Obama clarifies succession to leadership at several environmental, science policy agencies

As is customary at the end of a President’s tenure, Barack Obama issued several executive orders and memoranda late last week that clarify the succession of leadership at federal agencies. Included were directives affecting the Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Environmental Protection Agency.

The question of EPA’s leadership succession was the only one of the three to be addressed via executive order. Obama set out sixteen potential chief managers of the agency in the event the administrator or deputy administrator dies or resigns.

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Gina McCarthy has been the 13th administrator of EPA since July 2013. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

While current administrator Gina McCarthy and acting deputy administrator Stan Meiburg have not said that they will leave office before noon on Friday – the time and date on which Obama’s administration ends – their successors may not be confirmed by the Senate before then.

EPA has not had a permanent deputy administrator since August 2014, when two-decade agency veteran Bob Perciasepe resigned to lead an environmental advocacy organization.

President-elect Donald J. Trump has nominated Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to lead EPA. Pruitt’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are scheduled to begin on Jan. 18.

Once McCarthy leaves office on Friday, and if Meiburg also exits, then the succession at EPA will progress through the agency’s general counsel and then the assistant administrators for the Offices of Solid Waste, Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Air and Radiation, Water, and Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

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Christy Goldfuss has led CEQ since 2015. Image courtesy The White House.

The Council on Environmental Quality, which is part of the Executive Office of the President, has not had a chairperson in place since Michael Boots resigned in March 2015.

Obama’s memoranda of Jan. 13 provides that the organization’s managing director, chief of staff, general counsel, associate director for National Environmental Policy Act, and, finally, other associate directors in order of appointment will succeed to its leadership.

Current managing director Christy Goldfuss has been leading CEQ since Boots left the White House staff. She is a former deputy director of the National Park Service and once worked as a staff member for the House Committee on Natural Resources.

The CEQ chair is subject to Senate confirmation.

Obama also ordered Friday that the associate directors for national security and international affairs, technology, science, and environment and energy will succeed, in that order, current OSTP director John P. Holdren if a new director is not in place by noon on Jan. 20.

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Dr. John P. Holdren, a physicist and aerospace engineer, has led OSTP since 2009. Image courtesy The White House.

If the associate directors are no longer in office at that time, then OSTP’s chief of staff, deputy chief of staff and assistant director, and general counsel would be next in line.

Like CEQ, OSTP is part of the White House staff. Its director is also subject to Senate confirmation.

Trump has not named the next OSTP director.

Updated Spreadsheet of Obama National Monument Designations and Expansions

President Barack Obama has designated or increased the size of 34 national monuments. This spreadsheet provides details:

