The Fight for Our Public Lands, Wildlife and Economies Begins

Ryan Zinke, a now former Congressman from Montana, has just been confirmed to lead the Department of Interior.  He has a lifetime record of voting against the environment 96% of the time. His confirmation jeopardizes the future of our public lands, and the people, wildlife, and economies that depend on them.

Zinke’s answers to questions during the confirmation process provide insight into how he envisions the Department of Interior will manage millions of acres of federal lands and the natural resources under and on our wild places. When asked if humans have contributed to climate change, he questioned whether we are the driving force. When asked about protecting public lands, he refused to commit to keeping dirty fuels in the ground. He even said that the recent designation of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, lands that are sacred to five Native American tribes with ancestral and spiritual ties to these lands, was one of the “pending problems we need to address quickly.”

Our public lands allow us to experience the majesty of the great outdoors, learn about our country’s history, and honor those whose cultural history dates back millennia. It’s now become imperative that we step up and fight so that future generations can enjoy these places, too.

Further Reading:

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How Politicians Are Using Taxpayer Money To Fund Their Campaign and To Sell Off America’s Public Lands

— by Matt Lee-Ashley, Guest Contributor at ThinkProgress-Climate

west land
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/REED SAXON

The recent Cliven Bundy debacle in Nevada put a national spotlight on the long-running, and long-failing, effort by right-wing Western legislators to seize federal public lands and either turn them over to the states or sell them to the highest bidder.

While the renewal of this so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” has thus far been carried out with limited resources by part-time legislators like State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT), new research shows that its leaders are now using taxpayer money from at least 42 counties in nine Western states to advance an aggressive and coordinated campaign to seize America’s public lands and national forests for drilling, mining, and logging.

According to a ThinkProgress analysis, the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states to claim ownership of federal lands — has collected contributions of taxpayer money from government officials in 18 counties in Utah, 10 counties in Nevada, four counties in Washington, three counties in Arizona, two counties in Oregon, two counties in New Mexico, and one county in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. In total, county-level elected officials have already paid the ALC more than $200,000 in taxpayer money. A list of these counties and their “membership levels” can be seen on the ALC website.

Since its inception in 2012, the ALC has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states. So far, Utah is the only state to have signed a law calling for the seizure of federal lands, but Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have passed bills to study the idea and further action is expected in statehouses during 2015 legislative sessions.

Legal experts report that Utah’s law, and similar bills being advanced by ALC and ALEC are in clear violation of Article IV of the Constitution, are in conflict with the laws that established Western states, and would be overturned if ever tested in federal court.

As the American Lands Council has grown in influence and resources, its activities have received new scrutiny. ALC President Ken Ivory, for example, reportedly earned more than $40,000 from the organization in 2012 (his salary for 2013 has not yet been disclosed). According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Ivory’s wife, Becky, also receives payments from the ALC.

A recent fundraising email obtained by ThinkProgress also shows that at least one ALC member, Washington County, Utah Commissioner Alan Gardner, is using his government title and government email account to raise money for ALC’s lobbying efforts and training of political candidates.

The fundraising solicitation that was sent from Gardner’s official government email address on June 13 asks county governments to contribute $1,000 to become a “Bronze” member, $5,000 to become a “Silver” member, or $25,000 to become a “Gold” member of the ALC.  Gardner confirmed to ThinkProgress that he was the author of the email.

The fundraising solicitation says that up to $100,000 will be spent by ALC on a “Campaign Project” aimed at equipping candidates for federal, state, and county office with “materials and resources to build broad based Knowledge and Courage to compel Congress to honor its promise to us and our children to transfer title to the public lands….” Gardner’s email also reports that the funds will be used for lobbyists, a legal team, polling, and engaging the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

ALC’s use of county funds adds to the growing cost to taxpayers of the right-wing land seizure movement. The state of Utah, for example, has already spent more than $500,000 to study a takeover of federal land and has set aside an additional $3 million for legal fees to fight the federal government in court. In Idaho, when the Attorney General’s office questioned the legality of seizing federal lands, legislators in the state spent more than$20,000 on private counsel. In Nevada, a federal land seizure study cost taxpayers more than $66,000, while a special task force to study the issue in Wyoming cost taxpayers$30,000.

