Colorado predator control decision sparks controversy

Cabinet
This undated photo shows a mountain lion resting in a tree somewhere in Colorado. Image courtesy Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

The  Colorado commission responsible for management of wildlife decided Dec. 14 to approve a program demanding that up to 15 more mountain lions and 25 more black bears be killed every year.

Individual animals will first be captured by U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services employees with cage traps, culvert traps, foot snares, and hunting dogs. They will then be shot.

Killings will largely occur in the Arkansas River and Piceance basins.

The predator control plan is intended to prop up the number of mule deer available for hunters to target. At present the population of mule deer is at about 80 percent of that considered desirable by Colorado wildlife officials.

Mule deer have been declining throughout the west since the 1980s.

Loss of habitat to livestock grazing, expansion of human development in rural areas, and the impacts of oil and gas exploration are considered to have a greater impact on the number of mule deer in the state than does the population of mountain lions and black bears.

CPW has not denied that these factors may have far more to do with mule deer declines than predator populations.

“We acknowledge that any and all those things can have an effect on mule deer,” Jeff Ver Steeg, the agency’s assistant director for research, policy, and planning, told commissioners at the Dec. 14 meeting.

Conservationists and scientists have sharply criticized the decision by the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission.

Aubyn Royball, Colorado state director for the Humane Society of the United States, told commissioners that their decision would cause the inevitable death of numerous cubs and kittens.

In a letter dated Nov. 30, 21 biologists accused the commission of considering a program that lacks validity as an effort to understand the relationship between predators and prey species and that violates the state’s legal requirement to manage wildlife as a public trust.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the agency under the commission’s oversight, relies heavily on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses for revenue. The agency relies on that source of funds for about 90 percent of its revenue.

CPW’s total budget in fiscal year 2015 was about $213 million. The agency has experienced a cut of about $50 million since 2009.

The experimental predator control program approved Dec. 14 would cost taxpayers about $4.5 million over nine years.

CPW said in October that it expects a budget shortfall of between $15-23 million by 2023. It has proposed increasing hunting license fees.

Hunters kill more than 450 mountain lions and more than 1,350 black bears every year in Colorado.

CPW estimates that there are about 17,000 black bears and about 4,500 mountain lions in the state.

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.

bears-ears-buttes
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.

bears-ears-national-monument-map
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.

petroglyph-comb-ridge-bears-ears-photo-by-josh-ewing-photo-courtesy-bears-ears-intertribal-coalition
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.

115th Congress opens Tuesday; assaults on Obama environment regulations, focus on REINS Act expected

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate will be sworn in today as the Republican-dominated new Congress begins its work, which is expected to include efforts to derail a number of Obama administration environmental regulations and alter the nation’s bedrock environmental laws.

The GOP will hold a 241-194 majority in the House of Representatives, down seven seats from the last Congress. Republicans will dominate each of the key committees that deal with environmental policy matters. Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said last June that he hopes to rescind many Obama administration regulations by statute, including the Clean Power Plan and “all climate change regulations under the Clean Air Act.”

Ryan has also explicitly called for nullification of the Waters of the United States rule, which extends Clean Water Act jurisdiction to water bodies that are hydrologically connected to rivers and lakes.

Last month, the speaker said that he would fight to rescind Obama’s removal of Atlantic and Arctic ocean waters from oil exploration and drilling.

On the Appropriations Committee, where so-called riders to bills that allow the federal government to spend money have often sought to undermine or nullify protective regulations, New Jersey’s Rodney Frelinghuysen will become chair. President-elect Donald J. Trump’s promises to lower funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, federal renewable energy programs at the Department of Energy, and climate science research at NASA would be considered by this committee, as well as the Budget Committee.

Rep. Gregory P. Walden, R-Ore., will chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, while public lands opponent Rob Bishop of Utah will continue to helm the Natural Resources Committee.

Walden, who was first elected in 1998 and is the only Republican in Oregon’s Congressional delegation, has said little about his specific plans for the Energy and Commerce Committee. A statement released after his selection as chair on Dec. 1 said that he would push the “Better Way Agenda” proposed by Ryan last year.

Walden’s website says that he supports the REINS Act, legislation that would subject many federal regulations to a requirement of Congressional approval, and that he opposes designation of new wilderness areas in Oregon. Walden’s website also highlights his advocacy of legislative changes intended to increase timber production in national forests.

A July video statement by Walden celebrated passage of legislation that precluded listing of the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act and designation of a national monument in rural Oregon.

The Natural Resources Committee is expected to consider bills that would reduce or eliminate the President’s authority to declare national monuments on federal land.

