Trump admin wasting tax dollars on new feel-good eco nonsense

(EPA.gov release ) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently awarded $75,000 to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, as part of the General Assistance Program (GAP). The tribe will use the funds to administer their environmental program and assist in the development of multimedia programs to address environmental issues. The GAP program protects the health of the Cherokee Nation by safeguarding the environment through awareness and environmental program development.

“The Cherokee Nation has been recognized for their leadership in environmental services,” said Acting Regional Administrator Sam Coleman. “We are pleased to support our tribal partners in sustaining environmental protection endeavors.”

“These GAP dollars support all of the environmental work that we do here at the Cherokee Nation. Our partnership with the EPA benefits both the Nation, and all of northeast Oklahoma,” Sara Hill, Secretary of Natural Resources for Cherokee Nation said.

The grant will provide support for the Cherokee Nation Environmental Protection Commission (EPC). The commission is a five-person board that oversees environmental programs. The EPC regulates areas such as solid waste including the Cherokee Nation Landfill and underground storage tanks, toxic and hazardous substance control, and water quality. The EPC also promulgates rules, conducts enforcement actions, issues permits, approves facility plans, and conducts oversight of environmental review activities and procedures for handling complaints.

The primary purpose of GAP is to support the development of core tribal environmental protection programs. Other activities to be carried out under the grant include, but are not limited to, attending environmentally related training and conducting community outreach.   

In 1992, Congress passed the Indian Environmental General Assistance Program Act which authorizes EPA to provide GAP grants to federally-recognized tribes and tribal groups for planning, developing, and establishing environmental protection programs in Indian country, as well as for developing and implementing solid and hazardous waste programs on tribal lands.

The Cherokee Nation’s Office of Environmental Services is a member of the Inter-Tribal Environmental Council (ITEC), which is an organization that was developed by Cherokee Nation to protect the health of Native Americans, their natural resources, and their environment as it is related to air, land and water. This organization is designed to provide support, technical assistance, program development and training to member tribes.

Interior Secretary to make proposal on Bears Ears monument

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is due to make a recommendation to the White House on whether to rescind or resize Utah’s Bears Ears monument, setting the tone for the administration’s broader study of which lands protected by past presidents should be reopened to development.

The 1.35 million-acre monument, created by former president Barack Obama at the end of his term and named after its iconic twin buttes, is the first of 27 national monuments that will be evaluated by the Department of the Interior after President Donald Trump ordered the review in April.

The deadline for Zinke’s recommendation on Bears Ears is June 10, though an Interior Department official did not say when the recommendation would be made public.

Trump had argued that previous administrations “abused” their right to designate national monuments under the U.S. Antiquities Act of 1906, and put millions of acres of land, mainly in western states, off limits to drilling, mining, logging and ranching without adequate input from locals.

Conservation groups, meanwhile, have called Trump’s effort to alter existing national monuments illegal and irresponsible, and have vowed to challenge him in court.

“Whatever comes out of these recommendations will give us an insight into how this administration takes its responsibilities to protect public lands and uphold conservation mandates,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel of the Wilderness Society, an environmental advocacy group.

 

HEATED DEBATE

The review taps into a heated national debate over Washington’s role in America’s wildest spaces: environmentalists and tribal groups support federal oversight, but many state political leaders, conservatives, and industry groups say the lands should be generating money for business, creating jobs, or yielding revenue for education and other public services.

Bears Ears was created after years of lobbying by a coalition of five tribes, who say the area is sacred. Republicans, like Senator Orin Hatch of Utah, have argued, however, that Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears monument had weakened education funding in the state through its School and Institutional Trust Lands system – which delivers revenues from land development to schools.

While the land encompassed by the Bears Ears monument is not believed to contain huge amounts of coal, oil or gas, several other monuments on Zinke’s review list do – making the Bears Ears decision important symbolically to industry groups.

“Who is to say that, in the future, a president couldn’t just put a whole basin under monument designation,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, representing oil and gas companies.

 

(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

 

Zinke Submits Report on Bears Ears, Extends Public Comment Period

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke submitted a 45-day interim report on Bears Ears National Monument to President Donald J. Trump on Saturday, June 10, 2017, in accordance with the April 26, 2017, Executive Order (EO). The order directs the Secretary to review monuments designated under the Antiquities Act between January 1, 1996, and the present date that are 100,000 acres or more in size, or any monument the Secretary deems to have been created without appropriate public input. The EO also directs the Secretary to submit an interim report regarding Bears Ears specifically to the President no more than 45 days from the date of the EO.

