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.

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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.

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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.

 

Bills to permanently block oil exploration off West Coast introduced

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Ocean waters near Heceta Head lighthouse in Oregon would be among those protected from fossil fuel exploration activity if a bill introduced by West Coast senators becomes law. Photo courtesy Wikimedia.

California’s senior U.S. senator has introduced a bill that would permanently block fossil fuel exploration on the outer continental shelf along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.

The measure, sponsored by veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was introduced Jan. 4.

In her comments on the Senate floor on the day she introduced S.31 Feinstein highlighted the huge economic impact of coastal counties in California, explaining that they produce 80 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, and said the likely close proximity of any drilling to the beaches makes offshore energy exploration too dangerous.

“The fact is that those of us on the Pacific coast do not want any further offshore oil or gas development,” Feinstein said.

Wildlife conservation concerns are a powerful argument against energy exploration off the Pacific Coast. Among the marine animals that may be adversely affected by oil and natural gas drilling are a variety of sea birds and fish, orcas, otters, salmon, seals, sea lions, and migratory whale species (including blue whales).

Those wildlife resources have previously been harmed by oil extraction in the Pacific.

In 1969 a spill near Santa Barbara polluted the Pacific Ocean with about 3.36 million gallons of crude. That incident remains the most severe oil spill in California’s history and the third-most severe spill in American history.

The Santa Barbara oil spill killed thousands of sea birds and many dolphins, elephant seals, and sea lions. The mortality rate among small marine organisms in the inter-tidal zone was as high as 90 percent.

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This graphic shows the extent of ocean and beach area impacted by the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. Map courtesy Wikimedia.

Despite the warning provided by the Santa Barbara oil spill, there are still 24 oil drilling platforms operating in ocean areas off the California coast.

In 1994 the Golden State’s legislature largely  precluded any future drilling leases in the six kilometer-wide band of Pacific waters under its regulatory control. The California Coastal Sanctuary Act allows leasing only if the “State Lands Commission determines that oil and gas deposits contained in tidelands are being drained by means of wells upon adjacent federal lands and leasing of the tidelands for oil or gas production is in the best interest of the State.”

The California State Senate passed a bill in 2015 that would have permanently banned all oil leases off the state’s coast. S.B. 788 was not considered by the state’s General Assembly (a body akin to the House of Representatives in most other states).

California’s State Lands Commission had stopped authorizing nearly all new leases after the Santa Barbara spill.

No fossil fuel exploration in waters of the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast subject to the federal Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act has occurred since 1981. Congress included bans on leasing off California’s coast, as well as offshore of several East Coast states, in annual appropriations bills until 2008.

U.S. Presidents also included California’s (along with Oregon’s and Washington’s) coastal waters in exclusions from leasing included in executive orders. Presidents George H.W. Bush, in June 1990, and William J. Clinton, in June 1998, imposed a ban through 2012.

President George W. Bush lifted that ban by revoking those executive orders on July 14,  2008. He also said that he would veto any bill that continued the practice of banning leases off the coast of California and several other states.

President Barack Obama’s administration has returned to the long-time practice of keeping energy exploration activities away from California’s coast. The most recent five-year leasing plan for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management precludes any leasing off the Pacific coast of the continental U.S. between 2017-2022.

The factors weighing against energy exploration off the coasts of Oregon and Washington are largely the same as in California.

According to one 2015 report, Oregon’s rural coast region had more than 21,000 jobs directly dependent on tourism, which also generated more than $1.8 billion in economic activity in that part of the state.

As for fishing, the value of the Beaver State’s commercial onshore fisheries was more than $136 million in 2015, according to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, while spending on recreational fishing in coastal counties exceeded $68 million in 2014.

Washington’s coastal economy is similarly dependent on tourism and fishing. In 2011 tourism and recreation contributed about $3.4 billion to the Evergreen State’s “ocean economy,” while fishing is responsible for at least 16,000 jobs and half of billion dollars of economic activity in Washington.

Pacific waters off the coasts of the two northwestern states have not generally been considered likely to produce significant oil resources. In 1964 the Department of Interior issued leases for 2,400 square kilometers of ocean areas off the coasts of Oregon and Washington. Oil companies drilled 13 test wells before those leases expired in 1969.

