New Mining Claims Prohibited on 30,000 Acres Near Yellowstone National Park

By Jonah Brown

The Obama administration has temporarily prohibited new mining claims on 30,370 acres of National Forest System lands north of Yellowstone National Park.

The move by the Obama administration has come after two gold exploration proposals in the area. Lucky Minerals, from Canada applied for a permit near Chico Hot Springs, and Spokane, Washington – based Crevice Mining Group sought exploration just north of Yellowstone. The proposals drewscreen-shot-2016-12-04-at-5-47-55-pm strong opposition from groups in Montana who argued that mining would destroy grizzly bear, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, bison, and other wildlife habitat. Further, the claims would harm tributaries of the Yellowstone River.

The two-year prohibition does not permanently block the proposals, nor does it prohibit ongoing or future mining operations, or mineral and geothermal leasing on present claims. However, during the segregation period, the Department of the Interior will conduct an environmental analysis, regarding whether the land will be withdrawn for a 20-year period. The longest a withdrawal may last is 20 years. However, Congressional legislation may withdraw mineral rights permanently and Senator John Tester claims he will introduce a bill to do just that.

The prohibition is a step by the agency to keep industrial development out of major undisturbed ecosystems in the Obama administration’s final days. Industry representatives have criticized the administration’s final-push actions to limit development and contend to seek their reversal. However, it is ultimately up to the agency to determine whether a 20-year withdrawal is necessary.

The process invites public participation during a 90-day public comment period, ending on February 20, 2017. The United States Forest Service will hold a public meeting about the proposal on January 18, 2017. This period will allow the agency to further prioritize protection of the area for its scenic integrity and recreation values in lieu of an approaching administration’s opposition to many of President Obama’s environmental initiatives.

 

Sources:

Notice of Application for Withdrawal and Notification of Public Meeting; Montana, 81 Fed. Reg. 83867 (Nov. 22, 2016).

Michael Wright, Obama administration blocks new mining claims on 30,000 acres in Paradizse Valley. Bozemandailychronical.com

http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/environment/obama-administration-blocks-new-mining-claims-on-acres-in-paradise/article_d1895a45-fa90-5fd6-98ce-c7e852efe7d5.html (last visted Dec. 2, 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

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Obama Administration Safeguards Arctic Waters from Offshore Drilling

By: Sarah Danno

On November 18, 2016, the Department of the Interior (“DOI”) announced a five-year offshore oil and gas leasing plan to protect critical environmental areas. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“Act”) requires the Secretary of the Interior to administer offshore exploration and development through an oil and gas leasing program. The Secretary must consider economic, social, and environmental concerns in the planning process. Under the Act’s procedures, the DOI and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management completed a public hearing and comment period before releasing the five-year plan.

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-8-35-35-amThe leasing plan covers years 2017-2022 attempting to balance national energy needs with critical environmental resource protection. The plan schedules eleven potential lease sales: ten in the Gulf of Mexico area and one in Alaska’s Cook Inlet area. Zero leases are scheduled in the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea areas in the Arctic due to public concern and scientific data. Even with the two Arctic exclusions, the plan opens areas with seventy percent of the economically recoverable resources in the Outer Continental Shelf to offshore leasing.

Oil industry executives are arguing the plan limits exploration and puts the nation at an economically competitive disadvantage. However, citing the Arctic’s fragile ecology, the decision to exclude parts of the Arctic from offshore drilling is based on scientific consideration and economic analysis. Offshore drilling in the Arctic presents risks to marine resources and communities. Additionally, the industry’s interest in the Arctic has waned, as the high expense of explorataion and lack of infrastructure in the region present unique challenges.

In light of President-Elect Donald Trump’s interest in expanding offshore drilling, this plan can be viewed as an effort by President Barack Obama to block leasing expansion – at least in key vulnerable environmental areas. The President-Elect will be faced with either canceling, expanding, or accepting President Obama’s five-year plan. It remains to be seen what approach will be taken, but a decision to cancel or expand on President Obama’s plan will require a lengthy multi-year process.    

Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell’s, announcement of the Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Plan:

https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/secretary-jewell-announces-offshore-oil-and-gas-leasing-plan-2017-2022

The 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Plan:

https://www.boem.gov/2017-2022-OCS-Oil-and-Gas-Leasing-PFP/

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Putting a Price on Carbon: What the Carbon Tax Debate in Washington State Portends for America’s Climate Policy Future By Jody Lowenstein

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-10-49-21-amBy Jody Lowenstein

This election, residents of Washington state will head to the polls to vote on a ballot initiative proposing the “first carbon tax in the US, the biggest in North America, and one of the most ambitious in the world.”[1] The proposition, Initiative 732, would impose a tax on fossil fuel-generated greenhouse gases, rising to $25 a ton in 2018, and gradually increasing “over a few decades until it hits $100 a ton in 2016 dollars.”[2] To put this cost in perspective, a “typical passenger car emits about five metric tons of carbon dioxide in a year.”[3] The cost of this tax would increase gasoline prices by 25 cents a gallon and 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour of coal-fired power.[4] The measure proposes to use the tax revenue to “reduce the state sales tax . . . eliminate the business and occupation tax on manufacturing,” and provide a tax rebate of “up to “$1,500 a year for 460,000 low-income households.”[5] In August, Initiative 732 was polling at a three-point deficit, with 34 percent supporting and 37 percent opposed.[6] However, since then, the initiative has been gathering steam, polling in early October at 42 percent with 37 percent opposed.[7] With 21% undecided, the likelihood of success is far from certain.

Even though the carbon tax is held out by “economists, climate wonks, and progressives” as “the best way to address climate change,”[8] Initiative 732 has met resistance from nearly all factions of the left, including “most big environmental groups.”[9] The source of this opposition stems from a foundational dispute among climate hawks on how to move climate policy forward in a hyperpartisan political environment. With Republican obstructionism offering no signs of abatement, one camp has concluded that the only path available for implementing substantial climate policy is through the unification of a leftist coalition, including environmentalists, labor, and communities of color, to force climate policies into law. On the other side, a group of climate activists seeking to remove the ideological characterizations of climate change envisage a bipartisan opportunity in enacting climate policies. This latter tactic has formed the underpinnings of Initiative 732.

The rationale behind Initiative 732 was to garner bipartisan support by incorporating a revenue-neutral approach to the carbon tax (i.e., offsetting all tax revenue with tax cuts). Conceptually, the fact that Initiative 732 could cut “carbon without growing the size of government” would attract conservatives who recognize the risk of climate change. However, this inevitably earned the ire of tax-and-spend liberals, a core component of nearly any comprehensive climate measure.

Many liberals see Initiative 732 as a half-measure that fails to provide the necessary investments in creating a new green economy. Largely, they suggest that any successful carbon tax measure must invest its revenue into renewable energy infrastructure, incentivizing green manufacturing, retraining displaced workers, and funding public transit projects.[10]

Regardless of its outcome, the fight taking place in the State of Washington portends America’s own battle over the future of climate policy. That battle begins with the high-probability that the Democrats will win a third consecutive presidential term (the first time for either party since 1988) in the midst of Republican dislocation. In response to Democratic dominance in presidential elections, the Republicans have assumed the role of a parliamentary minority, opposing the President’s agenda in its entirety. This methodology of governance rests on the presupposition that the only way to succeed at the polls for an increasingly unrepresentative party is to delegitimize the President by obstructing any legislative efforts by the President. Therefore, any attempt by a future President Clinton to pass a significant piece of climate policy legislation with either the House or Senate under Republican control is a non-starter.

Yet, the magnitudinous threat of climate change remains. Thus, two imperative questions have been asked in the battle over Initiative 732: “can the right climate policy cut through hyperpolarization,” and if not, could a united left coalition overcome Republican intransigence?[11] The latter question assumes that anti-climate sentiment among a large portion of the Republican party electorate will subside. This assumption is belied by the trend of increasing homogeneity among each parties’ voters, each willing to assume a party’s entire political agenda if it represents the few interests important to the voter. Furthermore, the populist resentment towards the social and economic drivers disrupting the status quo has shown its broad resonance in a significant portion of the electorate. The former question assumes that hyperpartisanship, party homogeneity, and tribalism can be overcome by playing to half the interests of each. This approach has yet to be tested in Washington D.C.’s current political climate.

On November 8th, Initiative 732 will pose the question of whether bipartisanship will pave the way for a new green economy in America, or whether the left will tie climate policy idealism around its neck like a millstone.

[1] David Roberts, The Left vs. a Carbon Tax, vox.com, http://www.vox.com/2016/10/18/13012394/i-732-carbon-tax-washington (last visited November 3, 2016).

