Friday, February 22, 2013

Report: Murkowski might block Jewell's confirmation

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, might use her prerogative to block consideration of President Obama's nomination of Sally Jewell to lead the Department of Interior.

According to a report in the Anchorage Daily News, Murkowski is considering the move as a way to force the administration to agree a land exchange permitting construction of a road between Cold Bay and King Cove.

The contemplated road would cross the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Alaska, which provides habitat for a variety of species including grizzly bears, moose, caribou, and five species of Pacific salmon.

Of the 315,000 acres in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, 300,000 are included in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

In exchange for the land needed to build the single-lane, gravel road across 206 acres of the refuge, the state of Alaska and native American tribes would trade about 56,000 acres of land to be added to the refuge.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the proposed land exchange on Feb. 5.

Current interior secretary Ken Salazar will visit residents in the region that would benefit from the road during a trip to Alaska scheduled for next week.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Montana governor signs bill banning hunting buffer zones for wolves around national parks

There will be no buffer zone around Yellowstone National Park in which wolves cannot be hunted, at least not if Montana has anything to say about it.

A bill that forbids Montana's wildlife management agency from establishing such zones for the Rocky Mountain gray wolf was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Steve Bullock.

The legislation takes away a tool that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks considered using to limit the killing of wolves that were collared as part of a federal study. At least nine individual collared wolves that either lived in Yellowstone or recently migrated out of the park were killed in 2012.

The director of Yellowstone National Park had sought the buffer zone to assure the stability of packs that reside primarily in the federal preserve.

A state court judge had refused to allow the Montana Wildlife Commission to impose a wolf hunting buffer zone, enjoining such a step in an order issued last month.

Wolf populations inside Yellowstone have declined by about 25 percent since hunting of the iconic animal resumed in the northern Rockies several years ago.

HB 73 will continue to allow MFWP to close areas to wolf hunting if a quota has been met.

The bill also lowers the cost of a wolf hunting permit from $350 to $50 and allows hunters to obtain more than one wolf permit. It also opens the door to the use of simulated wolf calls as a way to lure the animals closer to a shooter.

HB 73 goes into effect immediately, which means it will likely have a quick impact on the number of Rocky Mountain gray wolves killed in Montana. The wolf hunting season in the Treasure State is underway now.

Hunting of the wolf in Montana became legal in 2011 after President Barack Obama signed legislation that included a provision removing the individuals of the species in Montana, Idaho, and portions of Oregon, Utah, and Washington from the Endangered Species List.

According to the environmental protection advocacy group Predator Defense, at least 1,000 individual wolves in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have been killed since that decision.

Of that number, 582 wolves have been killed in Idaho, 346 have been killed in Montana, and at least 74 have died at hunters' hands in Wyoming.

The Obama administration acted on its own to remove ESA protection from Wyoming gray wolves last year.

That total does not include several hundred more wolves killed in the northern Rockies, along with Wisconsin and Minnesota, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services branch and other government predator killing programs.

Transocean becomes second Gulf oil spill perpetrator to take guilty plea

Transocean Deepwater, Inc., which owned and operated the deepwater drilling rig that leaked nearly five million barrels of water into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, has been convicted of a criminal violation of the Clean Water Act.

The company entered an agreement to plead guilty in January to one misdemeanor violation of the CWA. On Feb. 14, a federal judge approved the deal and sentenced the company to pay $400 million in fines and penalties.

That punishment is the second-most severe sentence ever imposed on a corporation for an environmental crime committed in the United States.

BP holds the record for the most severe criminal punishment in those circumstances, having earlier been sentenced to pay about $4 billion in fines and penalties after entering its own guilty plea arising from the Gulf oil spill.

According to a U.S. Department of Justice press release, $150 million of the penalty assessed against Transocean will be paid to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation during the next three years for use to purchase, restore, and preserve areas along the Gulf coast that were adversely affected by the spill and to restore barrier islands and coastal wetlands in Louisiana and Mississippi. 

