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Posts Tagged ‘Mike Simpson’

As the economic crisis in Europe gets closer to the brink of disaster, as the housing and mortgage mess shows no sign of resolution, as political gridlock messes with the country’s credit rating, this is what we get from leadership in Congress:

Which is, of course, nonsense.

Indeed, the rhetoric about EPA regulation from our Idaho representation is increasingly over the top. (Really, Senator Risch? The EPA is like the Gestapo?) We get that there are ideological differences. We are perfectly aware of the onslaught of anti-environment legislation being proposed in this Congress. We’d just prefer that the debate remain fact-based and on the merits, however.

 

 

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We meant to get back to our brief mention of potential Congressional action to destroy the Clean Water Act. The cynically named “Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act,” HB 2018, turns the long-standing successful structure of the Clean Water Act on its head, stripping EPA oversight over water quality programs in the states.

The Clean Water Act has been a prime example of “cooperative federalism” common to environmental (and other federal) laws. Generally, the federal enabling legislation sets a basic structure and sets minimum standards and allows states do the implementation. NRDC explains it in this way:

The federal Clean Water Act provides a safety net for waterways across the country, where states must implement minimum provisions to protect water quality.  States can always do more if they so choose, but the law recognizes that Americans deserve a minimum standard of protection no matter where they live, and the Clean Water Act is designed to prevent a “race to the bottom” in places where the benefits of clean water may be ignored for short term economic or political gain.  

Now, Congress is preparing to eliminate the safety net. The opening statement of EPA’s “Technical Assessment H.R. 2018” says it bluntly:  “The bill would overturn almost 40 years of federal legislation by preventing EPA from protecting public health and water quality.”  Furthermore, EPA’s assessment of HB 2018 says:

  • “The bill would prevent EPA from providing its views on whether a proposed project that pollutes or even destroys lakes, streams, or wetlands would violate Clean Water Act standards.”
  • “The bill would remove EPA’s existing state coordination role and eliminate the careful Federal/State balance established in the current Clean Water Act.”
  • “The bill would prevent EPA from protecting communities from unacceptable adverse impacts to their water supplies and the environment caused by Federal permits.”
  • “The bill would substantively eliminate the opportunity for EPA, the federal government’s expert on water quality, to comment on Federal permits impacting water quality and public health.

Ironically, Idaho is one of very few states that have not claimed control of Clean Water Act permitting, so some of the provisions would not “benefit” Idaho’s fiercely anti-federal attitudes.

Much of this congressional activity is rooted in the new politics in the U.S. House of Representatives, and simmering controversies over cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and lakes in Florida, and over EPA’s skepticism over mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia. Notwithstanding the specific regional concerns, it seems that forces in Congress seem bent on destroying the whole Clean Water Act for the whole of the country.  By all accounts, this is the most serious attack on clean water in a long long time.

We’ve posted one link to take action via our local Waterkeepers. Here’s another one to take action via NRDC. Representatives — even the ones in Idaho — should hear from constituents who think that our water quality protections should be improved – not sacrificed on behalf of polluting industries in the service of some phony “federalism.”

UPDATE 7/12: The White House today issued a very rare veto threat on HB 2018. (A pdf) We hope it works.

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In a move that may, or may not, resolve the federal lawsuit over the delisting of wolves from Endangered Species Act protections, 10 of the 14 conservation and wildlife organizations that filed the lawsuit have agreed to a tentative settlement. Also, the tentative agreement may, or may not, cause Congress to reconsider efforts to delist wolves legislatively.

The agreement would be subject to approval by Judge Malloy in the federal courtroom in Montana, and subject to a number of procedural niceties. The basics of the agreement would return wolves to state management in Idaho and Montana, but not Wyoming or other bordering states with still-recovering populations of wolves. The agreement would also set up a scientific panel within two years to evaluate wolf recovery numbers in the region.

The deal, theoretically, eliminates any need for Congressional action, and notably, the settlement agreement states that it is “null and void” if Congress acts to delist wolves. Still, it appears as if Idaho’s Congressional delegation, all Republicans, are not backing off. However, the deal does have support from Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat. And Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat critical in Congressional budget negotiations, was non-committal.

We’re still parsing the words of the settlement, the words from congressional and political leaders, and words of the organizations involved in the lawsuit. Here’s what we’re reading:

Here’s the actual proposed settlement agreement (pdf)

Clear-eyed reporting and analysis from Idaho Statesman’s Rocky Barker.  And Montana reporting from the Missoulian.

Statements from Rep. Mike Simpson, Sen. Mike Crapo, Sen. Jim Risch, and Sen. Max Baucus.

The statement from the Interior Department regarding the settlement.

Statements from WildEarth Guardians (one of the groups not agreeing to the settlement), Defenders of Wildlife (and the other groups signing on to the settlement) and EarthJustice (formerly attorneys for all the groups, but now, because of the split, not attorneys for any of them).

UPDATE 3/20: More analysis from the Statesman’s Rocky Barker.

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The messy wolf issue is now getting messier, thanks to Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) in the House and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in the Senate. In the “continuing resolution” needed to avoid a shutdown of the U.S. government, the two Congressmen have inserted language that would essentially de-list wolves from being covered under the Endangered Species Act in Idaho and Montana. Recall that a federal judge in Montana had ruled that the wolves must remain on the endangered list due to Wyoming’s failure to submit an approved management plan because the species must be considered one population and managed accordingly.

Regardless of how people feel about delisting wolves, however, the manner by which the Congressmen are attempting the delisting raises serious legal questions about how a federal government with separate branches of government is supposed to work.