Bishop reportedly met with Trump’s transition team last month to discuss ways to roll back President Barack Obama’s declaration of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, as well as other decisions Obama has made under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The question whether a President lacks the authority to revoke a predecessor’s designation of a national monument has not been tested in court, though a U.S. attorney general’s opinion from the 1930s indicates that he does not have that power. Congress would likely have to pass legislation if it desires to alter or rescind any of Mr. Obama’s national monument designations.

Texas Republican Lamar S. Smith will continue to lead the Science, Space and Technology Committee, which has proven to be an active agent of the GOP’s anti-climate science agenda in recent years.

Among the first priorities to be considered by the House is the proposed REINS Act. That bill has been passed by the Republican-dominated House at least three times, most recently late in 2016, but has been blocked in the Senate each time. It is not clear whether its prospects in the Senate are any better this time than in the past, given that there will be fewer Republicans in the Senate during the 115th Congress than in the just-concluded 114th Congress.

Both chambers are likely to consider Congressional Review Act resolutions to overturn Obama administration environmental regulations.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., who remains in office until Jan. 20, will preside over the ceremony welcoming new senators at 12 pm EST. The Republicans will have a 52-48 margin in that chamber.

The Environment and Public Works Committee of the Senate gets a new chair, Wyoming’s John Barrasso, and new ranking member, Delaware’s Thomas Carper.

Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski will again chair the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, with Maria Cantwell of Washington serving as ranking member.

Obama blocks oil drilling in Arctic, part of Atlantic oceans

000bf-polarbear-courtesyusfwsphotobyterrydebruhn
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.”

arctic-ocean-withdrawal-map-courtesy-boem
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.

atlantic-canyon-withdrawal-map-courtesy-boem
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.

Trump meets with ND senator Heitkamp to discuss possible environmental policy role

Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota met with President-elect Donald J. Trump Friday a day after Reuters reported that she is under consideration as the next secretary of energy or secretary of interior.

According to a report published by The Hill, Heitkamp and Trump discussed coal and oil pipelines, among other issues, during the afternoon rendezvous.

First elected by a slim margin in 2012, the former state attorney general and Environmental Protection Agency staff lawyer likely faces a tough race to keep her seat in the Senate come 2018.

If nominated and confirmed to a position in Trump’s cabinet, the state’s Republican governor would appoint a replacement to take her place in the Senate.

Heitkamp issued a statement after the meeting with Trump but declined to say whether a cabinet nomination was offered.

Trump, in NYT interview, appears to backtrack on promise to exit Paris Agreement

President-elect Donald J. Trump may be re-thinking his earlier statements that promised a U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

During a Tuesday interview with reporters and editors at the New York Times, Trump said that he has an “open mind” about the landmark international deal to address accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

I’m looking at it very closely,” the New York real estate developer and reality TV star said in the interview.

Some foreign leaders have pushed back in response to Trump’s earlier comments.

China’s leading negotiator on climate change issues, Xie Zhenhua, criticized the President-elect before the general election occurred.

Zhenhua told Reuters on Nov. 1 that “a wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends.”

Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has also cautioned Trump about any hasty repudiation of the Paris Agreement. In an editorial co-authored with President Barack Obama and published in the German newspaper Wirtschaftswoche, Merkel emphasized that  American cooperation with its allies is crucial to both domestic and international prosperity.

“Today we find ourselves at a crossroads—the future is upon us, and we will never return to a pre-globalization economy,” Merkel and Obama wrote. “Germans and Americans we must seize the opportunity to shape globalization based on our values and our ideas. We owe it to our industries and our peoples—indeed, to the global community—to broaden and deepen our cooperation.”

Several hundred corporations and significant investors have also taken Trump to task for his expressed willingness to scuttle the Paris Agreement. An open letter released earlier this month urged Trump to consider that the the deal could well lead to “trillions” of dollars in profit as the world undergoes an energy transformation.

“We want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy,” the statement said. “Cost-effective and innovative solutions can help us achieve these objectives. Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness.”

The Paris Agreement, which was finalized in Dec. 2015, is not a treaty. As an executive agreement between the U.S. President and the leaders of other nations, it did not require ratification by the U.S. Senate. A future President can lawfully terminate the agreement anytime he or she desires to do so.

 

House clears “midnight rules” bill; would allow wholesale rejection of all regs issued in last year of presidency

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow Congress to reject all federal regulations finalized since January in one fell swoop.