The EO states: “Within 45 days of the date of this order, the Secretary shall provide an interim report to the President… The interim report shall include recommendations for such Presidential actions, legislative proposals, or other actions consistent with law as the Secretary may consider appropriate to carry out the policy set forth in section 1 of this order.”

“I spent a lot of time on the ground in Utah, talking with people and understanding the natural and cultural significance of the area. There is no doubt that it is drop-dead gorgeous country and that it merits some degree of protection, but designating a monument that – including state land- encompasses almost 1.5 million-acres where multiple-use management is hindered or prohibited is not the best use of the land and is not in accordance with the intention of the Antiquities Act,” said Secretary Ryan Zinke. “I’ve submitted my 45-day interim report to President Trump expressing my belief that the monument needs to be right-sized and that it is absolutely critical that an appropriate part be co-managed by the Tribal nations. I also recommend that Congress take action to protect some areas.”

Regarding ongoing management and consultation with Tribal interests, Secretary Zinke said: “Co-management will be absolutely key going forward and I recommend that the monument, and especially the areas of significant cultural interest, be co-managed by the Tribal nations. I am grateful representatives from the Tribal governments met with me in Utah and am optimistic for our future.”

In May, Secretary Zinke traveled to Utah and held a four-day listening tour across the state to learn more about Bears Ears National Monument and the neighboring Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. When accounting for state and private land, the perimeter of Bears Ears encompasses almost 1.5 million acres. Grand Staircase is 1.7 million acres.

The Secretary met with State, local, and Tribal stakeholders and toured the monument by air, car, foot, and horseback. He met with elected officials from Tribal, federal, state, and local communities. He also met with representatives from agriculture, conservation, historic preservation, and tourism sectors, as well as private citizens. The Secretary also held daily press briefings during the trip.

The Secretary met with the Bears Ears InterTribal Coalition while visiting Bears Ears National Monument on May 7, and the Acting Deputy Secretary held a four-hour follow-up meeting with the Bears Ears Commission and the InterTribal Coalition on May 25.

Prior to the trip to Utah in early May, Secretary Zinke opened up a formal public comment period where members of the public could submit their statements regarding all monuments to the Secretary. The was the first time ever that a formal public comment period was set up for monuments designated under the Antiquities Act.

“Local input is absolutely critical when it comes to federal land management decisions and as such, I’m extending the public comment period for Bears Ears. I want every advocate to have their voice heard,” said Secretary Zinke.

Due to the 120-day final review period for Bears Ears National Monument, the formal public comment period for Bears Ears will be extended through July 10th and will close with the overall comment period. Comments may be submitted on regulations.gov or by traditional mail. If an individual submitted a comment on Bears Ears during the initial comment period, they do not need to resubmit.

Executive Order 13792:

Executive Order 13792 of April 26, 2017 (82 FR 20429, May 1, 2017), directs the Secretary of the Interior to review certain National Monuments designated or expanded under the Antiquities Act of 1906, 54 U.S.C. 320301-320303 (Act). Specifically, Section 2 of the Executive Order directs the Secretary to conduct a review of all Presidential designations or expansions of designations under the Antiquities Act made since January 1, 1996, where the designation covers more than 100,000 acres, where the designation after expansion covers more than 100,000 acres, or where the Secretary determines that the designation or expansion was made without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders, to determine whether each designation or expansion conforms to the policy set forth in section 1 of the order. Among other provisions, Section 1 states that designations should reflect the Act’s “requirements and original objectives” and “appropriately balance the protection of landmarks, structures, and objects against the appropriate use of Federal lands and the effects on surrounding lands and communities.”  82 FR 20429 (May 1, 2017). 

In making the requisite determinations, the Secretary is directed to consider:

(i)    the requirements and original objectives of the Act, including the Act’s requirement that reservations of land not exceed “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected”;
(ii)   whether designated lands are appropriately classified under the Act as “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, [or] other objects of historic or scientific interest”;
(iii)  the effects of a designation on the available uses of designated Federal lands, including consideration of the multiple-use policy of section 102(a)(7) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 U.S.C. 1701(a)(7)), as well as the effects on the available uses of Federal lands beyond the monument boundaries;
(iv)   the effects of a designation on the use and enjoyment of non-Federal lands within or beyond monument boundaries;
(v)    concerns of State, tribal, and local governments affected by a designation, including the economic development and fiscal condition of affected States, tribes, and localities;
(vi)   the availability of Federal resources to properly manage designated areas; and
(vii)  such other factors as the Secretary deems appropriate.
82 FR 20429-20430 (May 1, 2017)

Trump admin backs UN oceans plan

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States supported a global call to action at the United Nations on Friday to conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources, even as it noted President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw from a pact to fight climate change.

