Weekly Newsletter – 3/31/17

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Weekly Newsletter – 3/31/17

Issues

Zinke signs new order revoking Obama era mitigation policies. In a secretarial order on “American Energy Independence,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke revoked the department’s policy on offsetting the impacts of development on natural resources and has ordered a review of all climate change, mitigation, and energy development policies. The secretarial order, which comes on the heels on President Trump’s executive order filed Tuesday to nullify President Obama’s climate change programs, calls for more broad changes such as a “reexamination of the mitigation policies and practices across the Department of the Interior … in order to better balance conservation strategies and policies with the equally legitimate need of creating jobs for hard-working American families.”

Under former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the department had initiated policies that sought to avoid, minimize, and offset the impacts of development on lands while maximizing predictability for companies. President Obama later signed an executive order on mitigation that set a more difficult “net benefit” goal for projects permitted by the federal government. Zinke’s new order revokes Jewell’s mitigation directive and mandates that each bureau “reconsider, modify or rescind” related mitigation or climate change policies.

Zinke’s order also directs the Bureau of Land Management to rescind its regulations on hydraulic fracturing and review the methane flaring rule to ensure it aligns with President Trump’s executive order. The Secretary gave his department 21 days to identify all regulations that burden the “development or utilization of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear resources,” and then develop a plan within the next six days to reduce those burdens and bring the Department in compliance with Trump’s executive order.

Trump signs CRA undoing BLM’s Planning 2.0 rule. President Trump signed a Joint Resolution on Monday nullifying the Bureau of Land Management’s Planning 2.0 rule, an Obama-era policy that attempted to more efficiently manage resources on public lands. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), the sponsor of the original resolution, said the rule “would have given the federal government and radical environmental groups control over land use and resource planning in our state, at the expense of local officials and stakeholders.”

The Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan in January calling on Congress to use the CRA to overturn the Planning 2.0 rule. “Planning 2.0 presents multiple challenges that will prejudice multiple use interests with a bias against oil and gas resources on public lands,” the groups wrote. “The mitigation standard of a net benefit, or net conservation gain, is policymaking that has been put in place through recent executive and secretarial directives and memorandums, and is not based upon laws or rules that have gone through the lawmaking or rulemaking process.”

Zinke announces new sage grouse management plan for western states. At Tuesday’s Public Lands Council’s Legislative Conference in Washington D.C., Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke told ranchers that the agency would be releasing a sage grouse management plan for western states that would put farmers’ interests first. Zinke said that the plan would increase the role of states, noting, “I think if you are a rancher, a traditional Western guy, you are going to see a lot more power with the states…We are going to manage on number, not on habitat.”

The current sage grouse management plan, which was released in 2015 under the Obama administration, was largely unpopular among ranchers and other western republicans, industry groups, and economic development advocates who viewed the plan as government imposition in what should be a state-led bird conservation effort. At the time, Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) pushed back on the plan, saying, “The state plans work. This proposal is only about controlling land, not saving the bird.”

Secretary Zinke’s plan would tell states how large the sage grouse population in their jurisdictions should be based on conditions like weather, predators and other natural factors. Zinke said he is confident that the states are “capable of coming up with a plan that can meet those numbers.”

Congress considers ESA consultation provision. The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing examining a provision in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that requires consultation between developers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for any federally funded project that could potentially jeopardize endangered or threatened species. Property rights lawyers and representatives of the mining and construction industries were in attendance to discuss how the consultation process delays development and increases costs, limiting the country’s ability to invest in infrastructure – a key priority for the Trump administration.

The Endangered Species Act sets strict deadlines for the FWS to meet, allowing 30 days for the consultation and 180 days to determine whether a project could potentially harm federally protected species or its habitat. House Republicans are calling for reform to the provision because this process often fails to meet the mandated deadlines, leading to costly delays.

Lawmakers are pushing ESA reform as piecemeal bills as opposed to an overarching overhaul, which would face stiff opposition from Democrats. The hearing is the latest effort made in the ESA modernization process, led by Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT). Bishop commented, “One of the issues I want to address this year is really talking about what consultation is. This is something that needs a clear definition so we can actually find out when that clock needs to start ticking and who actually gets to consult and in what manner those consultations need to be addressed and considered by the federal agencies.”