[2] Washington State’s Ambitious Carbon Tax Proposal, nytimes.com, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/24/opinion/washington-states-ambitious-carbon-tax-proposal.html (last visited November 3, 2016).

[3] Id..

[4] Id.

[5] Roberts, supra note 1.

[6] Joel Connelly, Thumbs Up to Minimum Wage, Risk Protection, Consumer Fraud Initiatives: Poll, seattlepi.com, http://www.seattlepi.com/local/politics/article/Thumbs-up-to-minimum-wage-risk-protection-9153890.php (last visited November 3, 2016).

[7] Robert Mak, KOMO Poll: Murray Has Double-Digit Lead in Senate Race, Initiatives Have Strong Support, komonews.com, http://komonews.com/news/local/komo-poll-murray-has-double-digit-lead-in-senate-race-voters-divided-on-initiatives (last visited November 3, 2016).

[8] David Roberts, The Political Hurdles Facing a Carbon Tax — And How to Overcome Them, vox.com, http://www.vox.com/2016/4/26/11470804/carbon-tax-political-constraints (last visited November 3, 2016).

[9] Roberts, supra note 1.

[10] Id..

[11] Roberts, supra note 1.

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Upcoming Jestrab Water Lecture

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Another Controversial Alaskan Road – Federal Government and Alaska Collide

By Taylor Thompson

Three years ago, the Department of Interior (“DOI”) and rural Alaskans clashed on a proposed medical access road. Is the Ambler Access road going to be another?

As many Alaskans remember, on December 2013, the DOI rejected a proposal to build a medical access road from King Cove to Cold Bay. Politicians and members of the affected communities have lauded the road as vital and life saving, as the amount of medevac’s from Cold Bay have only increased in the past three years. Despite the claims, the DOI has yet to overturn its decision. Even the Federal Court has upheld the DOI’s decision, hinting that the only way to get a road built in the Izembek National Refuge is through Congress.

In an effort to encourage development of natural resources in Alaska, another road is being proposed through a rural part of the State. The Ambler Mining District Access Project is a 200-mile long road that begins on the Dalton Highway and ends at the Ambler Mining District in Norscreen-shot-2016-10-11-at-12-31-22-pmthwest Alaska. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (“AID
EA”) has proposed that an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) be done and encourages the development of the one-lane industry access road.

The road has received a fair amount of criticism and recently, a study revealed that the road could have a negative impact on the availability of subsistence food sources of ten villages near the proposed road site.

A study conducted by the Arctic Institute of North American at University of Calgary, Alberta, paid for by the National Park Service, calculated the impact of the road on subsistence foods. The study concluded that the road would cause village residents to lose subsistence foods from $6,900 to $10,500 per household. This loss is about a third of the median income of village residents.

The study did mention that there would be benefits to the construction of the road, namely, that the price of annual heating and electrical costs would decrease annually by $2,755 to $3,737 per household.

AIDEA has submitted right-of-way permits pursuant to the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. As of now, the federal agencies are working on a scoping process as part of the environmental review.

With any major project in Alaska, a necessary balance must be struck between the commercial necessity of development, while maintaining and preserving natural resources. This balance seems to be more and more important with Alaska’s major economic issues. There is certainly a policy reason to allow a road, but an equally important policy reason to protect and preserve the access and availability of subsistence foods.

It will be interesting to see how the road develops through the environmental review process, and whether a corollary can be drawn between the King Cove road and this one.

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Bumble Bee Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protections

By Emily Slike

In mid-September, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposal to the Endangered Species Act for the rusty patched bumble bee. Since the 1990s the species’ population has plunged by more than 90 percent. Factors contributing to the decline include intensive farming, disease, pesticides, climate change and habitat loss. The bumble bee is further susceptible to extinction because of their annual population sizes, life cycle and genetic makeup. There are currently 47 kinds of native bumble bees throughout the United States and Canada, and more than a quarter face the threat of extinction.

rusty-bumble-beeUnlike their domestic counterparts, native bumble bees are essential to the pollination process for wildflowers and roughly one third of economically important United States crops. Putting this into economic terms, bees contribute an annual $3.5 billion to farms.