National Monument Date Established or Enlarged Land or Marine? State or Territory Size (acres) Agency Notes Link to Proclamation Link to White House Fact Sheet
Basin and Range 7/10/2015 Land Nevada 704,000 BLM https://tinyurl.com/jfqgpyy https://tinyurl.com/zyjenj9
Bears Ears 12/28/2016 Land Utah 1,350,000 BLM/USDA Forest Service https://tinyurl.com/j5rfg4h https://tinyurl.com/jfty68p
Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality 4/12/2016 Land Washington, D.C. <1 NPS https://tinyurl.com/zn73ju3 https://tinyurl.com/q99tgx4
Berryessa Snow Mountain 7/10/2015 Land California 330,380 BLM/USDA Forest Service https://tinyurl.com/j7ujohj https://tinyurl.com/zyjenj9
Birmingham Civil Rights 1/12/2017 Land Alabama 1 NPS https://tinyurl.com/hc2vlco https://tinyurl.com/z2knqsz
Browns Canyon 2/1/2015 Land Colorado 21,586 BLM/USDA Forest Service https://tinyurl.com/jndlox3 https://tinyurl.com/pe4oa54
California Coastal 1/12/2017 Land California 6,230 BLM enlargement of California Coastal National Monument https://tinyurl.com/j4dx5qk https://tinyurl.com/z2knqsz
Cascade-Siskiyou 1/12/2017 Land Oregon 48,000 BLM enlargement of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument https://tinyurl.com/z9f63hj https://tinyurl.com/z2knqsz
Castle Mountains 2/12/2016 Land California 30,920 NPS https://tinyurl.com/hkd4c83 https://tinyurl.com/j5azhsc
Cesar Estrada Chavez 10/8/2012 Land California 11 NPS https://tinyurl.com/hfbamyr
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers 3/25/2013 Land Ohio 60 NPS https://tinyurl.com/h6vztnb
Chimney Rock 9/21/2012 Land Colorado 4,722 USDA Forest Service https://tinyurl.com/zna8345
First State Historical Park 3/25/2013 Land Delaware 1,108 NPS https://tinyurl.com/z9gmybq
Fort Monroe 11/1/2011 Land Virginia 325 NPS https://tinyurl.com/h8wz4rt
Fort Ord 4/20/2012 Land California 14,651 BLM https://tinyurl.com/j5oae3s
Freedom Riders 1/12/2017 Land Alabama 6 NPS https://tinyurl.com/jt7jh3p https://tinyurl.com/z2knqsz
Gold Butte 12/28/2016 Land Nevada 300,000 BLM https://tinyurl.com/jrdstc7 https://tinyurl.com/jfty68p
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad 3/25/2013 Land Maryland 11,750 NPS https://tinyurl.com/hrvfhvr
Honouliuli 2/9/2015 Land Hawaii 123 NPS https://tinyurl.com/gq4t6j3 https://tinyurl.com/pe4oa54
Katahdin Woods & Waters 8/24/2016 Land Maine 87,563 NPS on land donated to U.S. government https://tinyurl.com/jjp3fbf https://tinyurl.com/jj69h23
Mojave Trails 2/12/2016 Land California 1,600,000 BLM https://tinyurl.com/gm7ykkn https://tinyurl.com/j5azhsc
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts 9/15/2016 Marine Massachusetts – Atlantic 4,913 NOAA/USFWS https://tinyurl.com/zhssztt
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks 5/21/2014 Land New Mexico 496,330 BLM https://tinyurl.com/zvt9owo
Pacific Remote Islands 9/25/2014 Marine Guam – Pacific NOAA/USFWS enlarged from 86,888 to 408,301 sq. mi. https://tinyurl.com/zxlwtdm
Papahānaumokuākea 8/26/2016 Marine Hawaii USFWS, Hawaii enlarged from 140,000 to 582,578 sq. mi. https://tinyurl.com/z5bvc2o https://tinyurl.com/j6bjjzr
Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands 3/11/2014 Land California 1,665 BLM enlargement of California Coastal National Monument https://tinyurl.com/jafyea2
Prehistoric Trackways 3/30/2009 Land New Mexico 5,255 BLM legislation
Pullman 2/19/2015 Land Illinois 203 NPS https://tinyurl.com/hr2uleo https://tinyurl.com/pe4oa54
Reconstruction Era 1/12/2017 Land South Carolina 16 NPS https://tinyurl.com/z56stzf https://tinyurl.com/z2knqsz
Rio Grande del Norte 3/25/2013 Land New Mexico 242,555 BLM https://tinyurl.com/h6ordoo
San Gabriel Mountains 10/10/2014 Land California 346,177 USDA Forest Service https://tinyurl.com/z3harl7
San Juan Islands 10/8/2012 Land Washington 970 BLM https://tinyurl.com/zaeeqky
Sand to Snow 2/12/2016 Land California 154,000 BLM/USDA Forest Service https://tinyurl.com/gqkgeb6 https://tinyurl.com/j5azhsc
Stonewall 6/24/2016 Land New York 8 Private https://tinyurl.com/jne54kz
Tule Springs Fossil Beds 12/19/2014 Land Nevada 22,650 NPS legislation
Waco Mammoth 7/10/2015 Land Texas 7 NPS, City of Waco, Baylor University https://tinyurl.com/j9o3qca https://tinyurl.com/zyjenj9

Obama expands two western national monuments, sets aside preserves to recognize history of quest for racial justice

President Barack Obama, acting as his time in office winds down to further his noteworthy record of advancing public land conservation, moved Thursday to enlarge two existing national monuments in the West and established three national monuments in the South to recognize the long struggle for racial equality in the United States.

Obama adjusted the boundaries of California Coastal National Monument in California and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon and northern California. Both national monuments are on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior.

“The BLM manages some of the nation’s wildest and most sacred landscapes, including more than 800 areas that have been protected through congressional and presidential action,” Neil Kornze, the director of BLM, said. “We’re proud to be charged with stewarding these incredible lands for future generations, including today’s additions to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and the California Coastal National Monument. The BLM looks forward to continuing and expanding our work with local communities to ensure successful management of these special places.”

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California Coastal National Monument. Image courtesy BLM, photo by Bob Wick.

Obama’s proclamation expanding California Coastal National Monument tracked the language of the American Antiquities Act of 1906 and pointed to the “historic or scientific interest” of six areas that will now be included in it: Trinidad Head, Waluplh-Lighthouse Ranch, Lost Coast Headlands, Cotoni-Coast Dairies, Piedras Blancas, and Orange County Rocks and Islands. The first three of those listed sites are in Humboldt County, the core of the Golden State’s “Redwood Coast,” while the others are located, respectively, in Santa Cruz County, San Luis Obispo County, and Orange County.

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Trinidad Head appears on the upper right of this photograph. Image courtesy Wikimedia, photo by TrinidadMike.

Trinidad Head, in Humboldt County, is a high promontory known as the site where Spanish explorers landed in June 1775 to claim the land now known as California for King Charles III. Portuguese sailors had discovered the site even earlier, in 1595.

The site has been the location of a picturesque lighthouse since  1871 and now also serves as location for scientific research. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration established a meteorological laboratory there in 2002, while NASA has studied trace atmospheric gases from the location since 1995. Thirteen acres of the site are now included within the boundaries of California Coastal National Monument.