In the News

Pipeline foes challenge ‘stale’ environmental review. E&E News (sub req’d). Environmental groups are taking the Trump administration to court over the recent approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. In a lawsuit filed in federal court today, a coalition of groups slammed the State Department for relying on a “stale” environmental review to support its recent approval of a cross-border permit for the contentious oil pipeline. President Trump approved the TransCanada Corp. proposal Friday, paving the way for completion after years of uncertainty for the project, which would help deliver Canadian oil to U.S. refineries. President Obama had rejected the pipeline in 2015, citing concerns about international climate leadership. “When you go through a NEPA process that’s over 3 years old, you come to a decision that it’s not in the national interest, and then come back three years later with the same environmental analysis and say that it is somehow in the national interest just doesn’t make sense,” Center for Biological Diversity Endangered Species Director Noah Greenwald told E&E News. Note: Washington Examiner, Wisconsin Gazette, Associated Press, BBC News, Bloomberg, Reuters, The Hill, Washington Times and Huffington Post also report.

Inside the Trump admin’s favorite conservation coalition. E&E News (sub req’d). On Ryan Zinke’s first full day leading the Interior Department, he hosted top officials from more than a dozen sportsmen’s groups — some of which were returning to the secretary’s wood-paneled suite for the first time in years. The gathering provided a glimpse of both how Zinke’s conservation priorities will differ from his predecessor’s and which organizations he’s most likely to consult. All but four of the 19 groups represented that day had one thing in common: They are part of American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP), a little-known consortium of sportsmen’s groups that is poised to wield considerable influence at Interior in the coming years. Some of the partner groups that sent executives to the meeting have deep ties to President Trump and Zinke. Along with the rest of AWCP, they will be pushing Interior to support overhauling the Endangered Species Act, reining in environmental litigation and streamlining environmental reviews of timber projects.

Amending Wildlife protections may trigger more development. Bloomberg BNA. Changes to federal policies on endangered species that may lie ahead in the Trump administration could pave the road for industrial, commercial and residential projects without need of congressional action, Alan Kovski reports. The administration could start by looking at what the Obama administration did over the last two and a half years, and undo those changes, lobbyists tell Alan in his story Revamp of Endangered Species Policy Could Spur Development. The House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on Tuesday takes a look at the Endangered Species Act and its role in development in a hearing called ESA Consultation Impediments to Economic and Infrastructure Development. Alan is covering that too.

Govt Data Confirms Fears The Endangered Species Act Is ‘Held Hostage By Radical Agendas’. Daily Caller. Ninety percent of the of settlements federal agencies entered into with plaintiffs under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) were with environmental groups. Environmentalists have been aggressively filing suits against the Interior Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for missing statutory deadlines under the ESA. Two dozen environmental groups filed 79 percent of the 141 ESA deadline suits from 2005 to 2015, according to Government Accountability Office (GAO) data compiled by The Daily Caller News Foundation. Interior and NOAA settled 101 of those lawsuits, 90 percent of which were with environmentalists who favor expanded federal control over development and private property. GAO’s data has Republican lawmakers concerned environmentalists effectively control federal agencies through legal action.

Deadly fungus spreads to Texas, 2 new bat species. E&E News (sub req’d). A fungus blamed for the death of millions of bats has been found for the first time in Texas, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced this afternoon. Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which causes bats to develop the deadly white-nose syndrome, was found on three species of tricolored bats in the northern part of the Lone Star State, FWS said. The cave myotis and Townsend’s big-eared bat species had not previously been affected by the cold-loving fungus. White-nose syndrome has proved extremely deadly in many bat species affected by the disease and is the primary reason the northern long-eared bat was added to the threatened species list. It causes bats hibernating in the winter to wake prematurely, leading them to starve to death after searching for insects that aren’t around. Note: Associated Press, Washington Post, and Austin American-Statesman also report.

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