New GAO report details effects of environmental lawsuits on government agencies

New environmental justice deal signifies progress, experts say.

Lawsuits against the government by environmental groups are not as big a deal as Republicans claim.

‘The real story is that Republicans are angered by the success of environmental groups in enforcing environmental laws and ensuring public health and safety …’

FRISCO — Claims by Republican leaders in Congress that environmental lawsuits prevent federal agencies from doing their job are unfounded, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. Continue reading

House GOP tries to slash forest environmental rules

Logging on the Frisco Peninsula, Sept. 2011. @bberwyn photo.

Logging on the Frisco Peninsula, Sept. 2011. @bberwyn photo.

‘The public will be looking at irreparable habitat damage, polluted watersheds and drinking water and a devastated outdoor economy’

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Anti-environmental Republicans in the House are once again trying to fast-track logging projects under the guise of forest health. They also want to discourage citizen involvement in forest management decisions and try and stop conservation groups from challenging illegal logging projects in court.

The House last week passed H.R. 2647, with the Orwellian name of “Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015.”

Here’s a bill summary posted at govtrack.us:

“The Resilient Federal Forests Act would make a variety of changes to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service forest management standards such as requiring studies on plans in response to forest fires, insect and disease infestation, and catastrophic events. It would also make it more difficult to issue a lawsuit against the Forest Service by requiring plaintiffs who lose lawsuits to pay for the agency’s legal expenses, and in some cases by exempting the agency from paying the plaintiff’s legal expenses if the plaintiff wins.”

Govtrack gives the bill just a 15 percent chance of being signed into law, mainly because the extreme rightwingers in the House included language that won’t be acceptable to moderate Republicans in the Senate.

In effect, the House GOP quashed any real chance at passing any meaningful forest management reform because they insisted on pursuing an extreme, ideologically bill. That becomes apparent when you read the statement from Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee:

“The verdict is in. The draconian environmental policies and litigation assaults of the past thirty years have failed our forests. Horrific wildfires are running rampant in our National Forest System. H.R. 2647 gives the Forest Service the resources it needs to suppress these devastating wildfires and gives them the tools they need to prevent fires before they start. I am proud of Rep. Westerman and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their advancement of H.R. 2647, a bill which makes enormous progress toward restoring the health of our treasured national forests.”

Conservation groups are not thrilled about the bill. Defenders of Wildlife said the measure would “bulldoze bedrock environmental laws to pave the way for dramatic increases in logging in forests across America.”

This bill turns back the clock 50 years on forest management and puts our nation’s forests at risk by green-lighting reckless logging practices, damaging vital wildlife habitat, short-cutting critical environmental review, and limiting public involvement in forest management decisions.

“This is a sad testament to the fact that instead of leading the charge on conserving America’s valued forests, many in Congress seem bent on casting aside our nation’s foundational conservation laws,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO, Defenders of Wildlife. “Dramatically increasing logging based upon little to no environmental analysis is like racing down the highway with your windshield painted black. You know that the outcome will not be good. The public will be looking at irreparable habitat damage, polluted watersheds and drinking water and a devastated outdoor economy.

“Rather than recklessly rolling back time-tested conservation laws, Congress should focus on the one and only legislative reform actually needed for our nation’s forests—properly funding the fire-fighting budget,” Rappaport Clark said.

Environment: House GOP continues anti-wolf crusade

The leader of the new Summit County wolf pack, dubbed "John Denver" by federal biologists. PHOTO COURTESY USFWS.

GOP continues wolf persecution.  Photo via USFWS.

Latest budget amendment would overturn federal court rulings that reinstated protection for wolves

Staff Report

FRISCO — For the second time in five years, anti-environmental Republicans in Congress are trying to make an end run around the Endangered Species Act by stripping federal protection for gray wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes states.

The amendment to a spending bill for the Interior Department is similar to a measure passed in 2011, when Congress removed protections for wolves in Idaho and Montana — the first time that Congress legislatively removed protections for a species. Since the 2011 rider passed, more than 1,900 wolves have been killed in the two states. Continue reading

Public lands: Proposed resort development seen as big threat to Grand Canyon National Park

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A proposal for a large new resort development near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon threatens public resources.

Forest Service eyes plan for road, infrastructure improvements around Tusayan, Ariz.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Plans for a sprawling real estate development near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon are moving closer to reality. The U.S. Forest Service says it will study a request by the town of Tusayan to provide more access to key parcels of private land surrounded by national forest.

The start of that process spurred conservation advocates to warn that the development adds to the environmental pressure on one of the country’s most cherished natural landmarks. The planned megaresort, with 2,100 residential units and 3 million square feet of retail space along with hotels, a spa and conference center. Continue reading

Feds to update financial rules for oil and gas drilling

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An aerial view show a spreading network of drilling roads spreading on public lands in eastern Utah.

Lease practices, bonding requirements and royalty rates on the table in planned revision

Staff Report

FRISCO — The federal government wants to update rules governing oil and gas royalty rates and other financial aspects of oil and gas development on public lands.

In a rule-making notice to be published in the Federal Register this week, the Department of Interior said it will take public comment on rental payments, lease sale minimum bids, civil penalty caps and financial assurances for oil and gas operations.

“It’s time to have a candid conversation about whether the American taxpayer is getting the right return for the development of oil and gas resources on public lands,” Interior Secretary Jewell, said in a statement. Continue reading

Feds propose new rules for operating drones

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FORT scientist and Raven-A sUAS pilot Leanne Hanson launches the drone in the San Luis Valley as part of an effort to monitor sandhill cranes. USGS photo.

FAA taking public comment for 60 days

Staff Report

FRISCO — With everyone from ski movie makers to wedding photographers and wildlife biologists getting in on the drone craze, the airspace above the U.S. is getting even more crowded.

To help manage the boom in the use of unmanned aircraft systems, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration have released a new set of draft rules open for public comment. At the same time, the White House released a presidential memorandum that addresses civil rights and privacy issues associated with drone operations. Continue reading

Senate releases CIA torture report

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A chilling chapter in American history.

U.S. agents and contractors operated well outside the law, lied to Congress and the American people on torture of terror suspects

Staff Report

FRISCO — Top U.S. intelligence officials lied, mislead Congress and blocked oversight efforts as they sought to prevent American citizens from learning about how government agencies and private contractors detained and tortured terror suspects in the early 2000s.

“The release of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program is an historic victory for our nation, the Constitution, and our system of checks and balances,” said Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.). Continue reading

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