Waluplh-Lighthouse Ranch is 12 miles south of Eureka. A property of high ancestral significance to the Wyot Tribe, it was used by the U.S. Coast Guard beginning in the late 1800s. The military developed a base for coastal lookout operations there during the 1940s, but now there are no buildings on the site. Visitors to the property can see the Pacific Ocean, Eel River Delta, and south spit of Humboldt Bay.

lost-coast-headlands-photo-courtesy-blm-photo-by-bob-wick
This photo shows some of the remote Lost Coast Headlands in central California. Image courtesy BLM, photo by Bob Wick.

The Lost Coast Headlands are located 13 miles south of Waluph-Lighthouse Ranch. They are of geological value because the sedimentary rock underneath the hills, bluffs, and forests include marine fossils dating from Pleistocene Epoch. The areas’s biodiversity includes bobcats, gray fox, and mountain lions, as well as a variety of raptors, a steelhead run, and a population of threatened California red-legged frogs.

Named for an area bypassed by U.S. Highway 1, the Lost Coast area of which the headlands are part lost population beginning in the 1930s. The nearby Sinkyone Wilderness State Park and King Range National Conservation Area also aim to preserve the scenic region, known for its black sand beaches, spectacular vistas and tall redwood trees.

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This photo provides a view of the coastal lands of the Cotoni-Coast Dairies property now included within California Coastal National Monument. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

Most of the land known as Santa Cruz County’s Cotoni-Coast Dairies are not now open to the public. The 5,785-acre property was obtained by The Trust for Public Land in 1998. That organization then donated 407 acres to California State Parks and most of the rest to BLM in 2014.

The Cotoni-Coast Diaries property spans six watersheds, all of which are considered to be viable Pacific salmon habitat. Three of the streams on the property – Laguna Creek, Liddell Creek, and San Vicente Creek – actually host salmon or steelhead spawners.  The mammal population is also diverse. As described in Obama’s proclamation:

“The diversity of the uplands vegetation in Cotoni-Coast Dairies supports a rich wildlife community including a vast and varied mammalian population. Among the many species inhabiting Cotoni-Coast Dairies are California voles, dusky-footed woodrats, black-tailed jackrabbits, mule deer, and gray fox. Evidence also suggests that both bobcats and mountain lions hunt here.

“Visitors to Cotoni-Coast Dairies may be able to catch a glimpse of a variety of avian species, including black swifts, orange crowned warblers, American kestrels, Cooper’s hawks, white-tailed kites, and peregrine falcons. In the riparian areas, one may encounter Wilson’s warblers, downy woodpeckers, and tree swallows, among others. Various bat species, including the Townsend’s big-eared bat, can be seen darting overhead at dusk.”

The land given by The Trust for Public Land to California was later opened to the public as Coast Dairies State Park.

elephant-seals-at-piedras-blancas-photo-courtesy-scripps-institute-of-oceanography-photo-by-wolf-berger
Elephant seals rest on the beach at Piedras Blancas. Image courtesy Scripps Institute of Oceanography, photo by Wolf Berger.

Piedras Blancas, about 40 miles north of San Luis Obispo, is known for its elephant seal rookery and its historic lighthouse. The site has long been important to native Americans because, for at least 3,000 years, it was a location for trading between different cultures. The explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo claimed it for Spain in 1542 and, three-plus centuries later, a lighthouse was built there in the 1870s.

Elephant seals are not the only pinniped visitors to Piedras Blancas. California sea lions and harbor seals are also common there. Whales and dolphins can be seen from the beaches. The region also serves as habitat for a variety of birds, amphibians, and reptiles and boasts a broad array of plants, including at least 70 native species.

The sixth area included in Obama’s expansion of California Coastal National Monument is in southern California. The Orange County Rocks and Islands are important habitat for a variety of sea birds, including the formerly endangered brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), and marine mammals. They also provide a unique view of coastal geology for visitors to the coast.

Designated by Congress during the 1930s as sites for lighthouses, the Orange County Rocks and Islands were the only offshore California lands that had not previously been included in the California Coastal National Monument.

California Coastal National Monument was established in 2000 by President William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton’s proclamation emphasized that his decision to create the preserve was motivated principally by a desire to protect marine wildlife habitat.

Obama expanded the monument in March 2014 to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, a scenic coastal area in Mendocino County that includes dunes, prairies, riverbanks, shelves, tidepools, and the mouth of the Garcia River.

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Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Image courtesy BLM.

Obama’s other national monument expansion announced Thursday impacts another Clinton-era designation. The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, first set aside in 2000, is now about 48,000 acres larger.

Focusing on the region’s significance to an array of wildlife, Obama’s Jan. 12 proclamation explained that the uniquely abundant biodiversity in the Cascade-Siskiyou region provided a convincing reason for the expansion:

“Cascade-Siskiyou’s biodiversity, which provides habitat for a dazzling array of species, is internationally recognized and has been studied extensively by ecologists, evolutionary biologists, botanists, entomologists, and wildlife biologists. Ranging from high slopes of Shasta red fir to lower elevations with Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, incense cedar, and oak savannas, the topography and elevation gradient of the area has helped create stunningly diverse ecosystems. From ancient and mixed-aged conifer and hardwood forests to chaparral, oak woodlands, wet meadows, shrublands, fens, and open native perennial grasslands, the landscape harbors extraordinarily varied and diverse plant communities. Among these are threatened and endangered plant species and habitat for numerous other rare and endemic species.”