In addition to using taxpayer funds to advance unconstitutional bills to seize federal lands, the ALC also relies on financial support from the mining industry and fossil fuel interest groups. Americans for Prosperity, for example — another group financed by the Koch brothers — is listed as a “Bronze Member” of ALC. Mesa Exploration, a mining company whose recent proposal to build a potash mine in an area that the Donner Party crossed in 1846 was recently nixed by federal land managers, is also listed as a “Bronze Member” on ALC’s website.

Matt Lee-Ashley is a senior fellow and director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter at @MLeeAshley.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

7 Deadly Amendments That Would’ve Protected Dirty Energy And Trashed The Climate

— by Ryan Koronowski, Tiffany Germain, Guest Blogger, Dan Weiss, Guest Blogger and Jessica Goad

Over the weekend, Senate Democrats passed a federal budget for Fiscal Year 2014. In order to do so, Senate rules allow for consideration of any amendment that is brought to the floor. Senators introduced hundreds of amendments, which resulted in a “vote-o-rama.”

Many conservatives offered amendments to undermine existing and potential public health safeguards, particularly those that would attempt to reduce climate pollution. Below are seven deadly amendments to curtail protection for our children’s health and heritage. As usual, these conservatives are focused on protecting dirty energy companies profits at the expense of public health.

  • Blunt #261: This amendment would have blocked future legislation to impose a carbon tax or fee to reduce industrial carbon pollution and raise revenue. Specifically, the amendment would create a “point-of-order” against any carbon tax measure that could only be overcome with a three-fifths vote of legislators. While it would have been a mostly symbolic move, the fossil fuel industry’s friends in the Senate are reiterating their opposition to government action on climate pollution. However, the impacts of climate change have already been felt across the country — in 2011 and 2012, the United States suffered from 25 climate related storms, floods, heat waves, drought, and wildfires that each caused at least $1 billion in damages, with a total price tag of $188 billion. The Blunt amendment would allow these damages and costs to grow unchecked. Result: FAILED 53-46
  • Coats #514: This amendment would have struck down key Clean Air Act protections by authorizing the President to exempt any industrial facility from complying with air toxics standards for two-year periods. Essentially, the amendment would have given a free pass to coal-burning power plants from EPA’s 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which were put in place due to the well-documented health risks of mercuryarsenic, and the millions of pounds of additional hazardous chemicals. Methylmercury from coal pollution accumulates in fish, poisoning pregnant women and small children. Mercury can harm children’s developing brains, including effects on memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills. Upgrades to the aged and dirty coal plants will also significantly reduce harmful particle pollution, preventing hundreds of thousands of illnesses and up to 17,000 premature deaths each year. “The ‘monetized’ value of these and certain other health benefits would amount to $37–90 billion per year,” the Environmental Protection Agency determined. Republicans are once again trying to protect the dirty energy industry over our children’s health. Result: FAILED 46-53
  • Alexander #516: This would “repeal … the wind production tax credit.” The PTC provides a tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity to encourage investment in clean wind energy. A CAP analysis determined that “wind power helps lower electricity prices.” Along with state renewable portfolio or electricity standards, the PTC has enabled “the wind industry … to lower the cost of wind power by more than 90% [and] provide power to the equivalent of over 12 million American homes.” A Navigant Consulting analysis predicted that eliminating the PTC would cost 37,000 jobs. Some argue that we should end tax provisions for clean technologies, including wind. However, this ignores the fact that the oil and gas industries have received $80 in support for every $1 for wind and other renewable energy sources over the past 95 years. In addition, the Alexander amendment would ignore the annual $4 billion in special tax breaks for big oil companies. Result: Did not come to the floor for a vote.
  • Inhofe #359: This amendment would “[prohibit] further greenhouse gas regulations for the purpose of addressing climate change.” This would have prevented the EPA from enforcing the Clean Air Act as interpreted by the Supreme Court, which ruled that EPA is required to regulate carbon and other climate change pollutants that endanger public health and welfare. EPA proposed the first carbon pollution standard for new power plants in 2012. After it is finalized, EPA must set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants — responsible for two-fifths of U.S. carbon pollution. Such reductions are essential to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. Result: FAILED 47-52
  • Cruz #470: This radical amendment would have limited the amount of land owned by the federal government in each state. It is yet another attempt by Republicans to give federal public lands over to states or private companies so as to better exploit them, and is in line with recent efforts of House Republicans to sell off “millions of acres” of public lands to private companies. Despite what this amendment implies, public lands provide tremendous economic benefits to local communities. For example, recreation and other uses of the 500 million acres of public lands managed by the Interior Department contributed two million jobs and $385 billion in economic activity in 2011. Result: Did not come to the floor for a vote.
  • Vitter #544: This amendment would have dismantled the president’s authority to protect America’s historical and natural treasures under the Antiquities Act. Since it was passed in 1906, 16 out of 19 presidents have used the act to protect places like the Statue of Liberty, Muir Woods, the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Acadia. Just this week it was reported that President Obama would create five new national monuments including Delaware’s first-ever national park. The Vitter amendment would have kept the president from answering local communities’ calls to protect such places for future generations. Result: Did not come to the floor for a vote.
  • Murkowski #370: This amendment states that it would “increase oil and natural gas production on Federal lands and waters,” despite the fact that oil production is at its highest level in 20 years. Additionally, the Congressional Research Service noted that over the last four years oil production from federally-owned areas was higher than in 2008, despite the fact that companies are choosing to “follow the oil” to shale plays on non-federal lands. Murkowski’s amendment isn’t the only one that would have sought to fulfill the wish list of the oil and gas industry — Sessions #204 would have opened the economically and environmentally vibrant coasts of Virginia and North Carolina to dangerous oil and gas exploration. Result: Did not come to the floor for a vote.

