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Weekly recap - January 29, 2023
Here are some things that got my attention or caught my eye.
Mostly good news this week.
Boundary Waters. The Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, took steps to protect the Riany River watershed, adding much needed protections to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and surrounding areas.
“Across the country, the significance of the historic decision by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to implement 20-year protections for the Boundary Waters is being celebrated. Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters would like to express our deepest gratitude to this Administration for its leadership in protecting the BWCA from sulfide-ore copper mining,” said Lukas Leaf, Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters executive director.
“Not only is this announcement a milestone in the history of the BWCA, but it also affirms the immeasurable value of the Boundary Waters to Minnesota’s outdoor economy, its unparalleled recreational opportunities, and its contribution to the legacy of our nation’s public lands and waters. Thank you to all who have stood shoulder to shoulder with us for years in defense of the Boundary Waters.”
"The time I’ve spent in the Boundary Waters - especially with my family by my side - are memories I deeply cherish. Today’s decision by this administration to protect these unique public lands and waters will not only conserve an irreplaceable landscape; it also will ensure that experiences like mine will be possible for all Americans and their families to enjoy, forever,” said Land Tawney, CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
On the other hand, Interior’s action wasn’t met with universal praise. Here’s the House Natural Resources Committee’s press release.
Like Tawney said, if you have ever been to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, you know it’s an irreplaceable gem for outdoor recreation and enjoying the great outdoors. It deserves to be protected.
Tongass National Forest. The Forest Service has reinstated roadless rule protections on 9.3 million acres of the Tongass National Forest. Here are some details from Trout Unlimited.
“Reinstating the Roadless Rule solidifies a plan that was set in place last year. In July 2021, the Forest Service announced a new direction for the Tongass, one where investments would be made in restoration, recreation and resiliency, instead of logging subsidies.
The rule brings much-needed stability back to a region whose economy is driven by an intact and healthy forest. One in four jobs in Southeast Alaska are in the fishing and tourism industries. The economic and ecological benefits of investing in restoration and recreation projects can already be felt. More from TU.
And this from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers:
“Alaska hunters, anglers, Tribal Nations, outdoor recreationists, business owners and community members have collectively stepped up to support conserving the Tongass’s unique backcountry roadless areas,” said John Gale, BHA vice president of policy and government relations. “These public lands and waters comprise invaluable fish and wildlife habitat and play an important role in the economies of communities across southeast Alaska.
“Of the 1.6 million comments submitted by Alaskans and others during the original roadless rulemaking process, 95 percent supported strong roadless area protections,” Gale continued. “We thank the administration for taking action to uphold the integrity of this cherished backcountry landscape by ensuring the long-term conservation of roadless lands in the Tongass.”
One of my earliest conservation gigs was working on the roadless rule. It’s good to see those protections returned to the Tongass.
In committee. This week the majority members of the House Natural Resources Committee sent an oversight letter to the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Interior and the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.
The letter read, in part:
“Each member of the Republican Conference is committed to conducting robust oversight and ensuring accountability as standard practice in the 118th Congress. We will meet our obligations to hold the Executive Branch accountable and ensure decisions by your offices and those that you oversee are open and transparent. We look forward to your compliance with our oversight efforts to strengthen America’s environment and economy, promote access to public lands and natural resources, and enhance conservation through innovation.”
We shall see how the recipients respond. The days of my being consulted by cabinet secretaries are gone. But, if they did ask, I’d tell them to jump at the chance. Sure, they will get tough questions and political theater, but it gives them the chance to showcase the good work by the people and programs in those departments, especially those areas noted above.
You can get a copy of the committee’s letter here.
On the floor. If you are a student of the legislative process, especially floor procedure, you will want to keep an eye on how legislation fares on the House floor. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) a former chairman of the Rules Committee, offered his view of the return of open rules for amendments on the floor to Politico,
“We are trying to open things up for everybody,” he said, about the many, many amendments. “There were several people, or at least one, that only got 18 votes. So it also has a way to–over time–to lessen the stupidity factor.”
Read the Politico story here. If you want a deeper dive, Helen Byrd Wilt, writing in The Dispatch, has a great one, as is Audrey Fahlberg’s piece, ‘If You Lose Control of the Rules Committee, You’ve Lost Control of the Floor’.
How long McCarthy lets this go is anyone’s guess. Sessions may be right, but I’m not taking bets on it. The opportunity to make a point and have your day in the sun (or on Twitter) is cat nip for members of the performative caucus on both sides of the aisle.
Don’t rule it out. Speaking of rules and floor procedure; alarm bells are beginning to sound over a provision in the rules package, adopted by the House Republicans, that would impact how the transfer of federal land would impact the the budget.
Jacob Fischler, writing in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, offers an excellent deep dive into what the rule change means.
The provision is a fairly technical piece of the 55-page rules package. It affects internal House accounting and requires that anytime Congress were to give any federal lands to a state, municipality or tribe, it would not be counted as a loss to the federal budget. House Republicans had an identical rule when they controlled the chamber from 2017 to 2019.
Advocates and critics agree the measure would be helpful to any effort by the House to transfer federal lands to states.
But they disagree about the wisdom of such giveaways.
Joel Webster, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s vice president of western conservation had this to say.
“The new rule removes the Congressional Budget Office’s requirement to consider the financial value of public lands if selling or transferring those lands to other entities. American sportsmen and sportswomen handily beat back similar efforts to devalue and shift ownership of public lands nearly a decade ago—and we are ready and willing to do it again.”
As Fischler notes, the rule only applies in the House, so the Senate has a say as well. Federal land acquisition and transfers are subjects I know reasonably well. I’ll likely have more to say about what mischief is afoot as things plays out in legislation process.
Bristol Bay and Pebble Mine. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is due to release their record of decision on the Clean Water Act section 404(c) determination on January 30. With a little luck, it will be good news. For background on what’s at stake, check out the information here and here.