The first U.N. Ocean Conference ended on Friday with the adoption of a Call to Action, which said: “We are particularly alarmed by the adverse impacts of climate change on the ocean.”

“We recognize, in this regard, the particular importance of the Paris Agreement, adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,” it read.

After the consensus adoption, David Balton, deputy U.S. assistant secretary for oceans and fisheries, reminded the summit “that on June 1 our president announced that the United States will withdraw from or renegotiate U.S. participation in the Paris agreement or another international climate deal.”

Trump’s decision to pull the United States from the landmark 2015 Paris agreement drew anger and condemnation from world leaders and heads of industry.

Speaking after the United States, French Ambassador for the Oceans Serge Segura received applause from delegates in the U.N. General Assembly after stating climate change was real.

“France is committed to upholding all of our obligations under the Paris agreement both for our welfare, but also for the welfare of the international community as a whole,” he said.

The week long ocean summit promoted partnerships, such as between governments and businesses, to address issues such as marine pollution, ocean acidification, and marine research. More than 1,300 voluntary commitments to save the ocean were made.

Safegarding the ocean was one of 17 goals adopted in 2015 by the 193 U.N. member states as part of an agenda for the world’s sustainable development up to 2030. Another goal calls for “urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”

 

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown)

 

Trump administration orders review of landmark sage grouse plan

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – The Trump administration has ordered a review of sweeping federal land-use restrictions adopted in 2015 to safeguard the greater sage grouse, a once-ubiquitous prairie bird whose fate is tied to the health of America’s vast but vanishing Western grasslands.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the 60-day review of sage grouse conservation rules in a Wednesday conference call with reporters, saying Western governors have complained that federal implementation of the plan has been alternately “heavy-handed” and inconsistent.

Environmental groups immediately protested the move, saying it might lead to unraveling a complex and delicately balanced strategy that took federal agencies years to negotiate with state and local governments, scientists, ranchers and other private interests.

The Obama administration launched the plan in September 2015 as an alternative to listing the ground-dwelling bird under the Endangered Species Act, a move that would potentially have entailed even tougher habitat protections.

Zinke insisted he was seeking to perfect, not dismantle, sage grouse conservation measures, while allowing greater innovation and “flexibility” by individual states on “such things as jobs and energy development.”

He said greater focus might be placed on factors other than strict habitat protection, such as predator, disease and wildfire control. Zinke also said some states have suggested the overall strategy place more emphasis on grouse population numbers than on habitat size.

Two Western governors, Democrat John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Republican Matthew Mead of Wyoming, who co-chair a federal-state sage grouse task force, contradicted such a shift in a letter to Zinke last month.

“We understand that you are considering … moving from a habitat management model to one that sets population objectives for the states. We are concerned that this is not the right decision,” they wrote in the May 26 letter.

The plight of the grouse, a key indicator species for America’s dwindling sagebrush ecosystem, has pitted conservation groups against oil and gas drilling, wind farms and cattle grazing in one of the biggest industry-versus-nature conflicts in decades.

The landmark measures implemented 21 months ago were aimed at saving the grouse while allowing activities such as energy development, mining and ranching to co-exist with the chicken-sized prairie fowl.

The greater sage grouse, known for its elaborate mating rituals, once ranged by the millions across a broad expanse of the western United States and Canada. They are now believed to number between 200,000 and 500,000 birds across 11 Western states and southern Alberta.

Besides a patchwork of conservation programs for state and private lands representing 45 percent of sage grouse habitat, the new strategy includes a set of tiered limits on commercial development inside 67 million acres (27 million hectares) of designated habitat on federal land.

Unlike many Western land-use battles of the past, sage grouse conservation drew wide support from commercial interests. Many ranchers, in particular, found common cause with efforts to protect the rangelands on which their livestock depend, citing the axiom: “What’s good for the bird is good for the herd.”

 

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Trott)

 

Trump admin says it is still committed to global climate controls

TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said on Monday the United States was committed to the environment despite President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of a 2015 global agreement to fight climate change.

Trump’s decision last week prompted criticism from allies and environmentalists alike but Perry, in Tokyo to discuss energy issues, said the United States would continue to work to cut emissions.

“The United States is not backing down from its role as a leader on cleaning up the climate,” Perry told reporters, adding he hoped that China would take this as “an opportunity to step forward and be real leader”.

China is the world’s biggest emitter of carbon emissions blamed for causing atmospheric temperatures to rise.