On Monday March 18, the GOP released its “Growth and Opportunity Project” or “autopsy” report that tried to determine why Republicans lost in 2012, and how to prevent future defeats. While the report did not mention climate or energy — or deal with much policy — it did talk demographics and messaging. The report urged that the Republican Party should change its tone, “… especially on certain social issues that are turning off young voters.” They need to “promote forward-looking, positive policy proposals that unite young voters,” and “be conscious of developing a forward-leaning vision for voting Republican that appeals to women.” And finally, they stress the importance of “addressing the concerns of minority communities.”

In their effort to do the bidding of big oil and other major polluters, the authors of these seven deadly amendments blithely ignore the findings and recommendations of this autopsy. The groups most harmed by and concerned about climate change are most supportive of addressing the problem: young people, women, and minority groups.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center forAmerican Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Interior Department Protects Special Areas within National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska

In case you missed the big news this week, a staggering 11 MILLION ACRES of the most important wildlife habitat in the Western Arctic gained protection in a move hailed by conservation groups and Alaska Natives.

The Western Arctic – the largest expanse of undisturbed public land in the US – is home to some of the world’s greatest caribou herds as well as the country’s largest concentration of grizzly bears. It’s also home to gray wolves, peregrine falcons, muskoxen, bald eagles, and beluga whales.

The announcement from the Obama administration that roughly half of the entire Western Arctic will be protected from harmful activities like oil and gas development is a huge relief to all those who care about the majestic Arctic.

Earth Justice Press Release, February 21, 2013, Washington, D.C. 

Today, the Department of the Interior issued a Record of Decision that formally adopts a new Integrated Activity Plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve). Located on Alaska’s North Slope and almost 22 million acres in size, the Reserve is our country’s largest single unit of public land. The final plan appropriately protects five unique Special Areas including Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Kasegaluk Lagoon, Peard Bay and Colville River in the Reserve, which are critical to fish, wildlife, recreation and Alaska Native subsistence. The announcement of the final Integrated Activity Plan wraps up a multiyear planning process, and is the first ever comprehensive plan that has been completed for the entire Reserve.

imageMore than 400,000 Americans, including sportsmen, Alaska Native subsistence users represented by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group and villages, tribes and other organizations representing more than 90 villages in Alaska called for protection of the wildlife and special places within the Reserve. Alaska Natives have relied upon the Reserve’s resources for thousands of years for their subsistence use and continuance of their culture.

