allows it to delay the analysis required by the law as recently interpreted by the courts.

  • Sec. 320: Delay National Forest Planning
  • - would impose a funding limitation to halt the revision of any forest plans not already undergoing revision, except for the 11 forests legally mandated to have their plans completed during calendar year 2000, until final or interim final planning regulations are adopted. There is concern that this provision will put pressure on the Forest Service to hastily promulgate new regulations, rather than carefully incorporating recommendations developed by an independent Committee of Scientists. Sec. 321 in the bill would halt funding to carry out strategic planning under the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act (RPA).

  • Sec 325: Divert Trail Fund for "Forest Health" Logging
  • - allows the ten per cent roads and trails fund to be used to "improve forest health conditions." Since there are no restrictions limiting the use to non-commercial activities, and logging is considered a "forest health" activity, this fund could be used to fund timber sales. It also represents a back door method to fund more logging roads for salvage and commercial timber operations. This rider also eliminates the requirement that the roads and trails fund be spent in the same state the money is generated when used for these purposes. This opens the distribution of these funds to the political process, allowing all the funding to go to one state or region with more political clout. Since there is a salvage fund and other sources such as vegetation management monies already available for this type of use and already open to abuse, this rider is unnecessary and potentially destructive.

  • Sec. 327: Tongass Red Cedar Rider
  • - seeks to create an incentive to maximize timber harvest on Alaska’s Tongass National Forest by leveraging the amount of Western Red Cedar available for export to the lower 48 and internationally against the percentage of the Tongass’ allowable sale quantity (ASQ) that is actually sold. While Western Red Cedar makes up only a small portion of the timber sold on the Tongass, Section 327 stipulates that the only way in which interested manufacturers in the lower 48 can have access to all of the surplus Western Red Cedar logged in FY 2000 is if the forest’s entire allowable sale quantity is sold. In FY 1998 of the approximately 187 million board feet offered for sale on the Tongass roughly 160 million board feet did not attract even a single bid, primarily due to bad timber markets. The ASQ for the Tongass in FY 98 was 257 million board feet. Hence, under Section 327 only a very small percentage of Western Red Cedar actually sold would be available to the lower 48. Moreover, the rider requires that the sold timber must have at least a 60 percent guaranteed profit margin for the purchaser, continuing to maintain the Tongass’s timber program as our National Forest System’s largest money loser.

  • Sec. 328: Prevent Grizzly Bear Introduction
  • - would be disastrous for grizzly bear recovery and sets a very dangerous legislative precedent. This language prohibits the Department of the Interior and all other federal agencies from expending funds in any fiscal year to introduce grizzly bears anywhere in Idaho and Montana without express written consent of the governors of those two states. The language requires federal agencies to get state permission to implement a federal law on federal lands and sets a broad precedent, both for other endangered species recovery actions and for all other federal laws. Moreover, this provision would derail a five-year collaborative effort initiated by local timber, conservation, and labor interests to restore grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem in Idaho and Montana, the largest roadless area remaining in the lower forty-eight states. This reintroduction is vital to grizzly bear recovery in the lower forty-eight states. Finally, both Idaho and Montana have existing populations of grizzly bears outside the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem. This restrictive language is so unclear and broad that it could prohibit actions such as population augmentations or the movement of problem bears within existing recovery populations (e.g. Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks).

  • Sec. 329: Undermine Science-based Management of National Forest and Bureau of Land Management Lands
  • - attempts to provide the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior broad discretion during FY 2000 to choose whether or not to collect any new, and potentially significant, information concerning wildlife resources on the National Forest System or Bureau of Land Management Lands prior to amending or revising resource management plans, issuing leases, or otherwise authorizing or undertaking management activities. This section seeks to overturn a February 18, 1999 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit that the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia had violated the law by not maintaining population data on management indicator species as required under 36 C.F.R. 219.19, or sensitive species as required under its own forest management plan. However, the implications of Section 329 extend far beyond any single national forest. For example, the Forest Service could attempt to use the language of Section 329 to undercut full implementation of, and accountability under, the NW Forest Plan. This section’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" approach may invite the Forest Service to take a shortcut around the information collection and analysis required by the plan -- undercutting the basis on which Judge Dwyer upheld the plan, as well as recent Ninth Circuit case law. Beyond seeking to undermine existing law, Section 329 directly contradicts the overall direction recommended by the Committee of Scientists for land management planning on national forests. Its attempt to provide agencies the discretion to bypass existing information gathering requirements on wildlife resources prior to making land management planning and activity decisions undermines the very ability to arrive at scientifically credible conservation strategies. Section 329 is not the first "don’t ask, don’t tell" rider offered in an attempt to allow the government to forego the collection and consideration of important scientific information. The 1995 salvage logging rider also adopted this approach in some significant ways with harsh results for government accountability and ultimate credibility.

  • Sec. 330: Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Project
  • - would require that the Secretaries to prepare a report prior to the publication of the Project’s final EIS. This requirement will divert needed funding that is needed to complete the final EIS and is another in a long series of congressional attempts to undermine the analysis of the ecological conditions that prevail in the Interior Columbia Basin due to the excessive logging and grazing on federal lands.

  • Sec. 335: Stewardship End Result Contracting Demonstration Project
  • - is a continuation of the "Rider" contained in the FY 1999 Interior Appropriations Act that would permit the Forest Service to contract with private entities to perform services to achieve land management goals in national forests in Idaho and Montana, and in the Umatilla National Forest in Oregon. Land management goals include a variety of activities such as restoration of wildlife and fish habitat, noncommercial cutting or removal of trees to reduce fire hazards, and control of exotic weeds. While the stated land management goals, provision for multi-year contracts, and annual reporting requirements are worthy, there are three major drawbacks contained in the language of the FY 1999 law: undefined community roles, the lack of provisions for monitoring and oversight, and the funding mechanism for desired work. This provision was added at the request of Senator Conrad Burns in Subcommittee.

  • Weaken 1872 Mining Law
  • - would weaken the 1872 Mining Law to allow certain mining operations to dump more toxic mining wastes on federal public land. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), supported by Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), attached this rider in Subcommittee markup. The 1872 mining law states that for every 20- acre mineral claim, mining companies are allowed one, and only one, 5- acre site for the processing or dumping of mine wastes. The Reid rider lets mines that have already been approved (whether or not they are yet in operation) and all grandfathered "patent" applications (applications to buy federal land for $2.50 to $5.00 an acre) to simply ignore that portion of the law, and to use an unlimited amount of federal public land as a waste dump. In full committee mark up (6/24) Sen. Craig successfully attached an amendment which expanded the Reid rider to permanently override this same section of the 1872 Mining Law.

  • Preserve Subsidies for Oil Industry
  • - would further delay the long awaited Oil Valuation Rule from going into effect, thus allowing oil and gas industries to dodge millions of dollars in oil royalties until October 2000. This rider was successfully attached in the full committee mark-up (6/24) by Senators Domenici (R-NM) and Hutchison (R-TX). The Oil Valuation Rule, which has been subject to more than two years of comments and discussion was scheduled to go into effect last year.

    This list was compiled by Defenders of Wildlife using write-ups received from numerous groups in the conservation community.

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    Contact(s):

    Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270