Monday, December 21, 2009

Sen. Feinstein seeks additional protections for land in California desert

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has announced that she will introduce legislation aimed at expanding protections of public land in the Mojave Desert.

The bill, which will be called the California Desert Protection Act of 2010, would create two new national monuments, expand Death Valley National Park and Joshua Tree National Park, and designate 250,000 acres of wilderness near Fort Irwin.

Feinstein, who sponsored another landmark measure aimed at preserving land in the Mojave Desert in 1994, told the Los Angeles Times that she thought the bill could become law in 2010.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Are the Yellowstone wolves in trouble?

The number of gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park is declining.

That's the gist of a report in today's USA Today, which says that the population of the animals in the nation's oldest national park is down by a third from its high in 2003.

The species, which was re-introduced to Yellowstone in 1995, is stressed because hunting in areas around the park is now permitted. The U.S. government removed the gray wolf from the list of endangered and threatened species in 2008.

Management plans for the species proposed or adopted by Wyoming, Idaho and Montana would allow the number of individuals to fall from about 1,650 to 450.

In addition, the number of elk in and around Yellowstone National Park has significantly dropped since wolves were re-introduced.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

NYT: More protection for wolves needed

The New York Times published today an editorial arguing that too much hunting of wolves is being allowed in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The piece is worth a read.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Colorado Rep. Salazar seeks wilderness protection for Forest Service land in Centennial State

Coloradans may soon see more of the public land in their state protected by the Wilderness Act.

Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., has introduced a bill that would designate more than 60,000 acres on four national forests as wilderness.

In keeping with a trend in recent wilderness bills, the proposal forecloses any possibility of federal government water rights in the protected areas.

The measure must be approved by the House Natural Resources Committee before being considered on the floor or moving to the Senate.

Monday, October 12, 2009

NOAA scientists recommend protection of coastlines from oil and gas drilling

The federal government's chief oceanographers are recommending that the Obama administration preclude oil and gas drilling along much of the country's coastline.

The suggestion, which is not binding, was made last month by officials of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today.

It says that the Department of Interior should decline to approve permits that would allow drilling along much of the coast off Alaska, the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico.

NOAA also recommends caution in allowing oil and gas extraction activity in protected waters off California.

The Bush administration had indicated a willingness to allow drilling in all of those areas.

The Los Angeles Times has a detailed story.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NYT: Obama to confront ESA backlog

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration will attempt to reduce the backlog of candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

There are about 250 candidate species. According to the article, which cites the Center for Biological Diversity as its source, about 100 of them have been waiting for their status to be determined for more than 10 years and 73 of them have been in limbo for more than 25 years.

The ESA requires a finding on a petition to list a species within 12 months of the date the petition is filed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Peregrine falcon making comeback in New York

Environment & Energy Daily has a good story today about the resurgence of peregrine falcon populations in New York. It's worth your time.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Obama to name career BLM employee to lead agency

President Obama will name Bob Abbey, a career BLM official from Nevada, to lead the nation's largest land management agency, reports the Las Vegas Sun.

Abbey was the BLM's state director in the Silver State for eight years. He was recommended to the administration by Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Senate GOP Blocks Deputy Interior Secretary Nominee

President Obama's nomination of a deputy secretary of interior continued to be stalled in the Senate Wednesday as Republicans rallied to defeat a cloture motion.

David Hayes, who would be Interior secretary Ken Salazar's number two, cannot take the job for which he has been chosen until the filibuster is stopped and confirmation by the Senate is secured.

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said that the filibuster is aimed at convincing Salazar to explain further his recent decision to cancel certain oil and gas leases in the West.

The vote on the cloture motion was 57-39. Sixty votes are required to stop a filibuster.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Key Dems Announce Breakthrough on Climate Change Legislation

Arguments in the House Energy & Commerce Committee over whether to charge utilities for initial pollution credits needed to support a "cap and trade" carbon dioxide regulatory system, as well as the amount of reduction of carbon dioxide emissions required by 2020, have been settled.

According to a report in Roll Call, the newspaper that covers Capitol Hill, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) have reached a deal on those contentious issues.

The article quotes Waxman as saying the committee will move on to a mark-up of the climate change legislation next Monday, with the bill being formally introduced on Thursday.

