The Ayes Have It, Congress Hunting For Green Monster

by Bill Chameides | April 19th, 2011
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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The budget compromise kept the government doors open by closing some green ones.

The march against government oversight and regulation of environmental quality is moving apace (see here, here, and my earlier post here), and the much heralded budget compromise that passed just in the nick of time (technically known as H.R. 1473) was no exception. A number of significant environmental initiatives became lambs sacrificed in the name of deal-making. Let’s take a look.

Grey Wolves Were One of Those Lambs

Probably the most publicized environmental compromise was the delisting of wolves in the northern Rockies from the Endangered Species Act. (See news and opinion pieces here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

The delisting would apply to all relevant states (specifically all of Montana and Idaho as well as parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah) except Wyoming, one of the two locales that Canadian wolves were released into in the mid-1990s in a last-ditch effort to bring back the species from near-extinction.

Some background: In April 2009, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued an order to remove the gray wolf from federal endangered species protections in Montana and Idaho. A bevy of green groups, collectively called “Defenders of Wildlife,” protested in the courts and won. In August 2010, a federal court in Montana ruled that the government had failed to scientifically establish that conditions had been met to delist the wolves, as called for in the 38-year old endangered species law. Two months later the the delisting ruling was removed.

But the story was far from over. More recently, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), representing states where ranchers are literally up in arms against wolves, saw the budget battle as a golden opportunity. And so they introduced a last-minute rider [pdf] to the contentious federal budget bill overruling the courts and instructing the feds to “reissue” the 2009 delisting rule.

Scientific questions and findings about the wolf population’s integrity and whether we as a nation want a keystone predator like the wolf ranging our lands were never discussed before passing the bill. And in a move being called unprecedented, the rider prevents any “judicial review.”

Perhaps, we can be relieved to know that the nation’s fiscal integrity has been vastly improved by this rider in the budget bill — about $4.6 million was expended in 2010 on gray wolf protections.

Wilderness on the Block as Well as Wildlife

Among the arcane legalese of the budget bill is this:

“For the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, none of the funds made available by this division or any other Act may be used to implement, administer, or enforce Secretarial Order No. 3310 issued by the Secretary of the Interior on December 22, 2010.”

What does it mean? It means good news if you’re into extracting oil and gas. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s Order No. 3310 — more commonly known as the “wild lands” policy — rescinded a ruling from his Bush-era predecessor Gale Norton. In 2003 Norton renounced the Interior’s authority given in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

Norton’s move, in a deal cut with then-governor of Utah Michael Leavitt, essentially renounced the Bureau of Land Management’s authority to create so-called wilderness study areas. This meant that interim protections of some “2.6 million acres of public land in Utah” would be removed, and oil and gas development in those areas allowed. Salazar’s reclaiming of Interior’s authority is now out the window. (Read more on this here.)

Climate Chipped Away

The House’s frontal attack on Obama’s climate efforts came in the form of the earlier Continuing Resolution bill: H.R. 1 would have stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases and slashed funding for climate change programs by 29 percent of their 2010 levels. Passed in the House in February, the bill failed in the Senate, but Congressional refudiaters were able to make some small inroads in the budget compromise. These inroads, largely in the form of spending cuts, included the following:

  • Defunding of salaries for the president’s special advisers — the so-called “czars” —  including the Special Envoy for Climate Change (Todd Stern), the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (formerly Van Jones), and the Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change (formerly Carol Browner who, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, had resigned her post earlier in the year. (See how Representatives voted.)
  • Cuts to the budget of the Council on Environmenta
    l Quality and the Office of Environmental Quality.
  • The disallowing of any expenditures “to implement, establish, or create” a “climate service” within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the idea for which has been gaining favor in the scientific community for some time (see, for example, recommendations here and here). Much like the U.S. Weather Service, a climate service would provide a clearinghouse for information and data relevant to climate. (See NOAA’s vision of such a service.) Will this vision ever see the light of day? Maybe. We’ll have to wait and see what Congress comes up with when they get around to the budget for fiscal year 2012.
  • Cuts of $25 million in funding intended for states’ compliance with new climate regulations (see here and here).
  • Uncertainty and delays for U.S. Joint Polar Satellite System, a critical data-monitoring and -collecting system for climate and weather. (More on this here, here, and here.)

And Don’t Forget the Environmental Protection Agency Itself

There has also been a lot of media attention on what happened to EPA. (See news coverage herehere, here, and here.) The ax fell pretty heavily — removing some $1.6 billion from EPA’s budget, bringing it down to $8.7 billion. (This is a drop from 2010’s $10.3 billion budget but it’s still up from previous years’ funding in the neighborhood of $7.5 billion and $7.7 billion.)

In addition to the $49 million in cuts to climate-related programs, drastic cuts were made to local programs that help states “improve their wastewater treatment and drinking water facilities.”

The wolves of the West may be endangered, but the wolves out for green blood in our nation’s capitol appear to be alive and well — and sporting a lean and hungry look.

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