The President also highlighted the imperative of providing space for animal populations to move, specifically mentioning the major features that will now be included in the national monument: Horseshoe Ranch, the Jenny Creek watershed, the Grizzly Peak area, Lost Lake, the Rogue Valley foothills, the Southern Cascades area, and the area surrounding Surveyor Mountain.

Among the many species found in this area are hundreds of flowering plants, several ferns, and at least six trees. Obama also cited the presence of 14 raptors, including the threatened northern spotted owl, a large variety of songbirds and avians dependent on marshes and other freshwater resources, and a long list of amphibians, fish, invertebrates, mammals, and reptiles.

Obama also noted the region’s significance to native Americans and as a path for the Applegate Trail.

The two western national monument expansions were not Thursday’s only invocations of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Obama also set aside three small national monuments in the south.

Each is aimed at  commemorating the sites of important events in the nation’s long quest for equal justice and equal rights and all three will be managed by the National Park Service.

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This photo shows the Freedom Riders bus in flames following an attack on African-Americans working to secure their Constitutional rights. Image courtesy National Park Service.

The Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, in Birmingham, Ala., and the Freedom Riders National Monument, in Anniston, Ala., pay homage to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, while Reconstruction Era National Monument in becomes the only component of the National Park System that aims to build public awareness of the post-Civil War era in which the federal government worked to integrate freed slaves into the national political and economic fabric.

“African-American history is American history and these monuments are testament to the people and places on the front-lines of our entire nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” U.S. secretary of interior Sally Jewell said. “Now the National Park Service, America’s Storyteller, will forever be responsible for safeguarding the narrative of not only the sparks that ignited the Civil Rights movement but also the hope of the Reconstruction Era, which for far too long, has been neglected from our national conscience.”

With Thursday’s announcements Obama became the most prolific land and water conservationist of all American chief executives. He has designated or increased the size of 34 national monuments during his eight-year tenure, two more than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The total amount of acreage, including both land and ocean-based national monuments, that Obama has preserved is in excess of 550 million acres.

 

Obama administration denies seismic testing permits, needed for oil exploration, in bid to protect marine life

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management decided Friday to turn aside six applications for permits that would allow seismic testing for fossil fuel deposits beneath the Atlantic Ocean.

BOEM, an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior, specifically cited the possibility that sonic harm might come to ocean animals as a reason for its action.

“In the present circumstances and guided by an abundance of caution, we believe that the value of obtaining the geophysical and geological information from new airgun seismic surveys in the Atlantic does not outweigh the potential risks of those surveys’ acoustic pulse impacts on marine life,” the agency’s director, Abigail Ross Hopper, said in a statement.

BOEM also pointed to the recently-finalized 2017-2022 plan for leasing mineral deposits on the nation’s outer continental shelf. That plan excludes the two regions in the Atlantic Ocean in which the seismic testing would occur.

The applicants denied permits for geological and geophysical testing included TGS, GX Technology Corp., WesternGeco LLC, CGG Services (US), Inc., Spectrum Geo, Inc., and PGS. All six entities primarily serve the oil and gas industry by assisting with exploration activities.

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This graphic shows how seismic surveying at sea is done. Map courtesy U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Geological and geophysical surveys using airguns are performed because they assist fossil fuel exploration firms to determine an area’s stratigraphy, variety and location of rocks, and geologic structure.

Airguns allow observation to a depth of several thousand meters below the ocean floor. They explode from a position behind an exploration vessel every 10-15 seconds.

BOEM had previously consulted with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, as required by the Endangered Species Act, during the course of preparing an environmental impact statement on its Atlantic seismic surveying permit program. There are  several marine species in the area in which the seismic surveys would have been conducted that are on the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

“Sonic blasting causes tremendous harm to endangered whales and fish,” Michael Jasny, the director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at Natural Resources Defense Council, said.

Jasny went on to explain that use of seismic airguns “is known to disrupt foraging and other vital behaviors in endangered whales, displace fish, and harm commercial fisheries over vast areas of the ocean.”

BOEM had previously estimated that issuance of the six permits would result in millions of incidents of harassment of whales and dolphins during a five-year period. In the case of sperm whales, it is possible that hundreds of individuals could lose their ability to hunt, navigate in the ocean, and communicate with others in the species if the seismic surveys proceeded.

BOEM has acknowledged that the airguns can cause hearing loss and death in whales and fish.

 

Barrasso, Murkowski tell Politico Morning Energy of some GOP plans for energy, environmental policies

A Congressional attack on President Barack Obama’s recent use of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to block oil exploration in the Arctic and on the Atlantic seaboard is coming. So are Congressional Review Act efforts to nullify sundry other Obama administration environmental protection rules.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told Politico Morning Energy Friday that “her team” is examining methods to overturn Obama’s Dec. 20 OCSLA decision.