In 1977 the Department of Interior ranked Oregon and Washington as being lowest among all potential lease areas in the country for “resource potential.” That assessment was essentially confirmed by a 2009 report by Environment America and Sierra Club, which concluded that the amount of oil and natural gas off the Oregon and Washington coasts is “miniscule.”

“The planning area is estimated to contain (i.e., undiscovered economically recoverable resource) approximately 0.3 billion barrels of oil and 1.28 trillion cubic feet of natural gas at recent price estimates, representing about 0.6% of total OCS resources for both oil and gas. At recent prices and usage, the oil and natural gas economically available from the Washington/Oregon planning area could supply the nation with 15 days of oil and 20 days of natural gas with a value of $26 billion.”

Oregon and Washington have nevertheless moved to toughen their laws on offshore energy development.

In 2007 Oregon imposed a three-year moratorium on new exlporatory activity and then, in 2010, extended it for 10 more  years.

Washington law forbids marine oil exploration only in the area “extending from mean high tide seaward three miles along the Washington coast from Cape Flattery south to Cape Disappointment, nor in Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay, and the Columbia river downstream from the Longview bridge . . .”

Feinstein’s co-sponsors include all of the senators representing the three west coast states covered by her bill: Democrats Kamala Harris of California, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington.

The California senator’s effort to ban drilling off the Pacific coast is not the first attempt she has made. She has introduced similar bills in several previous Congresses. Nor is her bill the first Pacific coast state oil drilling ban to be co-sponsored by West Coast senators.

S.31 has been assigned to the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee for consideration. Cantwell and Wyden are members of that committee.

Similar legislation, known as the West Coast Ocean Protection Act, has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Democrat Jared Huffman of California and 13 co-sponsors. They include California Democratic Reps. John Garamendi, Derek Kilmer, Barbara Lee, Ted Lieu, Alan Lowenthal, Doris Matsui, Jimmy Panetta, Scott Peters, Jackie Speier, Eric Swalwell, and Mike Thompson, Oregon Democrats Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio, and Washington Democrat Suzan DelBene.

 

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.

House of Representatives clears REINS Act

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The Republican-dominated 115th Congress has launched an assault on the federal government’s system of regulation. A bill passed by the House of Representatives on Jan. 5 would require Congress to approve all administrative rules, including those that limit pollution. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

Republicans eager to take a wrecking ball to the system of administrative law in place for seven decades have moved the second of three bills central to that effort through the U.S. House of Representatives.

The majority GOP pushed through the proposed “Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act” Thursday on a 237-187 vote.

Before doing so legislators adopted several amendments, including one by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that subjects all existing regulations to the requirements that would be imposed by the bill and another by Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., that would require agencies to offset the costs of new regulations by repealing or amending those already in effect.

The House rejected Democratic amendments that would exempt regulations that affect children’s health, protect public health and safety, reduce the concentration of lead in drinking water, and assure the safety of children’s toys.

Affecting most regulations issued by federal agencies that might cost business at least $100 million per year in compliance costs, and establishing a 70-day period in which Congress either approves the rule or renders it void, the bill flips on its head the system by which Presidents and their appointees have administered statutes since the 1940s.

Under current law a regulation is valid unless Congress nullifies it, something that is possible to do but rarely accomplished.The existing system of law that governs the way in which all agencies write regulations also provides safeguards to assure that public opinion and appropriate commercial, scientific, or technical information is considered by agencies. The Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, provides for comment periods and required time intervals between proposed and final regulations. Judicial review of regulations is also available in most cases.

By delegating rulemaking to agencies staffed by professional civil service members, Congress has traditionally recognized that those federal government institutions and employees are better suited to write regulations that can often be technical in nature and involve extensive development of a factual record.

H.R. 26 reverses that longstanding approach and instead mandates that Congress, the most politically attuned entity of the federal government, deliberate and decide on the appropriateness or necessity of a regulation.

The bill would also severely limit the time available to Congress to accomplish the task. Aside from the 70-day approval limit, H.R. 26 would also limit the time of debate for any rule under consideration.

Given that it is not unusual for an administration to propose more regulations than there are legislative days in a Congressional session, it is likely that Congress would not be able to keep up with the flow of requests to approve new regulations.

Some critics say that H.R. 26 also sets up a potential constitutional crisis.

First, the measure might constitute an invasion by Congress of the President’s authority to “faithfully execute the laws,” as demanded by Article 2 of the Constitution.