Conservation groups look forward to continuing to work with the Department of the Interior to refine needed protections for key special areas within the Reserve. The groups have the following quotes:

“We thank the Department of the Interior for protecting special areas within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska,” said Cindy Shogan, Executive Director, Alaska Wilderness League. “The Department of the Interior has crafted a plan that protects and recognizes the vital role of subsistence, scenic and recreational values, and unique wildlife values. The Reserve is home to our most iconic wildlife, like caribou, muskoxen, grizzly bears and beluga whales. Thank you for protecting this special place for future generations.”

Brian O’Donnell, executive director for the Conservation Lands Foundation stated, "I applaud the Obama administration’s final plan for the Reserve. Through this plan, the administration and Secretary Salazar protected key wildlife habitat and areas critical to Native subsistence."

“The plan is a huge step for conservation of the Western Arctic, an area increasingly stressed by climate change, and provides critical protections for key lands in the Reserve and the wildlife dependent on it, including migratory birds from around the world, caribou, bears, wolves, beluga whales, and walrus,” said Martin Hayden, Vice President, Policy and Legislation for Earthjustice.

image“By protecting 11 million acres of Arctic wetlands and wildlife nurseries, this final decision proves that sound energy policy and conservation can go hand in hand. And not only that, they must,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold. “We strongly endorse the plan as a victory for birds, wildlife, and America’s future. It says that some places really are too precious to drill, and there’s no better example than the Teshekpuk Lake area, one of the planet’s most prolific bird factories.”

“This plan will protect hundreds of thousands of caribou; the environmentally sensitive Teshekpuk Lake that’s a crucial migratory bird habitat, and some of the most remote and wild land left in America. It is a bold step that will safeguard one of America’s wildest and most ecologically important places from the hazards that come inherently with energy development,” said Charles Clusen, director of national parks and Alaska projects for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The area-wide plan provides more enduring protections for vital Teshekpuk Lake wetlands, and shields sensitive wildlife including migratory birds and caribou from risky oil development, spills and industrial activity,” said Pamela A. Miller, Arctic Program Director of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center in Fairbanks. “The plan also affords protections for other remarkable areas like upper Colville River and Utukok Uplands for caribou, bear, wolf, and wolverine, and coastal estuaries like Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay where rich marine life thrives.”

“The Reserve coastline and adjacent ocean waters of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas support an abundance and diversity of Arctic marine mammal species and other wildlife.” said Stan Senner, Director of Conservation Science for Ocean Conservancy. “We are grateful that the Department of the Interior’s plan provides meaningful protection for key coastal areas, including polar bear habitat, walrus and spotted seal haul out areas, and coastal habitats important to beluga whales.”

image

"The special places in Alaska’s western Arctic are some of the wildest and most important wildlife habitat in North America. The Utukok uplands are the calving grounds for our nation’s largest caribou herd, the tundra and wetlands around Teshekpuk Lake provide nesting habitat for waterfowl and shore birds, and beluga wales and seabirds ply the waters of Kasegaluk Lagoon," said Dan Ritzman, Alaska Program Director for the Sierra Club. "The Obama Administration’s plan protects these and other special places and provides for the subsistence needs of the local communities. We applaud the administration for taking critical steps forward in conserving and protecting some of our most pristine wild places."

“We are grateful to the Obama administration for a fair and thoughtful decision that balances conservation, Alaska Natives’ needs for subsistence resources, and the nation’s demand for energy,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “This strategy protects incredibly valuable wildlife habitat for caribou, bears and migratory waterfowl in the Western Arctic, yet still allows industry access to the majority of economically recoverable oil in the reserve. It’s a plan that meets the needs of all Americans.”

Congressional Activity This Week

Here’s the new weekly update from POPVOX.


From our Hill sources — the week ahead includes consideration of these bills:

The House will consider several bills dealing with cybersecurity this week, while the Senate will spend much of the week on a bill to save the U.S. Postal Service.