“We think we can make the argument that it does fall within review, but again that’s what the smart legal teams are doing,” she told the online publication.

Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyo., also spoke to Politico Morning Energy. He was quoted as saying that the GOP Congress would take an “opposite approach” when it comes to environmental policy and that the CRA would be deployed to go after at least a few regulations.

Barrasso is the new chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.

Murkowski told the magazine that her staff at the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which she chairs, have built a “laundry list” of possible regulations for which CRA nullification would be attempted.

National monument designations, 2009-2017

National Monument Date Established or Enlarged Land or Marine? State, Territory, or Ocean Size (acres) Notes Link to Proclamation
Basin and Range 7/10/2015 Land Nevada 704,000 https://tinyurl.com/jfqgpyy
Bears Ears 12/28/2016 Land Utah 1,350,000 https://tinyurl.com/j5rfg4h
Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality 4/12/2016 Land Washington, D.C. <1 https://tinyurl.com/zn73ju3
Berryessa Snow Mountain 7/10/2015 Land California 330,380 https://tinyurl.com/j7ujohj
Browns Canyon 2/1/2015 Land Colorado 21,586 https://tinyurl.com/jndlox3
Castle Mountains 2/12/2016 Land California 30,920 https://tinyurl.com/hkd4c83
Cesar Estrada Chavez 10/8/2012 Land California 11 https://tinyurl.com/hfbamyr
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers 3/25/2013 Land Ohio 60 https://tinyurl.com/h6vztnb
Chimney Rock 9/21/2012 Land Colorado 4,722 https://tinyurl.com/zna8345
First State Historical Park 3/25/2013 Land Delaware 1,108 https://tinyurl.com/z9gmybq
Fort Monroe 11/1/2011 Land Virginia 325 https://tinyurl.com/h8wz4rt
Fort Ord 4/20/2012 Land California 14,651 https://tinyurl.com/j5oae3s
Gold Butte 12/28/2016 Land Nevada 300,000 https://tinyurl.com/jrdstc7
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad 3/25/2013 Land Maryland 11,750 https://tinyurl.com/hrvfhvr
Honouliuliu 2/9/2015 Land Hawaii 123 https://tinyurl.com/gq4t6j3
Katahdin Woods and Waters 8/24/2016 Land Maine 87,563 https://tinyurl.com/jjp3fbf
Mojave Trails 2/12/2016 Land California 1,600,000 https://tinyurl.com/gm7ykkn
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts 9/15/2016 Marine Massachusetts – Atlantic 4,913 https://tinyurl.com/zhssztt
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks 5/21/2014 Land New Mexico 496,330 https://tinyurl.com/zvt9owo
Pacific Remote Islands 9/25/2014 Marine Guam – Pacific enlarged from 86,888 to 408,301 sq. mi. https://tinyurl.com/zxlwtdm
Papahānaumokuākea 8/26/2016 Marine Hawaii – Pacific enlarged from 140,000 to 582,578 sq. mi. https://tinyurl.com/z5bvc2o
Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands 3/11/2014 Land California 1,665 enlargement of California Coastal National Monument https://tinyurl.com/jafyea2
Prehistoric Trackways 3/30/2009 Land New Mexico 5,255 legislation
Pullman 2/19/2015 Land Illinois 203 https://tinyurl.com/hr2uleo
Rio Grande del Norte 3/25/2013 Land New Mexico 242,555 https://tinyurl.com/h6ordoo
San Gabriel Mountains 10/10/2014 Land California 346,177 https://tinyurl.com/z3harl7
San Juan Islands 10/8/2012 Land Washington 970 https://tinyurl.com/zaeeqky
Sand to Snow 2/12/2016 Land California 154,000 https://tinyurl.com/gqkgeb6
Stonewall 6/24/2016 Land New York 8 https://tinyurl.com/jne54kz
Tule Springs Fossil Beds 12/19/2014 Land Nevada 22,650 legislation
Waco Mammoth 7/10/2015 Land Texas 7 https://tinyurl.com/j9o3qca

Obama declares national monuments in Nevada and Utah

President Barack Obama gave a late Christmas present to environmental protection advocates and Native American tribes by declaring federal land in Nevada and Utah as national monuments.

The Dec. 28 move by the White House covers about 1.64 million acres of Bureau of Land Management and USDA Forest Service land. Included are about 300,000 acres in Nevada and about 1.35 million acres in southeastern Utah.

“Today’s actions will help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes,” Obama said in a statement.

gold-butte-national-monument-map
This map of the new Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada shows its close proximity to the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona and Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Map courtesy U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The new Nevada preserve, to be known as Gold Butte National Monument, is in Clark County, northeast of Las Vegas. A fact sheet released by the White House pointed to its importance as a connective corridor between Lake Mead Recreation Area and Grand Canyon-Parishant National Monument in northern Arizona.

Obama, in the formal proclamation creating the national monument, specifically highlighted the area’s Native American artifacts, 19th century ranch buildings, artifacts from the Spanish exploration of the area centuries ago, fossilized dinosaur tracks, and wildlife habitat.