Second, H.R. 26 would establish a form of a legal device called the legislative veto, which the Supreme Court has twice ruled unconstitutional. As explained by Professor Ronald M. Levin of Washington University in St. Louis, an expert on administrative law:

“The problem with the REINS Act is that, with regard to major rules, it would accomplish virtually the same result as the “traditional” one-house veto—namely, it would enable a single house of Congress to nullify an agency rule, regardless of the wishes of the other house, let alone the President. The question, then, is whether the Supreme Court would accept what amounts to a 180 degree change of direction if the one-house veto were repackaged in a different format, even though the risks of unchecked action by the legislative branch would be as great in the later version as in the earlier one. My suggestion is that it would not.”
Other constitutional law scholars have disagreed with this perspective, but at minimum the issue of the validity of the REINS Act would set off a long litigation battle that might pit a current or future President against Congress.

Finally, as David Goldston, a historian and former Congressional staff member now affiliated with Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote Jan. 4, it is possible a federal court would order a regulation to be issued by an agency even as Congress refuses to approve that regulation.

Under the Constitution, a court presumably can’t require Congress to act, so the statute could not be enforced,” Goldston wrote. “But it also would not actually have been repealed.”

The GOP’s first assault on the regulatory system during the 115th Congress came Jan. 4 as H.R. 21, the so-called Midnight Rules Relief Act, cleared the House of Representatives. That bill would give Congress the power to revoke, in one fell swoop, most regulations finalized by the Obama administration since May 2016.

A Senate version of the “Midnight Rules Relief Act” has been referred to that chamber’s Government Affairs and Homeland Security Committee. A militant regulation skeptic, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairs that committee.

Legislators in the U.S. Senate will also consider the proposed REINS Act. S.21 was introduced on Jan. 4 and is sponsored by Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky and 27 other senators.

President-elect Donald J. Trump has said that he will sign the proposed REINS Act if it reaches his desk.

The last bill in the Republicans’ anti-regulatory triumvirate is H.R. 5, which is styled as the “Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017.”

That measure would increase the procedural hurdles to rulemaking and forbid federal judges from deferring, in some circumstances, to agency interpretations of statutes.

COMMENTARY: Trump EPA transition team dominated by climate science deniers; nation and planet deserve better

When President-elect Donald J. Trump assumes office as the nation’s 45th chief executive in 15 days, he will gain the authority to determine, in large part, the extent to which the nation addresses the growing threat of anthropogenic climate change. His appointees to administer the nation’s Clean Air Act, the only U.S. statute available to force a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, will be in a position to continue the country’s recent progress in transitioning away from a destructive dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas for energy.

Unfortunately, the personnel entrusted by Trump to manage the transition to a new administration at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have instead demonstrated an eagerness to deny scientific knowledge about the impacts of human fossil fuel use on the planet’s atmosphere and oceans.

The chairperson of Trump’s EPA transition team, Myron Ebell, personifies the ignorance and stubbornness of the men and women who have invaded EPA’s offices in an apparent quest to turn the country’s anti-pollution agency into a booster of the fossil fuel industries.

Ebell, 63 and lacking any education or experience as a scientist, is fanatical in his denial of climate science. He has accused climatologists of being a “gang” that has “cooked the data.” He has said that the principal conclusions of climate science, namely that the atmosphere of our planet is warming and the oceans are acidifying, are “myths.” He has called advocates for a shift to clean energy “the forces of darkness,” intent upon “turning off the lights” on the rest of humanity.

Nor does Ebell’s hostility to knowledge end with climate science. He thinks EPA is too hard on pesticides, too. Ebell apparently endorses the fringe view that those compounds pose no significant health risks to humans and that they help wildlife, Rachel Carson and Silent Spring notwithstanding.

But Ebell is not the only anti-science radical who is even now plotting how to turn EPA into a cheerleader for more carbon dioxide and methane pollution and more pesticide poisoning of animals and man.

Amy Oliver Cooke, for example, is a former talk-show host who has said that her goal is “irritating the extreme eco-left.” Cooke works for the right-wing Independence Institute in Colorado, where she constantly cozies up to right-wing extremists in the Colorado General Assembly. Her Twitter feed is full of paens to fossil fuels, linking their use with patriotism, and attacks windmills as unaesthetic and useless decorations.

