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February 5, 2003
Four fifths of the decisions made by the Bush Administration in the last five months drew objections from environmentalists. Only 14 per cent of their decisions were thought to be positive, mainly stemming from decisions by EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Most of the decisions made by the Forest Service were objectionable.
+ EPA promulgates new regulations to reduce the harmful emissions from diesel engines used in industrial applications, construction and agriculture. Under the new rules, they would have to cut their emissions by 95 per cent.
+ EPA decides not to exempt lower risk facilities from regulations applying to the clay and brick industry.
- The Bush administration seems to be moving away from its earlier commitment to substantially reduce emissions of mercury from coal-fired power plants. As part of its "Clean Skies" initiative, it had pledged to reduce the emissions of mercury by 46 per cent in the next decade. Now it seems to be acquiescing in efforts by legislators to lift that requirement. However, alternate plans, which would rely less on coal, would save even more lives.
- In place of requiring industry to reduce their release of greenhouse gasses, the Bush Administration is trying to sell them on pledging to make voluntary cuts. Critics doubt this will produce much. In a speech devoid of many specifics, the Secretary of Agriculture has also called upon farmers to do more to sequester carbon dioxide on their lands. She said they plan to offer incentives to farmers and ranchers.
[?] While President Bush has endorsed the promise of fuel cells and hydrogen power for car engines, critics think he is trying to avoid endorsing efforts to improve the fuel efficiency of engines in cars now being sold. Moreover, the key question is whether the hydrogen will come from dirty coal or solar power.
- The Bush administration is trying to weaken the Montreal Protocol (which protects the atmospheric ozone layer that shields the earth) by asking for exemptions for the pesticide, methyl bromide.
[?] The Bush Administration's order to slightly improve the fuel economy of SUV's, vans and pickups (to 22.2 mpg by 2007) falls far short of what is needed and amounts to only 1.5 mpg over the current standard.
- The Bush administration has encountered an obstacle in its efforts to admit 30,000 Mexican trucks across U.S. borders. The administration argues that NAFTA requires it to do that, but a federal judge has disagreed and barred doing that for now. Critics argue that many of these vehicles are highly polluting and don't meet U.S. standards.
- The EPA is proposing to offer feedlots and other CAFOs amnesty for past violations in exchange for allowing it to monitor their operations--to determine how much they are releasing into the environment. Critics think this is allowing them to continue to pollute.
- EPA proposes to extend the deadline by which the oil and gas industry have to comply with storm water discharge requirements for their construction projects.
- The Bush administration continues to push for development of coalbed methane in places such as Wyoming, despite the danger of polluting the aquifer and opposition from ranchers. As many as 51,000 wells could be drilled to extract methane from beds of coal. They have lifted a moratorium on developing these wells.
- The Fish and Wildlife Service is "downlisting" the gray wolf from endangered to threatened. This change will permit ranchers to kill wolves which have been reintroduced in the northern Rocky Mountains. This position has been embraced by the administration.
- Interior Secretary Gail Norton has turned over the National Bison Range in Montana to nearby Indian tribes to manage. Two other national wildlife refuges may also be turned over to them--the Ninepipe and Pablo. The tribes are the Confederated Salish and the Kootenai. These actions are being taken under a policy of the Bush administration to turn federal holdings over to tribes which claim the lands have historical or cultural meaning for them. Almost all federal lands have significance for some tribe.
- The Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to reduce the size of its designations of critical habitat on Maui, Hawaii by 25 per cent. It is being sued by environmentalists.
+ The Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to end the practice of relocating sea otters off the California coast. The otters had been relocated when fishermen complained about competition from them. The Service has also drawn up new plans to protect the sea otters from sewage, disease, oil spills and toxic chemicals. Now the Congress must provide the funds to put it into effect.
+ The administration has proposed to breach the Milltown Dam on the upper Clark Fork in Montana because it blocks migration of the endangered bull trout.
- The Department of Agriculture has moved ahead with their policies to allow logging of commercially valuable tree species under the guise of reducing fire hazards. Up to 1000 acres in a project can be logged with no public oversight or opportunity to appeal the decision. If an emergency is deemed to exist, logging can go forward even where an appeal is pending. Trees of any size can be logged if they claim a hazardous condition exists.
+ The Bush Administration has decided to let a temporary rule expire which had permitted some road building in roadless areas. However, the administration is also allowing governors to request exceptions for various reasons.
- The Forest Service has issued revised regulations which allow it to deny standing for those who would like to file appeals if the Service feels that "substantive comments" would not be filed. For those appealing fire treatment projects, they must have objected to the specifics when first proposed.
- The Forest Service is planning to disregard any input from the public which is not an original composition. It plans to disregard form letters, pre-printed post cards, signatures on petitions, etc. It is not clear how they will treat email.
- As part of President Bush's so-called "Healthy Forests Initiative," the Forest Service will no longer require environmental impact statements on activities designed to prevent forest fires. Small timber sales, which involve trees with insect infestations or which involve efforts to reduce fire risk, would be exempt from NEPA requirements.