Four cybersecurity bills in the House on Thurs, Fri

— The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protect Act (HR 3523), from Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI-8), which would allow the government to share information with companies to help protect their networks. This was the fourth-most discussed bill on POPVOX last week.

— The Federal Information Security Amendments Act (HR 4257), from Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA-49), is aimed at “improving the framework for securing information technology of federal government systems.”

— The Cybersecurity Enhancement Act (HR 2096), from Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX-10), is meant to foster coordinated research between federal agencies to help address cyber threats.

— The Advancing America’s Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Act (HR 3834), from Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX-4), would reauthorize the government’s NITRD cybersecurity program. Bills in the Senate

— The 21st Century Postal Service Act (S 1789) (number 8 on POPVOX last week), is a bipartisan bill that would allow the U.S. Postal Service restructure its retirement payments in a bid to keep the USPS fiscally sound. Starting on Tuesday, the Senate is expected to start voting on up to 39 amendments to the bill.

—  The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote on SJRes 36, a Republican resolution that disapproves of a 2010 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board meant to speed up union elections. —  The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (S 1925) should be debated later in the week.

— Highway funding: Also look for the House and Senate to start reconciling their differences over federal highway funding. Last week, the House passed an extension of highway programs through the end of the fiscal year, HR 4348. In March, the Senate approved a two-year extension, S 1813. Both bills have overwhelming negative comments on PopVox.

Also in the House this week

The early part of the week for the House will be filled with several non-controversial bills. On Tuesday, the House will consider six bills dealing with federal land use:

— To authorize the conveyance of two parcels of land in the Coconino National Forest (HR 1038)

— The Idaho Wilderness Water Resources Protection Act (HR 2050)

— To facilitate a land exchange in the Inyo National Forest (HR 2157)

— To release the U.S. interest in land conveyed to establish an airport in Minnesota (HR 2497)

— To modify the boundaries of the Cibola National Forest (HR 491)

— The Lowell National Historical Park Land Exchange Act (HR 2240)

And on Wednesday, the House will consider two others:

— The Small Business Credit Availability Act (HR 3336), which ensures the exclusion of small lenders from certain regulations of the Dodd-Frank Act

— The DATA Act (HR 2146), a bill aimed at increasing the transparency of federal spending

Other noteworthy bills

— The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, (HR 4089), the most-discussed bill on POPVOX last week, passed the House on April 17.

— The Paying a Fair Share Act (S 2230), the second-most discussed bill on POPVOX, failed to advance in the Senate last week. The bill would impose a minimum tax on all income above $1 million.

The Student Loan Forgiveness Act (HR 4170) sets up a program to ease the burden of student loans on students. This bill, the third-most discussed on POPVOX, is currently not being discussed in any of the committees to which it was referred.

(Find this on the POPVOX blog.)


Newly Introduced

WARNING!
The list of newly introduced bills is LONG, we’ve highlighted many of them at http://www.popvox.com/blog/2012/newly-introduced-bills-congress-week-april-16/ . (Keep in mind that these bills are so new that many don’t yet have bill text available online. So keep checking back.)


Recent Issue Spotlights

We developed Issue Spotlights to pull together bills by category, making it easier for individuals to find bills related to a particular issue. Spotlights have become popular among our users, and are often shared through email and listservs. (If you have an idea for an Issue Spotlight, please let me know.)

What about HR 4646 — the 1% tax on financial transactions?
“HR 4646” has consistently been a popular bill search term on POPVOX, even though no current bill numbered HR 4646 exists. Get the scoop.

The Research Works Act: The Research Works Act (HR 3699), which would prohibit Federal agencies from disseminating publicly-funded research without publisher consent, was withdrawn by its sponsors on Feb. 27, 2012. Learn why POPVOX users opposed the bill.

Vietnam Veterans Day
President Obama signed a proclamation declaring March 29 as “Vietnam Veterans Day.” The last American troops left Vietnam on March 29, 1973.

Estate Tax
According to the IRS, “the laws on Estate and Gift Taxes are considered to be some of the most complicated in the tax code.”

Personal Income Tax
Given Tax Day, it seemed fitting to do a spotlight on tax bills!