She then goes even further in her slavish devotion to the energy sources that are methodically damaging the planet’s hospitability to life. Cooke labels herself an “energy feminist,” as if helping to lower humanity’s capacity to grow food, increase floods in some areas and drought in others, and decimate biodiversity is something that represents womanhood at its enlightened best.

Then there’s Harlan Watson, a long-time Republican Congressional staff member and favorite of Exxon-Mobil.

Watson, who holds a doctorate in physics and a masters degree in economics, apparently never let his considerable education get in the way of obstructing an effective national climate change agenda. In 2005, as a State Department official, he told representatives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change gathered in Montreal that the U.S. saw no reason to do anything about greenhouse gas emissions. That followed appearances at other international conferences aimed at building cooperation in the quest to reduce the warming pollution of carbon dioxide.

Watson last worked as an actual scientist in January 1980, according to his LinkedIn profile. At that time, the clear and present danger of climate change was not as evident as it is now, or even as it had become by the time he became deputy assistant secretary of interior in 1989. Watson has worked for a whole slew of Republicans, in fact, including F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.

Sensenbrenner, the former Wisconsin representative, is known for his steadfast opposition to any international agreement to address climate change. A 2009 guide to Congressional staff quoted Watson as being in sync with Sensenbrenner’s stubborn refusal to address reality: it quoted Watson as saying that the Kyoto Agreement of 1998 was “a bad deal” for the United States. One must wonder whether Watson will broadcasting hostility toward the Paris Agreement to anyone in the new administration who will listen.

Next up is Christopher C. Horner, a lawyer with enough pretension to write not just one, but three, books that tell climate scientists they are all wrong. Those books, possibly facilitated with the help of the financial bounty showered on Horner by coal companies, have all been published by the conservative pillar Regnery. None acknowledge the cold – or should I say hot – reality of climate change: that humans are causing it, that it will severely impact our civilization, and that the extinction of all life on this planet is a possibility if we persist in our refusal to address it.

Horner seems to think it appropriate to use his education and license to practice law as tools to harass scientists, too. The eminent climatologist Michael Mann said in 2015 that Horner “has been instrumental in orchestrating the attacks on climate scientists over the past decade in the form of vexatious and frivolous [Freedom of Information Act] demands [and] efforts to force scientists to turn over all of their personal email.”

Just for good measure, Horner has also gone after Dr. James Hansen with a blizzard of unfounded slanders.

In 2009 he said on national television that Hansen “clearly abused his platform provided to him by the taxpayer, principally by the way he’s been exposed of manipulating and revising data with the strange coincidence of him always found on the side of exaggerating the warming.” Among the many other rhetorical broadsides he has aimed at honorable scientists, he has even accused Hansen of committing a crime: In 2011 he wrote that Hansen evaded his income tax obligations, a claim with no evidence at all to back it up.

Of course, not one word in any of those attacks on scientists is factually accurate.

Another extremist, anti-science “think tank” – the Heritage Foundation – is also represented among the Trumpsters that will soon take over EPA.

David W. Kreutzer wrote in a Sept. 2016 “backgrounder” co-authored with Kevin D. Dayaratna and Nicolas D. Loris that he thinks it’s time for the U.S. to “unleash” oil and gas production. That would seem to put him in tune with Mr. Trump’s oft-stated commitment to lessen or eliminate barriers to more fossil fuel activity in the United States.

Kreutzer is quite specific about how he would do that. He has said that Trump “should open all federal waters and federal lands that are not part of the national park system or congressionally designated areas to exploration and production for all of America’s natural resources.”

I added the emphasis in that statement because that one word – “all” – highlights the extremism in this opinion. Kreutzer seems to believe that even national monuments, marine preserves, and areas of the continental shelf that Presidents have withdrawn from energy exploration should be made available to the oil industry.

But that’s not all. Kreutzer also believes, if one takes his Sept. 2016 “backgrounder” seriously, that “Congress should require the Department of the Interior to conduct lease sales if a commercial interest exists.”

Again, I have added emphasis to the word “require.” If the Republican-dominated 115th Congress takes this advice, and Trump signs a bill that writes it into the U.S. code, we would see rigs along every part of the American coast, even in areas where it is aesthetically or biologically unsound to engage in drilling and even in areas where energy exploration would likely be catastrophically unsafe.