- Appointees of the Bush Administration have caused the Sierra Nevada Framework, applying to national forests in the Sierra Nevada range, to be weakened. By relaxing the limit on the size of the trees that can be cut (from 12 inches to 30 inches), logging would be more than doubled. More cattle also could be grazed. Habitat for the California Spotted Owl could be affected. The Forest Service justifies the changes in terms of fuel reduction.
- In the Giant Sequoia National Monument, which is part of the Sequoia National Forest, administrators plan to log as many as ten million board feet a year. Trees up to 30 inches in diameter could be cut. This would take place in an area which is supposed to be exempt from commercial activity. It is being proposed ostensibly to reduce the fuel load.
- The Bush administration has agreed to undertake a five-year review to determine whether the designation of 22 million acres as critical habitat for the northern spotted owl in northwest national forests has helped the owl or not. This decision arises out of settlement of a law suit by a timber industry group. It is regarded as a beginning step toward backing away from this decision. The step is being contested in court by environmental groups.
- In the Pacific Northwest, the Forest Service and the BLM plan to drop the guideline which has required them to survey and manage all the species on their lands. Under this provision of the Northwest Forest Plan, dating to the Clinton Administration, they had done field inventories of the species inhabiting tracts of their land on which they planned activities. Then they had to show how they would perpetuate those species. Timber sales had to await such inventories. Now they promise to look after these species under other authorities. But they may proceed in the absence of knowledge about which species will be impacted. Some 24 million acres of federal land will be affected and over 300 sensitive species are affected. The decision may permit a 60 per cent increase in logging. This decision arises out of a settlement of a suit by industry.
- In the Pacific Northwest, the Forest Service is proposing to change rules which have been in effect to protect salmon habitat. Instead of keeping the rule which prevents activities unless officials can demonstrate that fish would not be harmed, now they would only have to show there would be no long-term impacts of a negative sort on the watershed in an overall sense. The goals of restoring and maintaining the health of aquatic ecosystems would not be applied on a project basis anymore. They would only be applied on the basis of large systems. This decision also arises out of the settlement of a suit by industry.
- The Bush administration has decided to exempt the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest in Alaska from the roadless area rule. The nearby Chugach National Forest is also exempt from some restrictions on logging.
- The Bitterroot National Forest has authorized use of motorized vehicles in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness to do routine maintenance work on small dams grandfathered into that wilderness. Critics say this is not permitted by the Wilderness Act, which governs the area.
- The Bush administration plans to cap the amount of wilderness which it will allow on BLM land at 22.8 million acres. The rest could be thrown open to development. Some 200 million acres of BLM land would never be looked at for wilderness potential under this policy.
- The BLM has announced its specific intention to suspend new wilderness reviews in Utah and to remove protection for nearly 3 million acres in that state has been under consideration for wilderness designation.
- Contested roads across BLM land in Utah would be given to counties there if they can prove the roads were used before 1976, are maintained, are passable by rugged vehicles, and are part of the state's transportation system. Notwithstanding a Congress bar on such action, the administration is proceeding under the theory of "recordable disclaimers." A twelve year statute of limitations on making claims has been waived by the administration. Interior Secretary Norton also explained that she is thinking of applying the same procedure in Colorado. She is also thinking of applying it to other lands administered by the Interior Department, including national monuments and wildlife refuges.
[?] The BLM has issued a regulation which requires that, in cases where
ownership is divided (e.g., where "split estates" exist), the surface owner must agree to plans to drill for minerals before the drilling can begin. However, where the parties disagree, the administration might still allow drilling to occur if a bond is posted to cover possible damages.
- The BLM has granted a camp for runners the right to stage events in the Steens Mountain (OR) Wilderness. This is a commercial event.
- The Interior Department is pushing a proposal to privatize about 70 per cent of the work force of the National Park Service. The jobs of some scientists could be affected, as well as maintenance workers. It will cost money to get ready to convert these jobs so that they can be given to outsiders. One report is that the Interior Department is shaving money from other budgets, such as for removing asbestos from buildings in Yosemite National Park.
- Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton has ceded control over the waters flowing through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument to the state of Colorado. These water rights were reserved to the federal government when the monument was established. The state plans to sell the water rights.
- The administration has asked that Yellowstone National Park be removed from the international list of endangered World Heritage sites. However, the professional staff of the park disagrees and thinks the park still belongs on the list because of threats around its edges.
- The Bush administration is encouraging construction of the first nuclear power plant in three decades. It refuses to look at the problems arising from the entire nuclear fuel cycle.
- The Bush administration has filed a law suit at the World Trade Organization against the European Union over its restrictions against agricultural products which have been genetically modified.
- The Bush administration has signed on to an international effort to explore technologies to store (or sequester) carbon. This would be part of a global strategy designed to decrease the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. However, this effort would be consistent with the administration's opposition to avoid mandating reductions in emissions of those gasses.
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