“The Gold Butte area contains an extraordinary variety of diverse and irreplaceable scientific, historic, and prehistoric resources, including vital plant and wildlife habitat, significant geological formations, rare fossils, important sites from the history of Native Americans, and remnants of our Western mining and ranching heritage. The landscape reveals a story of thousands of years of human interaction with this harsh environment and provides a rare glimpse into the lives of Nevada’s first inhabitants, the rich and varied indigenous cultures that followed, and the eventual arrival of Euro-American settlers. Canyons and intricate rock formations are a stunning backdrop to the area’s famously beautiful rock art, and the desert provides critical habitat for the threatened Mojave desert tortoise.”

– Presidential Proclamation: Establishment of the Gold Butte National Monument, Dec. 28, 2016

Among the species that will benefit from the increased restrictions on natural resource use that comes with the national monument designation are Mojave desert tortoise, mountain lions, and desert bighorn sheep.

The designation of Gold Butte National Monument was pushed for many years by outgoing U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Reid said in a statement that the new national monument represents what “Nevada once was.”

gold-butte-national-monument-photo-by-wendy-harrell-courtesy-blm
This photo shows some of the land included in the new Gold Butte National Monument. Image courtesy U.S. Bureau of Land Management, photo by Wendy Harrell.

Gold Butte National Monument is the third one to be designated by Obama in Nevada.

In July 2015 the President designated Basin and Range National Monument there. That preserve includes 704,000 acres in two remote southeastern counties.

In 2014 Obama declared the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, which encompasses 22,650 acres of land containing Ice Age-vintage paleontological artifacts.

The Utah preserve will be known as Bears Ears National Monument.

Named for two buttes that have similar names in several Native American languages, the protection of cultural artifacts the new national monument affords has been avidly sought by the region’s tribes for at least eight decades.

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The Bears Ears buttes are the namesake of a new national monument in Utah. Photo courtesy Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, photo by Tim Peterson.

More than two dozen tribes, representing native Americans across the U.S, had asked Obama to preserve about 1.9 million acres in the Bears Ears area.

Long heralded as one of the few remaining unspoiled areas in the West, the region has experienced a significant increase in vandalism and looting of sacred sites. The  National Trust for Historic Preservation named it one of the 11 most endangered historic sites in the U.S. last year, specifically noting that BLM has lacked both funds and staff needed to protect its archaeological resources.

Obama’s proclamation establishing the preserve paid homage to the area’s importance to the country’s indigenous peoples:

“For hundreds of generations, native peoples lived in the surrounding deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and meadow mountaintops, which constitute one of the densest and most significant cultural landscapes in the United States. Abundant rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, and countless other artifacts provide an extraordinary archaeological and cultural record that is important to us all, but most notably the land is profoundly sacred to many Native American tribehttps://wordpress.com/post/naturalresourcestoday.org/4571s, including the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Hopi Nation, and Zuni Tribe.”

– Presidential Proclamation: Establishment of the Bears Ears National Monument, Dec. 28, 2016

At the core of Bears Ears National Monument is Cedar Mesa, which includes at least 56,000 cultural artifacts, the vistas of Muley Point, and the origin of at least twelve canyons. Some of the native artifacts there date back at least 12,000 years.

muley-point-looking-south-photo-courtesy-wikimedia
This photo shows the vista from Muley Point, looking toward the south. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

In addition to the Bears Ears buttes, the new national monument includes the Abajo Mountains and Elk Ridge, Beef Basin, Chimney Rocks, Comb Ridge, Indian Creek and Harts Draw, Moqui Canyon, Mancos Mesa, Nokai Dome, Red Canyon, Valley of the Gods, White Canyon, and the confluence of the San Juan and Colorado rivers.

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This map shows the proximity of Bears Ears National Monument to Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and several tribal nations. Map courtesy U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Obama’s proclamation also gave Native Americans a formal role in management of the new national monument, a first under the Antiquities Act, by establishing a commission of tribal leaders to advise BLM and USDA Forest Service land managers in the region.

Bears Ears National Monument will protect more than cultural assets. The area also includes arches, canyons, hoodoos, and natural bridges, making it geologically unique, as well as fossils that extend from Earth’s Permian period through the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras of geologic time.

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This image shows petroglyphs on Comb Ridge. Photo courtesy Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, photo by Josh Ewing.

Environmentalists, too, lauded Obama’s move.

In preserving the iconic Bears Ears, President Obama has made conservation history,” Rhea Suh, the president of Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “These lands will now be safe from mining, drilling and other threats.”

Opponents of Bears Ears National Monument, including Republicans in the Utah Congressional delegation, promised a fight over the designation.

Rep. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, both of whom represent rural regions of the Beehive State, introduced in a bill during the 114th Congress that would have set aside some of the Bears Ears region as wilderness. Native American leaders did not support it, however, after concluding that their perspective was not being considered by the two anti-public land congressmen.

Bishop and Chaffetz incorporated their “Public Lands Initiative” into a bill, H.R. 5780, that cleared the House Natural Resources Committee but did not receive a floor vote. It is not clear whether it could pass the U.S. Senate, though Utah’s two senators have also expressed opposition to Obama’s move.