Labeled the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2016, H.R. 5982 would allow the 115th Congress to sidestep the current requirement that each regulation that is the subject of an override attempt be the subject of a separate resolution.

So-called “midnight rules” are regulations that an administration completes during the time between a presidential election in November and the inauguration of a new President on the following January 20.

Sometimes these late regulations are used by an outgoing administration to assure that its policy initiatives can endure for a time. The Administrative Procedure Act requires that agencies develop a new factual record before they may repeal or significantly modify existing rules.

Most midnight rules are not controversial, though. A 2012 study by the Administrative Conference of the United States concluded that are “relatively routine matters not implicating new policy initiatives by incumbent administrations” and that the “majority of the rules appear to be the result of finishing tasks that were initiated before the Presidential transition period or the result of deadlines outside the agency’s control (such as year-end statutory or court-ordered deadlines).”

The Congressional Review Act, enacted into law in 1996, permits Congress to reject regulations in a process that bypasses the usual risks of legislative gamesmanship in the U.S. Senate.

Under the CRA, amendments to a resolution that rejects a “major” federal regulation are not permitted. No holds by individual senators, and no filibusters by opponents of a resolution that would eliminate a federal regulation, are allowed.

Congress has 60 days following the date on which both chambers of Congress have received a notice that a regulation has been issued in which to pass a CRA resolution that disapproves it. The 60 day-long clock resets at the beginning of a new Congress if the regulation was issued during the final 60 “session” days, in the case of the Senate, or the final 60 “legislative” days in the case of the House of Representatives, of the preceding Congress.

Although opponents of various regulations have introduced dozens of CRA resolutions in the 20 years since enactment of that statute, it has been invoked only one time. An Occupational Health & Safety Administration rule that addressed ergonomics, which the Clinton administration had finalized in November 2000, was turned away in 2001.

H.R. 5982 would need to pass the Senate and be signed by the President to become law. The Senate has not yet taken up the measure. Moreover, President Barack Obama has threatened to veto H.R. 5982, which cleared the House Nov. 17 by a 240-179 vote.

“[P]roviding for an arbitrary packaging of rules for an up-or-down vote, as this bill does, is unnecessary,” a statement issued by the Executive Office of the President on Nov. 12 said.

Three House Democrats voted with the majority GOP to pass the bill.

International Energy Agency: Paris Agreement warming goal not likely to be achieved

An international agency that tracks energy policy developments around the world warned Wednesday that national commitments to execute the Paris Agreement on climate change will fail to limit atmospheric warming to a level below 2 degrees Celsius, the agreement’s overall objective.

The International Energy Agency’s 2016 World Energy Report concludes instead that existing Nationally Determined Contributions, the formal term for promises to lower greenhouse gas emissions provided for in the Paris Agreement, would lead to a warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100.

“[T]he goals of the Paris Agreement require not just a slowdown in growth, but an early peak and decline in emissions,” the agency said in a fact sheet that accompanied the report. “In our main scenario, the entire carbon budget for a 2°C future is used up by the early 2040s.”

The IEA further explained that a limitation of warming to 2 degrees Celsius is “tough,” but that “it can be achieved if policies to accelerate further low carbon technologies and energy efficiency are put in place across all sectors. It would require that carbon emissions peak in the next few years and that the global economy becomes carbon neutral by the end of the century.”

The rate of growth in greenhouse gas emissions will slow, falling from a mean of about 2.4 percent since 2000 to about 0.5 percent per year by 2040.

IEA found that a boom in renewable energy investment is underway. The report concluded that expansion of renewable energy infrastructure in 2015 exceeded that added for electricity generated from coal, oil, and natural gas combustion and nuclear energy during the year.

Wind and solar energy production will account for at least 37 percent of all electricity generated in 2040, the report said.

Meanwhile, development of coal and oil facilities is beginning to show signs of falling off.

While production of oil from sources in the Middle East reached its highest proportion of worldwide output of the fossil fuel in the past 40 years, the number of new oil projects approved by governments around the world has fallen to the lowest level since the 1950s. Meanwhile, demand for oil from the electric power industry and for operation of motor vehicles has begun to fall. Utilities used about 3 million barrels per day less in 2015 than in 2014, while motor vehicle consumption fell by about half a million barrels per day.

On the other hand, oil consumption by freight shippers, airlines, the maritime industry, and petrochemical plants rose last year. In the case of petrochemical plants, demand increased by about 5 million barrels per day, while airlines and freight shippers burned in excess of 3 million barrels per day more than they had in 2014. The maritime industry increased oil used by nearly 2 million barrels per da

None of those industries that experienced increases in oil consumption last year have readily available alternatives to the fossil fuel.

