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Posts Tagged ‘Raul Labrador’

With the generous assistance of our local Congressman, the dike road tree petitions are on their way to Washington DC. This morning, Adrienne and I delivered the stack of signatures to Rep. Raul Labrador’s Coeur d’Alene office. The Congerssman’s staff says they will take it from here.

Our petition is directed at Hon. Jo-Ellen Darcy, the U.S. Army Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, whose office is in the Pentagon. We’re asking her to reconsider the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ policy that may require the City of Coeur d’Alene to remove all the trees from the earthen levee separating the beach from North Idaho College.  It says simply:

“We, the undersigned, object to the levee vegetation policy as currently implemented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would result in the removal of hundreds of trees along the Rosenberry Drive levee embankment in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The trees are not a danger to flood control, and they provide the city with significant and irreplaceable environmental, aesthetic, and recreational values. We urge you to reconsider the policy so that we may preserve our trees.”

Our final tally came in at just over 4400 signatures, which is a remarkable total for our small North Idaho community. Although we had a handful of out-of-town signers, most were from the immediate area, with the vast majority from Coeur d’Alene.

Congressman Labrador’s office assures us that the stack of signatures will land on Secretary Darcy’s desk in the very near future, and the Congressman’s great staff will keep us informed of the progress. Thanks to everyone who signed the petition, and special thanks to Rep. Labrador for being sure it will be delivered.

 

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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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The battle over an obscure policy directive by Interior Secretary Salazar over BLM lands blew up this week, with Governor Otter testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, and Rep. Raul Labrador introducing his very first piece of legislation.

The “wild lands” policy, announced in December, would simply have BLM consider wilderness values if and when it writes management plans for the properties under its control. Until a Bush administration settlement with the State of Utah in 2003, it has been the standard practice of the agency dating back to a Congressional mandate in 1976. Salazar’s directive doesn’t create new areas for wilderness-level protection. Rather, it simply allows some sort of continued protection to occur, if warranted, and after an extensive public review. Indeed, both Democratic and Republican administrations have maintained provisional protections for these places until Congress can consider permanent designations. Nationwide, less than 1% of BLM’s land is designated as wilderness. Some 42%, however, is leased to oil and gas interests.

According to a 2007 management plan and environmental impact statement for the Coeur d’Alene region, BLM identified only three parcels that might qualify for wilderness-level considerations. One is a 720 acre BLM parcel adjacent to the Forest Service’s 98,000 acre roadless area on the Selkirk Crest. Another is a 12,000 acre BLM parcel adjacent to 22,000 acres of Forest Service roadless area on Grandmother Mountain in Shoshone County. Another is 9000 acres around Crystal Lake at the headwaters of Latour Creek south of Cataldo, also in Shoshone County.

But continuing to protect this type of spectacular roadless land is some sort of outrageous, apparently.

Labrador’s bill, called the “Idaho Land Sovereignty Act” would require Congressional approval for BLM’s continued protection of these lands for their wilderness values. Labrador’s over the top press release says:

This denies jobs and security to a nation in need of both and is a sad example of the out of touch decisions being forced upon us by an aloof administration. In addition, the administration is totally out of line with the interests of Western states by denying us the right to manage our own lands and wildlife populations.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s fiercely anti-wilderness Governor Otter testified to Congress that the floating green on Lake Coeur d’Alene was more valuable than Idaho’s 2-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness managed in part by the BLM.

It’s a nice green, on a really nice lake, but literally, there’s no comparison.

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Many of you got the franked mailing from Raul Labrador announcing tonight’s first public town meeting in Coeur d’Alene since being elected to Congress last fall. The meeting comes just as the U.S. House of Representatives, under new GOP leadership, passed a contentious version of a continuing resolution to keep funding the government.

We’re looking forward to the meeting, because we think there’s some explanation that Raul owes his Northern Idaho constituents. We certainly understand the need to cut the budget, and we understand the mood of the electorate last fall signaled that direction for Congress. What we don’t understand is the collateral attacks on environmental protection that have very little to do with the budget deficit.

For example, how is the budget deficit served by refusing to enforce the Clean Air Act for mercury pollution from cement kilns? Most of Idaho’s waterways have a mercury pollution problem severe enough that deserve fish consumption advisories are probably warranted. With Idaho leadership, we recently took a step forward by regulating mercury emissions in gold-processing facilities, now, nationally, we take two steps back.

More broadly, how is the budget deficit served by not enforcing the Clean Water Act in the Chesapeake Bay? Or in Florida? Or allowing coal burning power plants to dump into waterways? Or allowing arctic drilling without any environmental oversight? Or prohibiting enforcement of the Travel Management Rule in National Forests? Blocking stream buffer rules in the Office of Surface Mining? Applying the Clean Water Act in mining permits?

Like we said, we get the need to cut the budget. We don’t get the need to deregulate industry by budget votes in the middle of the night. We wonder if Congressman Labrador will provide an explanation.

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