Appeals will continue, but let’s take the Halbig decision at face value. How much will this decision cost the working poor? The amount varies with income and other variables, but for a 40 year old individual making $30,000 a year, the tax credit was estimated at $1345 (KFF estimate here). Retroactive tax bills under Halbig will be significant and everyone impacted will have trouble paying for health insurance going forward (about 57% of exchange participants were previously uninsured, according to a KFF survey).
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.
— by Tom Kenworthy, Guestblogger at ThinkProgress, August 12, 2013
This week, to see how climate change will pull a nasty water surprise on the desert Southwest, you only need to look at one river.
Lake Powell is the giant reservoir on the Utah-Arizona border that backs up behind Glen Canyon Dam and is the linchpin for managing the Colorado River. The Colorado basically makes modern life possible in seven western states by providing water for some 40 million people and irrigating 4 million acres of crops. It is also depended upon by 22 native American tribes, 7 national wildlife refuges and 11 national parks.
As soon as Monday, the federal government’s Bureau of Reclamation will announce the results of some very serious number crunching and model running focused on falling water levels in Lake Powell. It is widely expected that the bureau will announce that there is a serious water shortage and that for the first time in the 50-year-history of the dam, the amount of water that will be released from the reservoir will be cut. Not just cut, but cut by 750,000 acre feet — an acre foot being enough water to cover an acre one foot deep. That’s more than 9 percent below the 8.23 million acre feet that is supposed to be delivered downstream to Lake Mead for use in the states of California, Nevada and Arizona and the country of Mexico under the 81-year old Colorado River Compact and later agreements.
It will be, in the somewhat dry appraisal of Anne Castle, the assistant secretary of the Interior for water and science who oversees the bureau, “very unusual.”
Unusual, and unprecedented, but not totally unforeseen.
Six years ago, following another period of dropping water levels in Colorado River reservoirs, the federal government and the seven states that rely on the river agreed on“interim operating guidelines” for apportioning water in the event of shortages. That step is part of a longer-term process of trying to figure out how to deal with a river system that is no longer providing the volumes of water the southwest long ago came to expect. The guidelines require the secretary of the Interior each year to assess what the water supply looks like for the lower Colorado River basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona. The secretary can choose among three declarations: normal, surplus or shortage. This year the smart money is on shortage.
Lake Powell, and its downstream cousin, Lake Mead — formed by Hoover Dam — are the two largest reservoirs in the U.S. They are the main plumbing fixtures for dividing up Colorado River water under a complex set of agreements known as the Law of the River. The Colorado River Compact is the most important of those agreements, and requires that the lower basin states and upper basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) each get 7.5 million acre feet a year. Mexico gets another 1.5 million under a 1944 treaty.
All good in theory, but the river was divided up in the 1920’s, a wet period when river flows were high. Times, and flows, have changed.
Now, the two reservoirs are giant flat water billboards advertising what climate change is doing to the American West. Persistent drought, and diminished snow runoff in the Rocky Mountains, have drastically shrunk the two reservoirs. Both are now less than half full, and both sport bathtub rings that show in dramatic fashion how high the waters used to be. Inflows to Powell this year are about 42 percent of average.
Some people believe that Lake Powell is toast, that it will never fill up again. For a lake that attracts a couple of million visitors a year who spend lavishly on houseboats, fishing gear, sun tan lotion and beer, that has some serious economic implications.
It could get worse.
Lake Powell is a moneymaker in other ways. Glen Canyon Dam and its hydroelectric turbines, produce 1320 megawatts of electricity, enough for about 1.3 million people. That yields something like $125 million every year, and that pot of money pays for the operations of much of the entire Colorado River Storage Project, and a host of vital environmental restoration programs.
Droughts do happen from time to time. But the hydrological cycle is being stressed by more than just natural variations. As greenhouse gases trap more heat in the atmosphere, dry areas like the Southwest will get drier and drier.
Last month, Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in western Colorado, which looks out for the state’s interest in river issues, sent a memo to his board of directors outlining the likelihood of a shortage declaration by the Bureau of Reclamation.
“A one year shortage is probably not a big deal,” wrote Kuhn. But he made it clear that a multi-year shortage, and some very serious repercussions, are quite possible. In 2015, Kuhn wrote, the water level in Lake Powell may fall low enough — below what is known as minimum power head — to shut down the production of hydroelectric power. “The financial impacts could be substantial,” he wrote.