Under Waxman's agreement with Boucher, the bill would grant electric utilities free initial emission credits and require that the nation achieve a 17 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.

Yet to be determined is the amount of renewable energy required to be in each utility's portfolio of sources that will be included in the bill.

The measure is expected to include further assistance to the auto industry, as well as a "cash for clunkers" program that would grant consumers trading in low gas mileage vehicles a voucher toward the purchase of a new vehicle.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Supreme Court Requests Additional Briefs in Alaska Clean Water Act Case

The Supreme Court wants more information before deciding an Alaska case posing the question whether mine tailings may be lawfully dumped in a water body.

The Court issued an order Monday asking for supplemental briefs despite having heard argument in Couer Alaska, Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Inc. on January 12.

The issue in the case is whether a Bush administration regulation authorizing disposal of mine tailings in "waters of the United States" violates the Clean Water Act, which would require the polluter to get a permit if the material is deemed to be a "pollutant," subject to the requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or "fill" material subject to the wetlands permitting provision of the law.

The particular dispute involves a proposed gold mine north of Juneau. The Army Corps of Engineers granted permission to the mine operator to dump waste materials in Lower Slate Lake. The federal district court in Alaska upheld that decision, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Obama Administration Revokes Bush ESA Rule

The Obama administration has revoked a controversial regulation that eliminated the long-standing requirement forcing government agencies to consult with biologists at the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries when proposing an action that would impact a species listed as endangered or threatened.

Interior secretary Ken Salazar and Commerce secretary Gary Locke, in immediately revoking the last-minute Bush administration regulatory change, used power given them by a provision in the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act. In addition, President Barack Obama had directed the cabinet officials to review the Bush ESA regulation.

The Bush administration's regulation was finalized in December 2008 and took effect January 15, 2009.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Obama signs big land conservation bill into law

President Obama, only in the third month of his tenure, has signed into law one of the largest land conservation bills in U.S. history.

The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, which includes the largest expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System in at least 15 years and creates a new category of protected Bureau of Land Management lands, had bipartisan support.

Among the controversial aspects of the mammoth new law is a provision allowing a road to be constructed across Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

The Washington Post has the story.

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Report Says Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Rising Faster Than Expected

A report issued today by a leading consulting firm says that worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases are rising faster than had been previously estimated and that delaying reductions past 2010 would cause high risks of permanent environmental damage from climate change.

The report also says that there is a potential to reduce emissions by 30 percent below 1990 levels and that the cost of achieving such savings would run into the hundreds of billions of Euros.

"This would be sufficient to have a good chance of holding global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius threshold, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," the report says.

But the report cautions that a delay in achieving that target could cause serious damage to the planet's ecosystems and other environmental harm and that the goal itself is extremely challenging:

Capturing enough of this potential to stay below the 2 degrees Celsius threshold will be highly challenging, however. Our research finds not only that all regions and sectors would have to capture close to the full potential for abatement that is available to them; even deep emission cuts in some sectors will not be sufficient. Action also needs to be timely. A 10-year delay in taking abatement action would make it virtually impossible to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

The report by the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm is available here (registration required).

Obama Orders EPA to Reconsider Denial of California Application, DOT to Raise Fuel Economy Standards

President Obama took two major steps to force American auto manufacturers to produce more energy-efficient vehicles today, issuing one memorandum requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its denial of a request for more state flexibility to set tougher emission standards and another directing the Department of Transportation to establish higher fuel economy standards.

The order is expected to result in EPA granting California's application for a waiver of preemption under the Clean Air Act, which is necessary for the state to enforce a 2002 law that would force auto makers to lower tailpipe emissions in the state by 30 percent by 2016.

"It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs," Obama said during remarks in the east room of the White House today. "

The president also promised to "commit ourselves to the steady, focused, pragmatic pursuit" of energy independence.

At least 13 other states have indicated they will impose emission standards similar to California's if EPA grants the preemption waiver.

The order will require DOT to finalize rules requiring automakers to raise the average fuel economy of the nation's fleet to 35 mpg by 2020.

It will also force DOT to impose interim rules that will raise the minimum fuel economy standard by the 2011 model year.

The regulations are required by an energy law enacted in 2007.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Report: Obama to Order EPA to Reconsider Denial of California Preemption Exemption

President Obama will order the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Bush administration's decision to deny California permission to impose tough new limits on the emissions of greenhouse gases by motor vehicles, according to a report posted this evening on the New York Times website.

The door will be open for at least 13 additional states to begin applying new emission limits similar to California's if the Golden State's application for an exemption from the preemption of tougher state-level air quality rules by the federal Clean Air Act is granted upon that reconsideration.

The California state legislature enacted a law in 2002 that requires emissions of greenhouse gases from tailpipes to be reduced by 30 percent by 2016.

Auto manufacturers sued to block implementation of the law in 2007. The lawsuit was dismissed by a federal district court later that year.

But the Bush administration's EPA announced in December 2007 that the federal government would not grant California the exemption.

EPA's refusal of the exemption, which according to some reports was issued by administrator Stephen L. Johnson under White House pressure despite recommendations from his staff that it be accepted, provoked a lawsuit by the state of California.

Obama had promised in his campaign to re-visit the Bush administration's decision to prevent California from imposing stricter air quality standards than those put in place by EPA.

California Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger formally requested that the Obama adminstration reconsider the denial of its exemption application Jan. 21.

The NYT report also said that Obama will order the Department of Transportation to issue interim regulations requiring the auto industry to increase fuel efficiency standards.

Those rules, which are required under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), Pub. L. 110-140, 121 Stat. 1492, were drafted but not finalized by the Bush administration.

EISA requires auto makers to raise average fuel economy in all of their models, including light trucks, to 35 mpg by 2020.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Jackson Confirmed as EPA Administrator

Lisa P. Jackson has been confirmed by the Senate as the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a report in Congressional Quarterly.

Jackson's nomination was approved by a voice vote late Thursday.

Senators also approved President Barack Obama's nomination of Nancy H. Sutley as chairperson of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Sutley, 46, is a former deputy mayor of Los Angeles. She also worked as an energy policy advisor to former California Gov. Gray Davis, as an official in the Clinton administration EPA, and as a deputy secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency.

She was a member of the California State Water Resources Control Board between 2003-2005.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Barrier to Jackson Confirmation Cleared

A Republican senator's delay of a confirmation vote for Environmental Protection Agency administrator-designate Lisa P. Jackson has been resolved, according to the Associated Press.

The "hold," which was placed by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, was lifted after Barrasso spoke with Carol Browner about the extent to which she would be involved in EPA affairs.

Browner has been selected by President Barack Obama to head a new White House office in charge of climate change policy.

Her appointment to that post does not require Senate confirmation.

A vote on Jackson's nomination is expected soon.

Wyoming Senator Blocks Confirmation of New EPA Administrator

A GOP senator has placed a "hold" on President Obama's nomination of Lisa P. Jackson as Environmental Protection Agency administrator, preventing, at least temporarily, confirmation of one of the new president's key environmental policy advisors.

According to an MSNBC report, Sen. John Barrasso imposed the hold, which by tradition is honored by the Senate, as an objection to Obama's establishment of a new White House office on climate change policy and the choice of former EPA administrator Carol Browner to head it.

Jackson, 46, most recently served as chief of staff to New Jersey Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. Before that she was an assistant commissioner and the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for six years.

Jackson was previously an EPA employee for about sixteen years.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Kills Effort to De-List Northern Rockies Gray Wolves

President Barack Obama ordered Tuesday that all pending federal regulations be suspended, including one that would de-list two populations of the gray wolf, including those native to the northern Rockies.

The new president acted through a memorandum issued to all federal agencies by his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, shortly after being inaugurated.

The rule de-listing the gray wolf, which had previously been finalized in February 2008, was struck down by a federal judge last summer.

The Bush administration had announced Jan. 14 that it would again de-list the Northern Rockies population of the wolf, as well as a population in the western Great Lakes region, as of Feb. 13.

A previous attempt by the Bush administration to re-classify all populations of the gray wolf, except the population in the southwest, as threatened species was blocked by federal district courts in Oregon and Vermont in 2005.

The gray wolf was originally listed as an endangered species throughout the 48 continental states and in Mexico in 1974.

Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Federal Judge Halts Redrock Country Oil & Gas Leases

A federal judge in Washington, DC has blocked Bush administration efforts to open 110,000 acres of land in Utah's famous red rock country for oil and gas drilling.

The judge, Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, issued a temporary restraining order. He wrote in his opinion that he needed more time to evaluate the arguments of both parties. As is necessary in any case in which an injunction is issued, the judge found that the plaintiff conservation groups "have shown a likelihood of success on the merits" and that the "'development of domestic energy resources' … is far outweighed by the public interest in avoiding irreparable damage to public lands and the environment."

Environmentalists welcomed the decision.

"Under the Bush administration, the Bureau of Land Management pushed through Resource Management Plans that treated some of America's most sensitive and spectacular public lands as the private playgrounds of the oil and gas companies," Grand Canyon Trust executive director Bill Hedden said. "Today's heartening court decision gives these unique places a last second pardon from forever sacrificing their archaeological treasures, pristine air and remote wildness in order to sate only an hour or two of our national addiction to oil and gas."

Urbina's ruling means that the checks written to the U.S. Treasury by the successful bidders for the drilling rights cannot be cashed and no drilling activity can occur on the affected land.

The parcels at issue are near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument and some are located within the roadless Desolation Canyon area, which is being considered for wilderness designation. The area covered by the auction also contains a large amount of prehistoric archaeological sites and other cultural resources, including those within Nine Mile Canyon.

The parcels had been auctioned Dec. 19 after having been announced on election day and the Bureau of Land Management had announced it would finalize the leases on Jan. 19.

The issuance of the temporary restraining order will give the incoming Obama administration an opportunity to re-consider the sale of the leases. Aides to the president-elect have voiced concerns about opening the parcels to oil and gas drilling.

Judge Urbina's decision came in Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance et ux. v. Allred et al., No. 1:08-CV-02187-RMU (D.D.C.).

A New York Times story from November 2008 on the controversy is here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

First Move to Override Bush ESA Rule Introduced in House

U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-West Virginia, introduced Thursday a joint resolution that would invoke the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn the Bush administration's recent changes to Endangered Species Act regulations.

H.J. Res. 18 would override an effort by the Departments of Interior and Commerce to eliminate the consultation requirements of section 7 of the ESA. Under the new regulations federal agencies could decide for themselves whether a proposed project would adversely impact a listed species or critical habitat without obtaining the input of biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or NOAA Fisheries.

"The Bush Administration has had a long - though one could hardly say proud - history of trying to undermine the ESA and the protection it provides to America's most imperiled species," Rahall said. "Today, I introduce legislation, using the authority granted to the Congress under the CRA, to overturn a rule that served as the Bush Administration's final assault on, and insult to, one of the Nation's landmark conservation laws."

First proposed in late August 2008, the Bush administration sped the regulation ito effect in November.

The joint resolution is co-sponsored by Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., George Miller, D-Calif., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Maurice Hinchey, D-NY, Lois Capps, D-Calif., Jay Inslee, D-Wash., Rush Holt, D-N.J., Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., John Dingell, D-Mich., Norm Dicks, D-Wash., Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

EPA Nominee Jackson Says She'll Re-Visit Bush Administration Decision on California Exemption

EPA Administrator-designee Lisa Jackson told senators Wednesday that she will immediately re-examine the Bush administration's decision not to grant California the Clean Air Act exemption needed for the state to impose tough laws limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

President-elect Barack Obama has previously signaled his disagreement with the decision by current EPA administrator Stephen Johnson.

"My commitment is that I will immediately review that," Jackson, New Jersey's top environmental official, told Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "I will look to science and the law, and rely on the expert advice of the staff."

Johnson formally denied California the waiver of preemption required by the Clean Air Act for tougher state air-quality laws to go into effect in March 2008.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in the Massachusetts v. EPA decision issued in April 2007, had ruled that EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Bush administration has refused to exercise that authority.

At least 18 other states are poised to impose tough auto emissions rules if California is granted the Clean Air Act preemption waiver by the Obama administration. More than half the motor vehicles in the nation are registered in those states.

The California regulations, which were approved in 2002, would require all new cars and trucks to reduce their air pollutant emissions by at least 30 percent by the 2016model year.

Rahall Introduces Coal Ash Dump Bill

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) today introduced legislation requiring federal regulation of coal ash dumps.

There are currently no federal standards for coal ash impoundments as exist under SMCRA for coal slurry. Instead, such impoundments are constructed and maintained under a patchwork of state requirements, or on a voluntary basis.

"The disaster witnessed at the Kingston, Tennessee facility - which could have been avoided had TVA exercised appropriate engineering and monitoring regimes - was a clarion call for action," Rahall said. "Now is the time to take that action, before any lives are lost to a similar disaster, which is why I am introducing legislation to provide a basic level of safety for our communities and the environment from the hazards of coal ash waste."

The Coal Ash Reclamation and Environmental Safety Act of 2009 (H.R. 493) would impose uniform federal design, engineering, and performance standards on coal ash impoundments to avoid a repeat of the damage done in Kingston. The legislation, which requires minimum design and stability standards for all surface impoundments constructed to hold coal ash, draws on the regulatory model for impoundments that is used for coal slurry management under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA).

The majority of coal ash, a byproduct of the combustion of coal at electric utility power plants, is deposited in impoundments, landfills, or mines. By comparison, coal slurry is one of the main refuse streams from the treatment of raw coal when it is mined.

"It is impossible to write off the disaster in Tennessee as a freak accident," Rahll said. "The absence of national standards for coal ash has resulted in environmental damage and threats to human health throughout the country - not just last month, or last year, but for decades, and as far as we know this may be just the tip of the iceberg."

Requirements for coal slurry impoundments under SMCRA that would be made applicable to coal ash impoundments under H.R. 493 cover aspects of design, construction, operation, and closure, including:

* Regulations detailing the engineering and stability of the embankment.

* Regulations requiring all applications for an impoundment to have a foundation investigation to determine design requirements for stability.

* Each design plan must include a geotechnical investigation of the embankment foundation area.

* Each impoundment plan must include a survey describing the potential effect on the structure from subsidence of the subsurface strata resulting from past mining operations in the area.

* Plans for impoundments must be reviewed by a geologist or an engineer.

* Regulations requiring that a qualified engineer, with experience in construction of impoundments, inspect each impoundment regularly during construction, upon completion of construction, and periodically thereafter.

"For those states that do not already have careful standards for coal ash disposal, my legislation will require immediate attention to the shocking gaps in coal ash management," Rahall said. "The American public and our environment simply cannot afford to wait any longer to rein in the hazards posed by the shoddy and irresponsible coal ash disposal practices that currently exist."

A 2006 National Academy of Sciences study, along with a 2007 Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources oversight hearing, pointed to the pressing need for a federal regulatory regime governing the disposal of coal ash.

A coal ash spill covering more than 300 acres occurred at a Tennessee Valley Authority facility about three weeks ago.

"Road to Nowhere" Appears on Way to Passage in Congress

The Senate appears to be on the verge of passing a public lands bill that includes language authorizing a controversial road to be built across Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

The road, which critics have taken to calling the "road to nowhere," would be constructed on the Alaska peninsula, about 600 miles south of Anchorage.

Supporters, including Alaska's two U.S. senators and single U.S. representative, say the gravel road is needed to connect the remote village of King Cove with an airport and a hospital. Currently residents of the small settlement on the Bering Sea can travel to the boundary of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge by motor vehicle but then must take a hovercraft to Cold Bay, the site of the airfield and hospital.

The bill would effect a land exchange to facilitate construction of the controversial road.

Alaska would transfer about 61,000 acres to the U.S. government, most of which would be incorporated into a wilderness area overlaid on the national wildlife refuge, and in exchange the state would receive a 25-mile long easement to accommodate the road.

Environmentalists have argued that the exchange of land from a national wildlife refuge for road construction has never been done before and that the road would have harmful impacts on birds and other species in the reserve.

But advocates, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, say the road is necessary to allow King Cove residents to get to the hospital in emergencies.

The bill limits use of the road to emergency situations, but many environmentalists do not believe that provision will last. The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge borders the North Aleutian Basin, a large untapped petroleum reserve.

There are about 800 residents in King Cove. The airport at Cold Way, which has the third-longest runway in Alaska, is available for flights in all weather conditions. The facility has its origins in a military airfield built during World War II.

The omnibus lands bill cleared a cloture vote in the Senate on Sunday. It is expected to be passed by the Senate in the coming days and sent to the House of Representatives for a vote next week.

It is possible the measure could reach the White House before President George W. Bush's term ends at noon on Jan. 20.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

NYT: Dems to Examine Ways to Overturn Late Bush Regulations

The New York Times reports in Monday's edition that the Democratic Congress will try to nullify a number of late-term regulations imposed by the Bush Administration, including those allowing concealed weapons in national parks and revising the consulation requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

The article quoted Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Or., as being interested in finding a way to overrule the administration because Bush is trying "to put some ideological trophies on the wall.”

Among the other regulations that Congress will try to reverse, according to the article, are recent rules allowing uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and the regulation allowing the dumping of mining debris into streams and rivers.

It is a time-consuming process for a new administration to reverse the regulatory actions of a predecessor and statutes require such changes to be based on an administrative record.

Two methods for securing the reversal of the Bush administration's "midnight" rules, according to the Times, would be attaching an appropriate amendment to the expected economic stimulus bill and invoking the Congressional Review Act of 1996.

The latter involves passing a "resolution of disapproval," which would require the signature of the President to take effect, and can only be used to negate rules within a few months of the date on which they became final.

President-elect Barack Obama will not have the ability to suspend most of the rules issued by Bush cabinet agencies in the last few months because they will have become final by inauguration day, Jan. 20, 2009.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

GAO Report Says Bush Didn't Protect Marine Mammals

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released today concludes that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (now NOAA Fisheries) has not protected marine mammals from incidental injury or death resulting from commercial fishing activities.

Marine mammals that inhabit waters near commercial fishing can become entangled in fishing gear, often referred to as "incidental take." The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) requires the NMFS to establish teams comprised of experts from the scientific community and the fishing industry to devise methods to reduce interactions between certain marine mammals and commercial fishing activities in an effort to prevent incidental deaths of these species.

The GAO report found that NMFS has failed to establish those teams for nearly half of the marine mammal stocks afforded protection under the MMPA, leaving these species severally jeopardized by commercial fishing activities. The agency also lacks a comprehensive process to evaluate the effectiveness of the methods proposed by teams that have been established.

The GAO report is here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bush Declares Three New Marine National Monuments

President George W. Bush created three new national monuments encompassing hundreds of thousands of miles of the Pacific ocean today, declaring the largest protected area of ocean in history.

According to the Associated Press,

The areas include the home of a giant land crab, a sunken island ringed by pink-colored coral, and equatorial waters teeming with sharks and other predators and total some 195,274 square miles. Included in the new designation formally announced by Bush at the White House are the Mariana Trench and the waters and corals surrounding three uninhabited islands in the Northern Mariana Islands, Rose Atoll in American Samoa and seven islands strung along the equator in the central Pacific Ocean.

Bush called the new monuments "beautiful" and "biologically diverse."

"For sea birds and marine life, they will be sanctuaries to grow and thrive," Bush said during his announcement at the White House. "For scientists, they will be places to extend the frontiers of discovery. And for the American people, they will be places that honor our duty to be good stewards of the Almighty's creation."

The three monuments, called the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, and Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, harbor rare geologic features of the planet and unique species, including an underwater sulfur pool and a bird that incubates its eggs in the heat generated by underwater volcanoes.

Commercial fishing and other extractive activities will be forbidden in the new marine monuments, but limited recreational fishing, tourism and scientific research will be permitted.

The designations follow Bush's establishment of a marine national monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

None of the marine national monuments in the Pacific will prevent military activities or freedom of navigation, according to White House aides.

The designations were made under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Times Published Article on Unregulated Coal Ash Dumps

Today's New York Times includes an article exploring the state of regulation applicable to coal ash dumps in the United States, pointing out that the dump that spilled toxic sludge in Tennessee last week is one of many that are not regulated.

Like the one in Tennessee, most of these dumps, which reach up to 1,500 acres, contain heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium, which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be a threat to water supplies and human health. Yet they are not subject to any federal regulation, which experts say could have prevented the spill, and there is little monitoring of their effects on the surrounding environment.

A 2007 report by EPA identified 63 sites in 26 states where the water was contaminated by heavy metals from coal ash dumps, including three other Tennessee Valley Authority sites.