House approves rule change to ease public land sales or grants

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‚Äôs 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.


REINS Act set for imminent floor vote in U.S. House of Representatives

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives continued their early moves in the young 115th Congress to limit executive branch regulatory power and roll back regulations by setting up the so-called REINS Act for consideration on the floor of the chamber.

The proposed new administrative law statute would require that Congress approve, by joint resolution, all “major” rules – defined as causing an annual financial impact of at least $100 million to the U.S. economy – before they can take effect.

Such an approach to regulation would be a dramatic departure from current law. Under the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, agencies are delegated broad authority to write regulations.

Congress can step in to nullify them through use of the Congressional Review Act, a statute enacted in 1996 that requires each chamber to pass a resolution for each disapproved rule and the President to sign such resolutions if regulations are to be nullified.

On Wednesday the House Rules Committee approved the rules that will guide consideration of H.R. 26 when both the Committee of the Whole (the term for the entire membership of the House of Representatives on the first reading of a bill) and the House will consider the measure.

One hour of total debate time, to be shared by Republicans and Democrats will be permitted. Twelve amendments will be considered.

Several amendments to be offered by Democrats would limit the scope of the far-reaching legislation.

One by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., would exempt regulations that limit lead in drinking water from the bill’s requirements. Another by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, would remove regulations that are designed to improve the safety of pipelines or prevent, mitigate, or reduce oil or natural gas spills.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, will ask the House to adopt language that exempts rules relating to nuclear reactor safety.

An amendment by the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, Raul Grijalva of Arizona, would require agencies to provide an “accounting of the greenhouse gas emission impacts associated with a rule as well as an analysis of the impacts on low-income and rural communities.” Grijalva’s amendment, if adopted, would specify that a rule is “major” under the bill if it “increases carbon dioxide by a certain amount or increases the risk of certain health impacts to low-income or rural communities.”

A similar tack is taken by Rhode Island’s David Cicilline, who will propose removal of all rules that relate to “the protection of public health or safety” from the proposed REINS Act. An amendment to be offered by Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida would eliminate from the reach of the proposed law all regulations that “result in reduced incidence of cancer, premature mortality, asthma attacks, or respiratory disease in children.”

Some Republicans, on the other hand, appear intent on toughening the requirements to regulate even further.

An amendment by Rep. Luke Messer, R-Indiana, would require agencies to offset the costs to the economy of new rules by modifying or eliminating old ones, while Rep. Steve King of Iowa will suggest that the bill include language that gives Congress a vehicle for reviewing all regulations finalized during the past ten years.

A schedule posted on the website of House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., indicates that the proposed REINS Act was to be considered on the floor of the chamber starting Thursday at 10 am EST.



Congressmen urge Obama administration to finalize ESA listing of African lion

The leading Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives committee that oversees wildlife matters has urged the Obama administration to finalize the listing of the African lion under the Endangered Species Act.

The request, which was joined by 49 other House Democrats, came in the aftermath of a highly publicized killing of a famous individual of the species in Zimbabwe by an American trophy hunter.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) wrote in a July 30 letter to Interior secretary Sally Jewell and Fish and Wildlife Service director Daniel M. Ashe that “the actions of Walter James Palmer are a good reminder of the peril the African lion faces.”

Palmer, a Minnesota dentist, is alleged by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force to have shot and killed a lion named Cecil, famous for his black mane and a well-known tourist attraction at Hwange National Park, on July 1 after first impaling the big cat with an arrow shot from his bow.

The African lion is estimated to occupy less than 20 percent of its historic range, according to a 2012 paper in PLOS One. Image of lioness and lion in Etosha National Park, Namibia courtesy Wikimedia.

The African lion is estimated to occupy less than 20 percent of its historic range, according to a 2012 paper in PLOS One. Image of lioness and lion in Etosha National Park, Namibia courtesy Wikimedia.

Palmer’s guides lured Cecil outside the boundaries of the national park, according to a USA Today report that cites a statement from the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force and a statement by the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority.

Trophy hunters account for at least 600 African lion deaths each year, according to a 2009 report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

There may be as few as about 32,000 individuals of the species remaining in their habitat in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Lion numbers have declined precipitously in the last century,” concluded one 2013 paper that examined the species population and range. “Given that many now live in small, isolated populations, this trend will continue.”

Grijalva, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, suggested in his letter to Jewell and Ashe that an ESA listing would be likely to pressure countries that permit trophy hunting to prepare effective conservation plans for the African lion.

“As a conservation leader, the United States must send a clear message that we will not tolerate hunts in countries without a sustainable, science-based lion management plan, or in circumstances that do not benefit the conservation of the species,” the Arizona congressman wrote.

The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed in Oct. 2014 to list Panthera leo leo as a threatened species. Section 5 of the ESA requires the agency to finalize a listing within 12 months.