Another $150 million will fund oil spill prevention and response programs in the region. That money will be paid to the National Academy of Sciences over a five-year period.

About $100 million of the money paid by Transocean will go to the U.S. treasury.

Transocean also agreed to a five-year term of probation.

A separate agreement between Transocean and the federal government to resolve Washington's civil Clean Water Act claims against the firm would require Transocean to pay a $1 billion civil penalty under the CWA - a record amount - and to implement measures aimed at preventing another spill.

That agreement was approved Tuesday by U.S. district judge Carl J. Barbier of the Eastern District of Louisiana.


Xinhua: China will implement carbon tax

China, the nation that emits more carbon dioxide from industrial and other sources than any other in the world, will soon implement policies that would create a financial disincentive to add greenhouse gas pollution to the air.

Xinhua reported Tuesday that the world's most populous country will impose an "environmental protection" tax policy that will include assessments on carbon dioxide emissions.

The story did not indicate when the emissions tax would be put into effect.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Obama nominates REI head Jewell to replace Salazar at Interior Department

President Barack Obama has broken recent tradition when it comes to picking a secretary of the interior.

Obama has nominated Sally Jewell, the president and chief executive officer of outdoor gear giant Recreational Equipment, Inc., for the post.

Donald P. Hodel, who served during the second Reagan administration in the 1980s, was the last person without experience as a statewide elected official or member of Congress to be appointed secretary of the interior.

"So even as Sally has spent the majority of her career outside of Washington, where, I might add, the majority of our interior is located,” Obama said during an announcement at the White House Wednesday, “she is an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future. She knows the link between conservation and good jobs. She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress; that in fact, those two things need to go hand in hand.”

Jewell has a background as a commercial banking executive and as an engineer. She joined the board of directors at REI in 1996 and became the retailer's CEO in 2000.

REI was founded in 1938 and has 127 stores around the world. The company generated revenues of about $1.8 billion in 2011 and employs about 11,000 people.

Those numbers are a mere fraction of similar measurements of the department of the interior's fiscal situation.

The nation's primary land management agency spent about $21.5 billion in fiscal year 2011 and employs more than 70,000 people.

The prospect of Jewell's nomination was lauded by leaders of several national environmental organizations.

Francis Beinecke, the president of Natural Resources Defense Council, said that Jewell has "the heart of an environmentalist and the know-how of a businesswoman" and applauded her "unique experience and "love of the outdoors." The Sierra Club's executive director, Michael Brune, complimented Jewell for her "demonstrated commitment to preserving the higher purposes public lands hold for all Americans," while Defenders of Wildlife president Jamie Rappaport Clark said that her organization is optimistic that Jewell will be a "strong conservation leader who will protect our natural heritage, promote a positive vision for our public lands and wildlife and stand with us to help renew America's commitment to conservation."

The chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, also welcomed the expected nomination. He said, in a statement posted on the committee's website, that she is an "inspired choice" who will "bring a new vision to the Interior Department."

"Her record shows that she understands the importance of preserving our public lands for future generations, as well as the critical links between public lands, natural resources and economic growth," Wyden continued.

The committee's ranking Republican, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, took a much more cautious stand on the nomination.

"The livelihoods of Americans living and working in the West rely on maintaining a real balance between conservation and economic opportunity," Murkowski said. "I look forward to hearing about the qualifications Ms. Jewell has that make her a suitable candidate to run such an important agency, and how she plans to restore balance to the Interior Department.”

A representative of the Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas industry trade association, issued a more positive statement, albeit one that included a pitch for a greater emphasis on public lands oil and gas extraction.

"Her experience as a petroleum engineer and business leader will bring a unique perspective to an office that is key to our nation's energy portfolio," Tim Wigley, the organization's president, said. "We hope to see a better balance of productive development on non-park, non-wilderness public lands that enhances the wealth of America and creates jobs while protecting the environment."

Most interior secretaries in the post-World War II era have been western politicians. For example, incumbent Ken Salazar is a former U.S. senator from Colorado and state attorney general.