Deseret News reported Dec. 29 that Chaffetz, in his role as chair of the House Oversight and Government Operations Committee, demanded that the administration turn over documents relating to the designation of both Bears Ears National Monument and Gold Butte National Monument.

The state’s attorney general also announced on Dec. 28 that he would sue in an effort to obtain a federal court order overturning Obama’s action in creating Bears Ears National Monument.

No obvious precedent indicates that such a lawsuit would succeed. The U.S. Supreme Court has, on several occasions, upheld unilateral Presidential authority to designate national monuments, even in cases of large swaths of public land such as the Bears Ears region.

Obama has now designated or increased the size of 29 national monuments that include more than 550 million acres of land or sea. He has made the second-most use of the Antiquities Act of 1906, following only President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Obama blocks oil drilling in Arctic, part of Atlantic oceans

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This photograph of a polar bear, one of the wildlife species that may benefit from President Barack Obama’s decision, was taken by Terry DeBruhn. Image courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Relying on a statute from the 1950s, President Barack Obama moved Tuesday to permanently shut off the Arctic and a significant portion of the Atlantic oceans along the nation’s coasts to oil and gas exploration.

The White House announced that Obama invoked authority granted by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to withdraw the Chukchi Sea Planning Area, most of the Beaufort Sea Planning Area, and 5,990 square miles of canyons in the Atlantic Ocean between New England and the Chesapeake Bay from fossil fuel activities.

Obama said in a statement that his decision was motivated by a desire to “protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth.”

“They reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited,” Obama explained. “By contrast, it would take decades to fully develop the production infrastructure necessary for any large-scale oil and gas leasing production in the region – at a time when we need to continue to move decisively away from fossil fuels.”

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Map courtesy U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

The OCLA was enacted in 1953. Section 12(a) of OCLA, 43 U.S.C. § 1341(a), provides that “[t]he President of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”

The statute imposes no constraints on the President’s authority to order such a withdrawal. In that way it is similar to the American Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives Presidents the power to declare national monuments.

In both cases, Congress delegated its power over federal property to the President, but the grant could well be interpreted by a federal court as a “one-way ratchet” that does not permit a later President to reverse a predecessor’s decision to withdraw OCSLA areas from energy exploration activities.

The reach of section 12(a) has not been tested in litigation.

John D. Leshy, a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and a former solicitor of the Department of Interior, told Atlantic Monthly that he believes Obama’s decision should be upheld in federal court if it is challenged by fossil fuel advocates.

“I think it was quite a realistic thing that Obama did, and it should be upheld—but who knows,” he said.

Congress could, of course, pass a bill reversing Obama’s move, but that legislation would have to clear a likely filibuster by U.S. Senate Democrats on the way to Trump’s desk.

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Map courtesy U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Presidents also have authority under OCLA to craft five-year exploration plans. Obama has used that tool, too, as a way of reducing the American fossil fuel footprint in sensitive marine areas.

On Nov. 18 the administration issued the final five-year OCLA lease program that covers the years 2017-2022. It proposes one sale in waters off Alaska, in Cook Inlet, and none in the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. The 2017-2022 lease program anticipates 10 sales of exploration rights in the Gulf of Mexico.

Canada also undertook action to ban future fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic on Dec. 20. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his country would impose the prohibition for five years.

“Canada is designating all Arctic Canadian waters as indefinitely off limits to future offshore Arctic oil and gas licensing, to be reviewed every 5 years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment,” Trudeau said in a joint statement by Canada and the U.S.

No Canadian oil and gas activity in the Arctic has occurred since 2006.

Alaska and other states retain authority to authorize oil drilling in the first three miles of ocean beyond their shores as management of those areas of the continental shelf are entrusted to them and is not subject to federal control.

Obama administration considering expansion of California Coastal National Monument

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This view is from the Stornetta Public Lands, added to the California Coastal National Monument by President Barack Obama in 2014. Image courtesy Bureau of Land Management, photo by Jim Pickering.

A senior official of the U.S. Department of Interior visited California last week to discuss a proposal to expand the California Coastal National Monument, indicating that the Obama administration may be considering a request by several of the state’s federal legislators to increase the preserve’s size.

Bureau of Land Management director Neil Kornze attended a forum in Cambria on Friday, along with U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and the leader of the state’s natural resources department, John Laird, to hear public input on the idea.

Kornze did not say whether the Department of Interior would recommend that President Barack Obama accept the suggestion by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Capps, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), and U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) to increase the size of CCNM by more than 6,000 acres.

“Designating each of these land areas as individual units of the larger National Monument will create a network of protected onshore federal coastal lands,” the Feb. 11 letter containing the proposal said. “These additions will provide improved access to the California Coastal National Monument and numerous benefits to the well-being of the land and neighboring communities, while providing important protections for these unique and historically important areas.”