Oh, yes, there is at least one more example of Kreutzer’s over-the-top view about how to encourage even more fossil fuel production: He wants Washington to give states the authority to decide whether energy exploration can occur on federal lands within their borders. I’m sure that we’d see a whole lot of responsible consideration of environmental impacts in madly pro-fossil fuel states like Wyoming, North Dakota, and Alaska!

Just in case you have any doubt that Kreutzer is a climate science denier, note his comments in an interview with Steve Scully of C-SPAN last year. “Global warming is for real in that we’ve had global warming since the end of the last Ice Age,” Kreutzer said.

Now comes David Stevenson of the Caesar Rodney Institute. That’s an organization with clear and extensive financial ties to the fossil fuel-loving, climate science-denying, billionaire Koch brothers.

Stevenson has a bachelors degree in agricultural economics. This apparently qualifies him, at least in his own ideologue mind, to declare (as he did in Nov. 2015) that health-protective air quality regulations in Delaware are unnecessary and that the First State’s commitment to enforcing them makes it an “outlaw” agency.

George Sugiyama is another of Trump’s EPA minions.

A former chief counsel (and, therefore, close advisor) to Congress’ most infamous climate science denier, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, Sugiyama has also worked as a lobbyist for the National Mining Association.

Finally, there’s the college kid. Austin Lipari brings no apparent expertise in environmental law or policy, no obvious background in environmental health or toxicology, no known knowledge of climatology or any other scientific field that EPA considers as it applies the nation’s pollution laws.

Lipari does bring to the table membership in the Federalist Society, though. Apparently sympathy for a paranoid certainty that federal environmental laws are a threat to everyone’s freedom to get rich, a view trumpeted by that right-wing lawyer organization, is all it takes to be given a seat at the EPA destruction table.

I do not address here the awesome flaws of the man Trump has chosen to lead EPA – Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt. Suffice to say, Pruitt shares the ignorant, selfish attitude aimed at further filling the coffers of oil and coal companies, their executives, and investors, and which will do great harm to the rest of the American people, that is exhibited by the band of radicals assigned to the agency transition team.

The American people did not vote for this hostile takeover of the environmental policy-setting arena. They did not choose climate science denial, hostility to the public health and economic benefits of clean air, clean water, safe pesticides, and non-toxic industrial sites. They did not say that the future of this planet’s biosphere, the prosperity of our civilization, and the relationships among nations should be handed over to a band of belligerent enemies of knowledge.

Unfortunately, and despite the fact that a man who received only 46 percent of the popular vote should seriously consider the views of those who oppose him, we appear headed for the most severe crisis in federal environmental policy since the era of environmental law began in the 1960s. What timing, too, as scientists have made clear that the world must force an enduring decline in fossil fuel emissions within just a few years if it is to avoid the truly horrific consequences that human-caused warming of the atmosphere and oceans will otherwise cause.

House approves rule change to ease public land sales or grants

little-grand-canyon-san-rafael-swell-region-utah-courtesy-wikimedia
The Little Grand Canyon, which is part of the region known as the San Rafael Swell in Utah, is on public land. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

The U.S. House of Representatives acted on the first day of the 115th Congress to ease obstacles to transferring public land out of federal ownership.

Voting on a set of rules that set prerequisites to consideration of bills by legislators, the GOP-dominated House eliminated a that bills relating to public land transfers account for financial losses by the government when the land is sold or given away.

The current rules of the Congressional Budget Office mandate that transfers of any federal acreage that can be used to produce revenue for the U.S. Treasury be deemed to have a cost.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, pushed successfully for language providing that transfers “shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays.”

Bishop has been an advocate for reducing the size of the federal estate. A spokesperson for the Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs, said that the change to the CBO rule is necessary because “in many cases federal lands create a significant burden for the surrounding communities.”

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., wrote to fellow Democrats and urged them to fight the Bishop proposal.

“The House Republican plan to give away America’s public lands for free is outrageous and absurd,” Grijalva said. “This proposed rule change would make it easier to implement this plan by allowing the Congress to give away every single piece of property we own, for free, and pretend we have lost nothing of any value. Not only is this fiscally irresponsible, but it is also a flagrant attack on places and resources valued and beloved by the American people.”

Many state and local governments lack the fiscal and personnel resources needed to take on management of federal land.

The rules package was approved on a 233-190 vote.