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Op-ed: GOP renews attack on Endangered Species Act

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Does this look like any congressman you know?

Lots of ruffled feathers and foot-stomping …

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Watching the House Committee on Natural Resources field hearings on greater sage-grouse and the Endangered Species Act was a bit like watching the birds themselves during their magnificent mating ritual — a lot of puffed up rhetoric, ruffled feathers and foot-stomping, but very little substance.

The main take-home message appeared to be that there’s a vast conspiracy of liberal judges, conservation groups and Obama administration officials colluding to destroy the American way of life in the rural West (specifically Montana and Wyoming, where the hearings were held).

That’s probably not surprising, considering the list of witnesses was hand-picked by the committee’s ultra-conservative and anti-environmental GOP leadership, but the inflammatory words used by some of the more extreme committee members still comes as a shock. Continue reading

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Obama addresses domestic spying concerns

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President Barack Obama.

President pledges more transparency and reform of Patriot Act

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — President Obama tackled the domestic spying controversy head-on during an Aug. 9 press conference, saying he will push for increased transparency and reforms in U.S. intelligence programs.

Obama spelled out four specific steps aimed at addressing issues raised by critics in Congress and at rebuilding public confidence in the intelligence community.

Obama said he wants to reform the PATRIOT Act and push U.S. spy agencies to declassify more information about data-gathering programs.

He said the White House will also take input from outside groups in a review of intelligence and communications technologies. Continue reading

GOP wants to axe bike path funding in 2014 budget

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Under budget measures proposed by the GOP, federal funding for bike and pedestrian paths would

Update: The transportation spending bill was pulled July 31 by the GOP house leadership, possibly until September, when it could be voted on during renewed budget wrangling. Transportation watchdog groups are taking some credit, saying the GOP pulled the measure because they couldn’t get enough support. Many members of Congress heard from constituents that they want a robust, multimodal transportation future.

FRISCO — After taking aim at public lands and environmental agency budgets last week, GOP lawmakers are now swinging their budget-cutting axe at government investments in transportation. Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, wants to strip all funding for transportation alternatives from the 2014 budget.

The League of American Bicyclists is watch-dogging the Congressional antics, and is asking cyclists to contact lawmakers to express their views.

The latest attack follows on the heels of last year’s drastic cuts that combined Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School and Recreational Trails into one line item and slashed the funding by 30 percent.

The cycling group is asking its members to launch a social media blitz to let lawmakers know how they feel about any efforts to cut an already tiny budget. Follow the League of American Bicyclists on Twitter to get dialed in.

Here’s part of the post from the group’s blog:

“We are asking you to be prepared on Tuesday evening to tweet your member of Congress asking them to vote NO on any amendment that will harm funding for biking and walking.  We will send you the amendment number, the name of the sponsor and the content of the amendment, as soon as we hear an amendment has been introduced.  Please retweet that message using your Representative’s handle – and send it through your networks.

“We want to make sure Congress knows we’re watching, and that any late night attempt to cut Transportation Alternatives or otherwise harm biking and walking, will be protested by their constituents. Both the House and Senate go on a month-long recess on Friday so they need to finish this week.

House effort to curb NSA snooping fails on close vote

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U.S. Rep. Jared Polis helped lead a charge against intrusive snooping by the NSA.

There’s rowing political momentum to curtail data gathering by spy agencies

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A bipartisan push to limit sweeping data collection by the National Security Agency narrowly missed approval in the House this week. The close vote shows that Congress is moving closer to exercising more oversight and to protecting the civil liberties and privacy of millions of American citizens.

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) co-sponsored the amendment to a defense spending bill. The measure (H.R. 2397) would have limited the National Security Agency’s ability to collect phone data to people who are subject of an NSA investigation. The amendment failed on a vote of 205 to 217. Continue reading

The most anti-environmental budget ever?

GOP aims to slash spending for public lands, environmental programs

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Rhetorical GOP attacks on public lands and the environment culminated this week in a proposed budget that would slash funding for public lands management and environmental programs.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Given the vapid rhetoric from House GOP leaders the last few years, a full frontal assault on public lands was inevitable. It came this week, in the form of proposed massive budget cuts for public lands and environmental programs, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Overall, the interior funding bill proposed by the House Appropriations Committee this week cuts $5.5 billion — 19 percent — from Fiscal Year 2013 levels, covering the Department of the Interior, the EPA, the Forest Service, and various independent and related agencies. Continue reading

Are intel chiefs are exaggerating effectiveness of spy programs?

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It turns out the spy agencies are collecting all sorts of bulk data, including emails.

Spy chiefs need to be held accountable for their claims, Sens. Wyden and Udall say

By Summit County Voice

FRISCO — U.S. Intelligence officials have overstated the effectiveness of their bulk data collection in testimony to Congress, Sen. Mark Udall said this week, warning that policy makers shouldn’t accept all the statements made by spy agencies at face value.

In a joint statement on the recent disclosure by intelligence officials that the NSA operated a bulk email records collection program under the authority of the Patriot Act until 2011, Udall (D-Colo.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said intelligence agencies’ assessments of the usefulness of particular collection programs — even significant ones — are not always accurate.

“Intelligence officials have noted that the bulk email records program was discussed with both Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court,” Wyden and Udall said. “In our judgment it is also important to note that intelligence agencies made statements to both Congress and the Court that significantly exaggerated this program’s effectiveness. This experience has also led us to be skeptical of claims about the value of the bulk phone records collection program in particular,” the lawmakers said. Continue reading

Will Congress finally take a look at new wilderness?

Public lands advocates hopeful that bipartisan support will help move some measures through the House

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The peaks of the Eagles Nest Wilderness in Colorado’s Gore Range. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Public lands advocates are hopeful that Congress will advance at least some of the public lands wilderness bills that have been bottled up by a partisan divide the past couple of years.

The 112th Congress was the first in in almost 50 years that didn’t add to the National Wilderness Preservation System, but several pending bills that have already gained approval from a key U.S. Senate committee have bipartisan backing and solid local support.

This week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee cleared measures to safeguard public land in Colorado, Oregon and Nevada. These join five measures approved earlier. The eight bills together would safeguard nearly 300,000 acres, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts public lands program. Continue reading

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