“The scary scenario for the Lower Basin is a multi-year shortage,” according to Kuhn’s memo. Among the impacts: big water delivery cuts to Nevada and Arizona, power production from Hoover Dam is “dramatically reduced,” recreation on Lake Meade “becomes marginal.”
Long term, the outlook is particularly grim. Late last year, a joint study by the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven river basin states looked at water supply prospects over the next half century. It projects average yearly imbalances between supply and demand of 3.2 million acre feet by 2060. An acre foot is about what a typical suburban household uses in a year.
Asked what she thinks of Kuhn’s analysis, Bureau of Reclamation overseer Castle told Climate Progress that “it’s based on some pretty draconian scenarios, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.” But she predicts that ultimately “the states and the federal agencies together with all the stakeholders on the river will come together around a management plan that will attempt to ensure that we don’t hit critical [water levels] in either Powell or Mead.”
Outside groups are looking for solutions, too, and one — the Glen Canyon Institute, which advocates for a free-flowing Colorado River and the restoration of the magnificent canyon inundated by the dam and the filling of Lake Powell — sees at least a partial answer in its “Fill Mead First” plan.
Citing research that shows large water losses in Powell because of seepage into the porous sandstone banks, Glen Canyon Institute executive director Christi Wedig says Fill Mead First could save 300,000 acre feet of water a year, equivalent to Nevada’s annual allocation. The plan would allow Lake Mead to fill first, and would keep Lake Powell at the depth just above minimum power head. It would, said Wedig, bring substantial environmental benefits to the Grand Canyon, and would reveal many of the hidden treasures of Glen Canyon and stimulate tourism there.
Before the dam and lake erased it, few people had explored Glen Canyon. Author and photographer Eliot Porter described it in his book “The Place No One Knew”
“The big features, the massive walls and towers, the shimmering vistas, the enveloping light, are all hypnotizing, shutting out awareness of the particular,” he wrote. “Later you begin to focus on the smaller, more familiar, more comprehensible objects . . . the velvety lawns of young tamarisks sprouting on the wet sand bars just vacated by the retreating flood . . . the festooned, evocative designs etched into the walls by water and lichens. It is an intimate canyon.”
“Glen Canyon has been unexplored since 1963,” said Wedig. “There is a huge opportunity to capitalize” on its re-emergence with new tourism that focuses more on exploring vivid canyons and less on partying aboard 60-foot houseboats.
Castle declined to comment on the Fill Mead First idea. But she does say that current circumstances on the Colorado River are “unprecedented.”
The last 14 years on the Colorado River, she says, have been the driest years since records began being kept in the late 1800’s, and based on tree ring studies among the driest 14 year periods in the last 1,200 years.
“If you say climate change doesn’t have an impact, you’re smoking something,” Castle concludes.
Andrew Breiner contributed graphics to this piece.
America has always been a nation of immigrants, and throughout the nation’s history, immigrants from around the globe have kept our workforce vibrant, our businesses on the cutting edge, and helped to build the greatest economic engine in the world. But our nation’s immigration system is broken and has not kept pace with changing times. Today, too many employers game the system by hiring undocumented workers and there are 11 million people living and working in the shadow economy. Neither is good for the U.S. economy or American families.
Commonsense immigration reform will strengthen the U.S. economy and create jobs. Independent studies affirm that commonsense immigration reform will increase economic growth by adding more high-demand workers to the labor force, increasing capital investment and overall productivity, and leading to greater numbers of entrepreneurs starting companies in the U.S.
Economists, business leaders, and American workers agree – and it’s why a bipartisan, diverse coalition of stakeholders have come together to urge Congress to act now to fix the broken immigration system in a way that requires responsibility from everyone —both from unauthorized workers and from those who hire them—and guarantees that everyone is playing by the same rules. The Senate recently passed a bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform bill would do just that – and it’s time for the House of Representations to join them in taking action to make sure that commonsense immigration reform becomes a reality as soon as possible.
In addition to giving a significant boost to our national economy, commonsense immigration reform will also generate important economic benefits in each state, from increasing workers’ wages and generating new tax revenue to strengthening the local industries that are the backbone of states’ economies. The new state by state reports below detail how just how immigration reform would strengthen the economy and create jobs all regions of our country.
We must take advantage of this historic opportunity to fix our broken immigration system in a comprehensive way. At stake is a stronger, more dynamic, and faster growing economy that will foster job creation, higher productivity and wages, and entrepreneurship.