The obscurely worded text of the proposed Senate provision (the House version is identical) is here:

“SEC. 1709. Before the end of the 60-day period beginning on the date of enactment of this division, the Secretary of the Interior shall reissue the final rule published on April 2, 2009 (74 Fed. Reg. 15123 et seq.) without regard to any other provision of statute or regulation that applies to issuance of such rule. Such re-issuance (including this section) shall not be subject to judicial review.”

Under our Constitution, the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch are separate, with well-known “checks and balances” on each other.  This legislative provision, however, certainly usurps a lot of executive and judicial power.

The executive branch of government is charged with implementing the nation’s laws, and as part of doing so, agencies issue regulations to administer programs. Here, however, Congress is telling which regulation to issue, and when, and regardless whether the regulations comport with existing law — in this case the Endangered Species Act.

Meanwhile, the judicial branch of government is charged with interpreting the laws as applied in appropriate cases brought before a court. Here, Congress is eliminating any such jurisdiction of a Court to do so.

All of this is a complex area of federal jurisdiction and administrative law and would make for a great law school final exam question. In a strictly legal sense, Congress, arguably, can probably get away with what it intends to do here. Unless the president vetoes the entire continuing resolution — his “check” on this exercise of Congressional power in this instance — a provision like the one proposed will be the law of the land.

Ultimately, what this means is that the functional integrity of Endangered Species Act no longer exists. Rather than science, management of endangered species will be left to Congress, to legislate by loophole. This would be an unfortunate outcome beyond the wolves who will be “managed.” We hope during the next week or two of intensive debate, Congress will consider the consequences of this ad hoc loophole approach to governance.

UPDATE 3/7: The folks at NRDC point out that as the Senate takes up the continuing resolution, they have deleted all of the anti-environmental riders attached by the House of Representatives. Except one. This one.

UPDATE 4/10: The deal to avoid the dreaded government shutdown apparently still includes the rider.

UPDATE 4/12: The rider goes even further — it folds in a Wyoming court case too. This post from NRDC sums up the reasons why this rider is just plain bad government.

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I’m heading out of town for some mid-winter sunshine (I hope) and the blogging will be light, if at all, this week. Meanwhile, ponder some of this stuff coming out of Washington DC. The House GOP has some truly devastating cuts for environmental protection planned. Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson chairs the subcommittee that will inflict the damage.

Newt Gingrich wants to get rid of the EPA entirely. The House GOP budget proposal does it for him. — NRDC here and here.

The budget cuts funds for grants to state and local entities for clean drinking water and sewer construction projects. — NRDC

The proposed budget would be devastating for species protection efforts. — NRDC (Including wolves)

BLM’s effort to manage wild lands? That’s not happening either. — Idaho Statesman (See also Idaho Reporter on the state legislature’s nullification fetish extending to the BLM.)

 

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December 2nd will mark the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s reorganization of environmental programs into a single agency at EPA.  Although there is perhaps more griping about EPA than any other government agency, we would suggest that it might also be one of the most successful. Rivers have stopped catching fire, for one thing.

Seriously, the list of accomplishments of EPA over the past 40 years is impressive. Lead has been removed from gasoline, acid removed from rain, CFCs removed from our ozone layer, and DDT removed from our landscape. Pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes has been reduced dramatically. Hundreds of toxic waste sites have been cleaned up and made safe. And streams, lakes and rivers cleaned up and made fishable and swimmable.

While some of this environmental progress has been through difficult regulation, some of it has been simply by providing information and transparency. For example, NEPA is one of our most successful environmental laws, but it essentially regulates nothing. It merely states that the environmental impacts of government actions be carefully considered. Likewise, the Community Right to Know Act, which merely asks that industry report the chemicals they emit, has resulted in dramatic reductions of toxic pollution.

Of course, big challenges remain — climate change, obviously, but also the important, sometimes incremental improvements that will demand persistence, commitment, and resources. Stormwater and non-point source pollution are threatening further success under the Clean Water Act. Many communities are finding it more and more difficult to meet ambient air quality standards. Thousands of toxic chemicals go untested and unregulated, and thousands of polluted sites remain to be cleaned up.

Lately, anti-government, anti-regulation, and anti-EPA rhetoric has turned up the volume.  With Idaho’s Rep. Mike Simpson set to take over the House Appropriations subcommittee in charge of environmental agencies, we hope that this extraordinary history of success is not lost in the noise.

UPDATE: Here is the official White House Proclamation.

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The League of Conservation Voters just released its 2009 scorecard, grading Congress on environmental votes. As is sadly not unexpected, the Idaho Congressional delegation did poorly. On a 0-100% scale:

Sen. Mike Crapo = 18%

Sen. Jim Risch = 18%

Rep. Walt Minnick = 43%

Rep. Mike Simpson = 21%

However, to look on the (barely) bright side, in a delegation rated among the most conservative in the U.S. by the National Journal, Idaho’s Congressional representatives weren’t the very worst environmentally. In the U.S. Senate, seven delegations scored below 10% (Oklahoma, South Carolina, Kentucky, Arizona, Georgia, Texas and Wyoming). In the U.S. House, four delegations scored below 20% (Wyoming, Montana, Oklahoma, and Nebraska)

Partly, this is due to the universal support the Idaho delegation gave to the omnibus public lands bill which, among many other things, created the Owyhee wilderness in Southern Idaho — the result of a long collaborative effort. 

LCV scored Congress on votes on top priority votes on clean energy and global warming, but also public lands, water quantity and quality, forest management, offshore drilling, wildlife conservation at home and abroad, chemical security and population.

There’s always next year…

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