The land suggested for the CCNM expansion is administered by BLM and is located along the coast in Humboldt, Santa Cruz, and San Luis Obispo counties. Acreage that includes the Piedras Blancas Light Station Outstanding Natural Area in San Luis Obispo County, Lighthouse Ranch and Trinidad Head in Humboldt County, the Cotoni-Coast Dairies in Santa Cruz County, and the Lost Coast Headlands would be part of the national monument if Obama accepts the recommendation.

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This image shows the view looking north from Lighthouse Ranch, toward the south spit of Humboldt Bay. Lighthouse Ranch is located on Table Bluff in Humboldt County, California. Image courtesy Bureau of Land Management.

Obama has the power to add to CCNM’s size. The American Antiquities Act of 1906 grants the chief executive the authority to designate public land that meets certain qualifications as part of a national monument:

“[T]he President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected . . . ”

CCNM was established by President William J. Clinton in 2000. Obama expanded it once before, in 2014, by adding 1,665 acres in Mendocino County.

Boxer and Capps are lead sponsors of legislation in both chambers of Congress that would give Congress’ imprimatur to the expansion they ask President Obama to proclaim. The bills are S. 1971 and H.R. 3565.

 

Interior secretary Jewell dismisses call to end federal fossil fuel leasing, disappoints environmentalists

The Obama administration’s chief public land and continental shelf manager did not have any encouraging words Wednesday about a proposal to end federal oil and coal leasing.

Responding informally to a letter from more than 400 organizations and individuals concerned about anthropogenic climate change that was delivered Tuesday to the White House, secretary of the interior Sally Jewell rejected the idea of eliminating fossil fuel production on the federal estate because the country “continues to be dependent on fossil fuels.”

“Right now, we are sitting under lights that are most likely powered by coal, in the East,” she said, according to The Hill newspaper. “Maybe some of you walked here, but most of you probably burned some fossil fuels in one way or another to get here. There are millions of jobs in this country that are dependent on these industries, and you can’t just cut it off overnight and expect to have an economy that is, in fact, the leader in the world.”

Environmental group leaders roundly criticized Jewell’s comments.

“This is a straw man, and Secretary Jewell knows it,” May Boeve, the executive director at 350.org said in a statement. “Absolutely no one is suggesting that we can end society’s reliance on fossil fuel use tomorrow, but that’s no excuse for failing to do our part today.”

Taylor McKinnon, a spokesperson for the Center for Biological Diversity, explained that current leasing plans account for “decades’ worth” of oil and coal, “more than can ever be safely burned.”

“The fact that society uses fossil fuels doesn’t obviate the need to quickly de-carbonize and stop digging them up,” McKinnon said. “Sixty-seven million acres of public land and ocean are already leased to industry. Those contain 43 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution. And this is atop 42 million more acres proposed by her agency on Friday.”

McKinnon was referring to two oil and gas exploration leases in the Gulf of Mexico that were proposed Sept. 11 by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

If approved, those leases could result in the production of at least 531 million barrels of oil and more than two trillion cubic feet of natural gas. They would cover more than 40 million acres off the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

A report released last month by Eco-Shift Consulting on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth concluded that combustion of the remaining fossil fuels available on the federal estate would result in the equivalent as much as 450 billion tons of carbon dioxide being discharged to the atmosphere.

“This is equivalent to 13 times global carbon emissions in 2014 or annual emissions from 118,000 coal-fired power plants,” the report said.

President Barack Obama probably does have the authority to terminate future fossil fuel leases, both on the public lands and offshore. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 gives the President essentially unilateral authority to remove areas of the OCS from oil and gas exploration and extraction activities, while the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 requires only some reporting and analysis requirements as a prerequisite to executive authority to remove Bureau of Land Management acreage from energy leasing.

The Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act of 1987 grants to BLM and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service discretion to decide whether to permit oil and gas leasing. Similarly, the Mineral Leasing Act, as amended by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, affords both the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture wide latitude on the question whether to allow coal mining on BLM and USDA Forest Service land:

“The secretary of the interior is authorized to divide any lands subject to this Act which have been classified for coal leasing into leasing tracts of such size as the secretary finds appropriate and in the public interests and which will permit the mining of all coal that can be economically extracted in such tract and thereafter the secretary shall, in his or her discretion, upon the request of any qualified applicant or on his or her own motion, from time to time, offer such lands for leasing and shall award leases thereon by competitive bidding.”

The federal public lands comprise about 650 million acres, while the continental shelf exceeds 1.7 billion acres. The amount of federal public land leased for oil, gas, and coal extraction is about 55 times as large as Grand Canyon National Park.

The Sept. 15 letter to Obama by the coalition writing under the name “Keep It in the Ground” argued that Washington will not be able to meet any meaningful international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if federal fossil fuel leasing is not terminated.

“The science is clear that, to maintain a good chance of avoiding catastrophic levels of warming, the world must keep the vast majority of its remaining fossil fuels in the ground,” the letter said. “Federal fossil fuels — those that you control — are the natural place to begin. Each new federal fossil fuel lease opens new deposits for development that should be deemed unburnable. By placing those deposits off limits, stopping new leasing would help align your administration’s energy policy with a safer climate future and global carbon budgets.”