Perry spoke after meeting Japanese Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko, who told him that Japan was sorry the United States had decided to pull out of the Paris accord, a ministry official said. Seko was reassured the U.S. remained committed to reducing emissions, the official said.

Perry said the two nations would continue working together in decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, wrecked by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, which he visited on Sunday.

The two countries agreed to share information on Toshiba Corp and Perry said that issues involving the bankruptcy of Toshiba’s U.S. unit Westinghouse Electric Co should not affect their cooperation in the nuclear sector.

 

(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Nick Macfie)

 

Congress calls on Sessions to investigate DoJ abuses in WOTUS case

House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (TX-11) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Bob Goodlatte (VA-6) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling for a review of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision to prosecute a California court case alleging violations under the Clean Water Act (CWA) – directly related to both the statutory exemptions for farming and Obama administration’s waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.

The letter requests information about DOJ’s process for prosecuting violations of the CWA, citing specific concerns about the case of Duarte Nursery v. Army Corps of Engineers. In the letter, the chairmen note both committees’ concerns that the court’s opinion is “not consistent with legislative intent behind the farming exemptions under the CWA.” The letter also seeks to clarify whether a legislative fix is required to protect farmers, such California farmer John Duarte, from similar prosecution in the future. 

Mr. Duarte’s case clearly highlights the need to keep the federal government out of America’s backyards, fields and ditches. Little-by-little we watched the previous administration chip away at the rights of land and property-owners, aiming to expand its authority through broad new rules under WOTUS, all while providing little clarity to farmers and ranchers about what qualifies for exemptions. Our letter aims to work with the new administration to better define current interpretations of both WOTUS and farming exemptions so we can begin to set new rules of the road that will protect our farmers and ranchers from onerous fines, penalties and regulations,” said Chairman Conaway.

“The regulatory overreach of the previous administration is having a negative impact on the lives of hardworking Americans. Congress made its intentions of how the Clean Water Act was to be applied for the health and safety of Americans, but the Obama administration has twisted law to serve a political agenda. We will work with President Trump and the new administration to reverse Obama-era regulations that are hurting American farmers, as well as other industries, and private citizens alike,” said Chairman Goodlatte.

Mr. Duarte’s case stems from a February 2013 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) allegation that the vernal pools on Mr. Duarte’s land are considered WOTUS, thus subject to CWA authority. The Corps argued that based on inconsistent agriculture production patterns on Mr. Duarte’s land prior to his purchase in 2012 he did not qualify for farming exemptions and had violated the CWA when he plowed his field in late 2012. Mr. Duarte now faces fines of roughly $2.8 million and additional costly mitigation measures.

Full text of the letter is available below.
_

May 26, 2017

The Honorable Jeff Sessions              
Attorney General of the United States          
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW         
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Attorney General Sessions:

As Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary (“Committees”), we have been following the case of Duarte Nursery v. Army Corps of Engineers very closely. As you may know, the interpretations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and its farming exemptions are critical to farmers and ranchers across the nation and, thus, are of particular interest to the Agriculture Committee, especially given the Committee’s jurisdiction over agriculture generally. The Judiciary Committee’s oversight responsibilities include ensuring that the Justice Department enforces the law as Congress intended.

The prosecution of Mr. Duarte raises concerns that the Congressional intent behind the farming exemptions in the statute is misunderstood. Specifically, it is the Agriculture Committee’s view that even occasional farm activities, including grazing, qualify as “normal” farming under the statutory exemption, and also are part of an established operation for purposes of the exemption. Further, it is the Committee’s view that the activity at issue in this case constitute plowing for the purposes of the exemption.

To better understand the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) process for prosecuting potential violations of the CWA and in order to determine whether or not legislation is required to correct potential misinterpretations of the law, the Committees request the following information:

  • What does the DOJ consider in determining whether or not to prosecute a violation of the CWA?
  • Is it appropriate to seek reduced penalties where the alleged violation is based on a novel or strained interpretation of the underlying statutory authority?
  • Have there been any cases where DOJ has entered into contingent settlements pending an appeal of a CWA case? If so, please describe the circumstances of those cases.
  • Has DOJ ever declined on appeal to advance CWA arguments that were successful at the district court level? If so, please describe the circumstances of those cases.

If you have any questions about this request, please contact Agriculture Committee staff at (202) 225-2171 and the Judiciary Committee at (202) 225-3951.

Sincerely,

K. Michael Conaway                                                             
Chairman        
House Committee on Agriculture      

Bob Goodlatte           
Chairman
House Committee on the Judiciary                 

cc:        The Honorable Scott Pruitt, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency