Friday, October 22, 2010

Feds to take over Idaho wolf management

A television station in Montana reported Thursday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take over management of gray wolf populations in southern Idaho.

The report by KECI said that the federal action is in response to Idaho Gov. Butch Otter's decision to abandon state management of the species.

Otter, a Republican, objects to Interior secretary Ken Salazar's decision to forbid a public hunt of gray wolves in the Gem State.

In aletter to Salazar dated Oct. 18, Otter wrote that Idaho has skillfully managed wildlife within its borders, including "your wolves."

Gray wolves north of I-90 in Idaho are protected by the Endangered Species Act. Those south of that highway are not, and it is that population that will now be managed by FWS.

A spokesperson for FWS said Thursday that the agency will investigate all reports of wolf depredation.

Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, photo by Carter Niemeyer.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

LA Times: Northern Rockies pols attack gray wolf protections

The Los Angeles Times has posted an informative article about at least two efforts underway in Congress to prevent protection of northern Rockies gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

In 2007 the Bush administration removed gray wolves in Montana and Idaho from the endangered species list. But a federal judge recently held that the decision violated the Endangered Species Act because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service separated populations in Wyoming from those two states for regulatory purposes.

In August Judge Donald Molloy ordered the entire population in the northern Rockies returned to the list.

The original recovery target for gray wolves in the region was 300 individuals. There are now more than 1,700 in the three states.

The bills that either are, or will be, before Congress would, if enacted into law, mark the first time that a federal wildlife agency is ordered by statute to remove a species from the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

Oil and gas industry wants reprieve from greenhouse gas reporting rule

The nation's oil and gas industry has been asking the Obama administration for more lenient treatment under a new regulation that would require reporting of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to a report from Greenwire via Thursday's New York Times, the industry wants an extension of the date on which reporting must begin until 2012 or 2013.

As the regulation now stands, oil and gas exploration and production interests do have to file their first report in spring 2011.

The industry argues that it needs more time to formulate and execute procedures that would apply to the nation's inventory of exploration and production facilities, which number more than 800,000.

Industry lawyers and its lead trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, also say that the Obama administration has underestimated the cost of compliance with the new reporting rule.

States fight each other in litigation surrounding EPA greenhouse gas rules

More than two-thirds of the states have leaped into the various lawsuits challenging the array of greenhouse gas regulations imposed by the Obama administration.

That's according to a report from E&E Publishing, Inc.'s Greenwire.

The divide among the states seems to closely match 2008 voting patterns. Most of the states that have intervened on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency were carried by President Obama, while the bulk of those attacking EPA ended up in Republican John McCain's column.

E&E News has posted a regularly updated special report on its website that provides ongoing information about the slew of lawsuits attacking four greenhouse gas emission-related regulations: the so-called reporting rule, the "endangerment" finding mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, the withdrawal of the "Johnson memo," the "auto rule," and the "tailoring rule."

Environmental groups seek intervention in case challenging mountaintop mining rules

A group of environmental organizations based in Appalachia has asked a federal judge to permit them to intervene in a lawsuit that challenges new Environmental Protection Agency regulations aimed at strengthening oversight of mountaintop removal mining.

Mountaintop removal mining involves the use of explosives to remove huge quantities of rock that bury coal seams. The procedure results in the literal destruction of mountains and the filling of streams and river valleys with rock, sediment, and toxic chemicals.

The Obama administration, in a change from the approach of its predecessor, has given EPA a veto power over so-called section 404 permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and strengthen cooperation between the two agencies and the Department of Interior.

Section 404 refers to the provision of the federal Clean Water Act that established protection of wetlands from filling. Rivers and streams are included within the coverage of that statutory section.

The administration of former President George W. Bush, in a decision made eight days before his presidency ended, issued a regulation that gave the coal industry wide latitude to blast off the tops of mountains and fill Appalachian streams and hollows with the resulting debris.

The new rules have slowed down permit decisions and, in some cases, caused some permit applications to be denied. They have particularly impacted planned mining operations that would result in "valley fills," which is a nickname for operations that result in the deposit of debris in the watersheds of the region's rivers.

The mining industry opposes the new regulations and, in July, filed a lawsuit attacking them in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The lawsuit claims that the new regulations will effectively ban mountaintop removal mining in the major coal states of the east, including Kentucky and West Virginia, and that EPA did not follow the procedures established by federal statute when it imposed the new regulations.

The environmental advocacy organizations, which include the Sierra Club and six local organizations, argue in their motion that a ruling in favor of the mining industry would cause serious harm to their members and the environment because the government might them grant permits of "dubious legality."

Two other lawsuits contesting EPA's new mountaintop mining regulations have also been filed. One was launched by the state of West Virginia earlier this month, while the second is being pursued by a group of Kentucky coal companies.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Federal lawsuit challenges plan to expand Highway 101 through California redwoods region

Environmentalists have asked a federal court to block a controversial plan to straighten and widen a highway through a remote California state park so that large commercial trucks can have a direct route from southern California to Oregon.

The lawsuit alleges that the California Department of Transportation violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act when it approved the project, which will cause the destruction of some old-growth redwood trees in Richardson Grove State Park.

“We are determined not to let this protected grove of old-growth redwoods and the endangered species that depend on them be cut into for the sake of letting a few more over-sized trucks speed through the grove,” Peter Galvin, a spokesperson for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs, said. “Caltrans should scrap this misguided project, which has been opposed by dozens of groups, local business owners, scientists, elected representatives and tens of thousands of concerned citizens.”

Up to 72 old growth trees could be killed as a result of construction activities that cut their roots. CalTrans acknowledged, in an environmental assessment, that "adverse effects to old-growth trees may be a significant impact to this unique natural community.” Nevertheless, the agency determined that the widening and re-alignment of U.S. Highway 101 would have "no significant environmental impact."

Advocates for the road expansion say that increased access for trucks is necessary to improve economic conditions in remote Humboldt County.

The project was proposed in 2007. Smaller commercial trucks can already travel through the state park.

Large commercial trucks, on the other hand, are not permitted within the boundaries of the preserve. They must travel an extra 448 miles to make the trip between the San Francisco Bay area and the northern California town of Eureka. The additional mileage is caused by a detour into Oregon and then a return south.

Richardson Grove State Park provides habitat for a variety of endangered and threatened species, including the northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet, and several runs of salmon and steelhead.

The park is popular with tourists. The old-growth redwoods within its boundaries are among the few protected in the country.

The lawsuit is the second one against the project. A state court challenge was filed in June, alleging that the transportation agency violated California law.

Allen shuts down Gulf spill incident command, gets ready for new job

The National Incident Command for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was shut down Friday and its leader, retired U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, left his post.

Allen transferred oversight of the ongoing Gulf cleanup to the Coast Guard's New Orleans office, which is headed by Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft.

"Response operations will continue under transition plans that have developed with our state and local partners," Allen said in a statement. "Unity of effort must continue to be our common goal. Our commitment to this response and the people of the Gulf of Mexico remains and I am pleased that Rear Admiral Zukunft will continue his dedicated service. This response has been unprecedented in its scope and complexity and we cannot forget the 11 crew members that lost their lives."

Meanwhile, Rand Corp. announced that Allen will join the firm Monday. Allen will be a senior fellow specializing in homeland security, ocean policy, and defense issues. He will work out of the organization's Washington, D.C. office.

Allen retired from the Coast Guard in May. Before assuming his position at the head of the government's response to the oil spill, he was the service's commandant.

Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano complimented Allen on his last day of federal employment.

"The BP oil spill presented unique challenges and required an aggressive, all-of-government approach," Napolitano said. "As the National Incident Commander, Admiral Allen drew on his experience with major response efforts as well as his long career in the Coast Guard to help direct the aggressive efforts to stop the flow of oil from the Macondo well, mitigate the impacts of the spill on vital coastal areas, and hold the responsible party accountable.