Coal, according to IEA, is on a marked downward trajectory. The report concluded that coal consumption is declining in China, the European Union, and the United States, though India and southeast Asian nations are increasing their reliance on the substance.

Worldwide, coal demand is expected to decline by more than two-thirds from its 1990 level before 2040.

Among fossil fuels, natural gas is the only energy source that is being used more. The report concluded that liquid natural gas is the primary driver of this trend and is the result of greater integration of the fuel into world markets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Environmental group tells Obama administration it will sue over failure to give elephants ESA protection

african-elephant-courtesy-wwf
The number of African elephants has declined from about 3-5 million in 1900 to a few hundred thousand.
Photo courtesy World Wildlife Fund.

An environmental organization has notified the U.S. Department of Interior that it is prepared to sue in 60 days if the Obama administration does not classify two African elephant species as endangered.

The announcement by the Center for Biological Diversity comes about five months after expiration of a deadline set by the Endangered Species Act for a decision on a petition that sought the listing.

“If the current rate of poaching persists, savanna elephants could be extinct in roughly two decades and forest elephants long before that,” Tanya Sanerib, an attorney for the organization, said. “Only by recognizing the true, endangered status of the two species of African elephants can we highlight and address elephants’ plight and threats.”

The June 2015 petition also asked the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to formally classify elephants native to Africa into two species: those that are native to equatorial forests (Loxodonta cyclotis) and those that are indigenous to the continent’s vast grasslands (L. africana).

All African elephants are at risk of extinction. According to the Great Elephant Census, a recent effort to estimate the number of the giant mammals now living in the wild on the bulk of the continent, there are less than 400,000 individuals left.

Savannah elephants are being killed so fast by poachers seeking the ivory of their tusks that they could disappear in 15 years. A recent scientific paper that examined the reproductive rate of forest elephants concluded that they, too, face a precarious future:

“The forest elephants Loxodonta cyclotis of Central Africa face the threat of extinction, with recent analysis of census data across their range showing a 62% decrease in their numbers for the period of 2002–2011 coupled with a loss of 30% of their geographical range (Maisels et al. 2013). Modelling of Monitoring of the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) data corroborates this, indicating that forest elephants are experiencing the greatest levels of poaching in Africa with potentially as much as 10–18% of the population killed per year (Wittemyer et al. 2014).

Section 4(b)(3) of the ESA forces FWS (or, in the case of marine organisms, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) to decide, within 90 days, whether a petition for listing is supported by “substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted.”

The agency then has 12 months to decide whether to add the species to the list of threatened and endangered species.

FWS decided in Feb. 2016 that the CBD petition did meet the scientific prerequisite of ESA section 3. However, the administration has not yet acted on the merits of the petition. One explanation for FWS’s handling of it may be that a decision whether to “uplist” African elephants from threatened to endangered status is not included in the current agency workplan.

Sanerib expressed a belief that the Obama administration has mostly been focused on establishing regulations, called 4d rules after the section of the ESA that authorizes them, to govern trade in elephant ivory and so has not yet prioritized the listing petition.

“I’m not sure that it was necessarily an intentional step by the administration,” she said.

The 4d rule for African elephants, which was finalized on June 6, does largely prohibit the import of ivory into the United States. However, the regulation is not airtight. So-called “de minimis” quantities of ivory are not covered; neither are quantities of ivory that are more than 100 years old, ivory used in certain musical instruments or that is part of some “traveling exhibitions,” law enforcement, or scientific research.

“The U.S. and China have committed to these near-bans on ivory in our domestic markets,” Sanerib explained.

If the African elephant species are listed as endangered, those bans would become far more rigid. Under section 9 of the ESA, essentially all import, export, sale, or transportation of an African elephant, or of its body parts, would be illegal in the United States.

About 100,000 African elephants were killed between 2010-2012. The number of elephants in Africa has declined from an estimated three to five million at the end of the nineteenth century.

Sanerib said that she is not sure whether any litigation that aims to force FWS to make a decision about whether to recognize two species of African elephant and grant both endangered status will be filed before the end of the Obama administration.

“Given the need to send notice letters by certified mail, I think it’s incredibly likely that we will be dealing with the Trump administration on this,” she said.

UPDATE, Nov. 18, 2016, 10:48 pm MST: The discussion of the section of the Endangered Species Act provision relating to FWS’ obligations when presented with a petition to list a species was corrected. The author had inaccurately cited the section number of the statute and erred in stating that FWS has 30 days to evaluate a petition.