Bumble bees perform an essential behavior that benefits crops known as “buzz pollination.” This behavior is where the bee grabs the flower by her jaws and vibrates her wing muscles which removes the flower’s pollen. Many plants are benefitted from buzz pollination. Further, because bumble bees have the ability to fly in cooler temperatures and lower light levels, they are great for pollinating crops such as tomatoes, peppers and cranberries. Even for self-pollinating crops, bigger fruits are grown when bees pollinate them. Without the amount of pollination that currently exists, the food system and ecosystems could flounder.

The debate over proposed protections will likely center over neonicotinoid pesticides. These pesticides are regularly used for agricultural purposes, plants and trees in gardens and parks, and have contributed to the bumble bees’ population decline. Other actions being utilized to protect the bumble bee by the Fish and Wildlife Service include working with other groups by locating, protecting and restoring existing bee habitats.

Currently, no other bumble bee species have been listed, but several Hawaiian bee species are under consideration for the endangered designation.

Public comments will be accepted through November 21, 2016.

Sources:

https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/rpbb/factsheetrpbb.html

https://www.fws.gov/midwest/news/849.html

Bumble bee is proposed for U.S. endangered species status

Bumble Bee Conservation

Photo Credit: xerces.org Johanna James-Heins

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The Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Proposed Senate Bill

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-9-14-20-pmBy Arie Mielkus

Utah Senators Mike Lee and Orrin G. Hatch recently introduced Senate Bill 3205 that would allow biking in wilderness areas. The Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act was met with a mix of concern and support.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 banned mechanized travel in wilderness areas. The purpose of the Act was to ensure the growing population of the US did not leave its citizens’ without preserved areas in their natural condition. Additionally, the Act addressed concerns about the increase of mechanized forms of travel, and the need to set aside lands for solitude. To address these concerns, and others, mechanized travel was banned on lands designated as Wilderness.[1]

The Bill would require the Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Agriculture to authorize local officials to decide if non-motorized forms of recreation should be permitted in their jurisdictions. A decision is required within 2 years of the Bill’s enactment; failure to make a decision results in the Wilderness area being opened to non-motorized recreation. It remains unclear what factors would be considered in this determination, but the Bill states the decision shall “accommodate all forms of non-motorized transportation, to the maximum extent practicable.” The Bill also includes a section on maintenance, proposing motorized trail access to amend the current Wilderness Act, by allowing “small-scale motorized equipment” (such as chainsaws and wheelbarrows) to maintain trails. “Small-scale motorized equipment” is not defined by the Bill.[2]

There is concern that the Bill supports a public land seizure. Utah and other Western States have been the site of efforts to transfer federal public lands to state control. Most recently in 2014 a Utah State Senate measure became effective, requiring the US to “extinguish title” to public lands and transfer title of the lands to the State of Utah.[3] A spokesperson for Senator Mike Lee says that this is just a “cuckoo conspiracy theory,” emphasizing the Bill’s goals “to open up more public lands for enjoyment by Americans.”[4]

Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC), a non-profit that supports human powered travel in wilderness areas to ensure trails can be enjoyed by all, supports the Bill. The group’s website states the bill is narrowly written, with no hidden agenda. Additionally, STC claims local land managers are empowered with making the determination if biking on trails is allowed, based on “current usages, the sources available for trail maintenance, and the possibility of repairing a neglected trail.”[5]

The Bill was referred to committee on July 13, 2016. Govtrack.us, a website that tracks bills, gives Senate Bill 3205 a fourteen percent chance of making it out of committee and ultimately being passed. The site lists several factors for this prognosis including: (1) The Bill’s sponsor, Mike Lee, is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee to which it was referred; (2) Sponsor Mike Lee is a member of Republican party, the majority party in the Senate; and (3) Co-Sponsor Orrin Hatch is high within the leadership of the Republican party.[6]

[1] The Wilderness Act of 1964, 16 U.S.C §1133 (2014).

[2] S. 3205, 114th Cong. 2016.

[3] H.B 148, 2012 Gen. Sess. (Utah 212).

[4] New York Times, Bill Opening Wilderness Areas to Bikes Also Opens Debate, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/20/us/bill-opening-wilderness-areas-to-bikes-also-opens-debate.html?_r=0 (last visited Sept. 13, 2016).

[5] Sustainable Trails Coalition, FAQ/Resources, http://www.sustainabletrailscoalition.org/resources/#faq (last visited Sept. 13, 2016).

[6] Govtrack.us, S. 3205: Human Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/s3205 (last visited Sept. 13, 2016),

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