His predecessors in the George W. Bush administration, Gale A. Norton and Dirk Kempthorne, were, respectively, a former Colorado attorney general and ex-U.S. senator from Idaho. Clinton administration interior secretary Bruce Babbitt was a former Arizona governor and attorney general, while Manuel Lujan, Jr., who held the job between 1989-1993, was a former congressman from New Mexico.

If confirmed, Jewell would be the nation's 51st secretary of the interior, but only the second woman to hold the job.

A native of England, Jewell has lived in the United States since early childhood and is an American citizen.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

EPA administrator: Obama "clear" about need to confront climate change

Outgoing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in an interview published Monday that she is convinced President Obama is serious about addressing climate change.

"I don't think you need clues," Jackson told Reuters. "The president has been really clear. I'm not sure how much clearer he could be."

The interview is here.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Wolverine to get Endangered Species Act protection

The Obama administration announced Friday that it wants to add the wolverine, a rare and solitary denizen of the Rocky Mountain region's highest and most remote mountains, to the list of threatened and endangered species.

The species is considered vulnerable to climate change-caused loss of its snowy habitat. Gulo gulo luscus depends on late spring snow cover for dens in which to raise young.

"Scientific evidence suggests that a warming climate will greatly reduce the wolverine’s snow-pack habitat," Noreen Walsh, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Mountain-Prairie Region director, said in a statement.

FWS proposed a listing as a threatened species. It did not suggest designation of any critical habitat for the wolverine. The agency will also prepare an Endangered Species Act regulation that would permit most extractive activities now occurring in wolverine range to continue.

"[FWS] does not consider most activities occurring within the high elevation habitat of the
wolverine, including snowmobiling and backcountry skiing, and land management activities like
timber harvesting and infrastructure development, to constitute significant threats to the wolverine," an agency press release said. "As a result, the Service is proposing a special rule under Section 4(d) of the ESA that, should the species be listed, would allow these types of activities to continue."

The 4(d) rule would allow the killing of protected wolverines as a result of activities other than hunting and trapping.

FWS also wants to re-establish a population of wolverines in Colorado. The agency's proposal to do that under the authority of section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act would be implemented by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

In the mainland United States wolverines are known to occur in Washington's North Cascades, portions of the Rocky Mountains in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, and in Oregon's Wallowa Range. During recent years single wolverines have been detected in the Colorado Rockies and in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

FWS indicated in 2010 that the wolverine was eligible for ESA protection but said then that other priorities precluded listing the species.

The agency will accept comments on the proposed listing for 60 days.

Energy secretary Chu resigns

The Obama administration has lost another one of its energy and environment regulators.

Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who oversaw a doubling of the nation's renewable energy generating capacity during his four-year tenure, was put in charge of spending huge amounts of money in the aftermath of the 2009 stimulus legislation.

The Energy Department was appropriated billions of dollars to kick-start renewable energy research and, by and large, succeeded in achieving that goal.

"The stimulus investments produced some notable successes, including weatherizing more than [one] million homes for low-income families, saving nearly half a billion dollars in heating and cooling costs every year; doubling the domestic supply of parts for the wind industry; and supporting nearly 200,000 renewable energy jobs," Natural Resources Defense Council executive director Peter Lehner wrote in a blog entry.

The most noteworthy accomplishment has been the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy program. Under that initiative the Energy Department is working toward development of technology that would have a significant impact on the efficiency of the nation's energy consumption.

Chu also presided over increases in energy consumption standards for a range of products, including appliances. The household appliance program is expected to save consumers about $10 billion during the next two decades and reduce electricity use by about 14 percent.

Republicans attacked Chu for the failure of one solar energy technology company's bankruptcy after that entity, Solyndra, received a federally-guaranteed loan worth more than $500 million.

The other recipients of federally-backed loans to encourage renewable energy research - about 39 additional entities - did not experience financial failure. The money lent Solyndra amounted to 2.9 percent of the funds allocated to the program.

Obama thanked Chu for his service in a White House statement.

"As a Nobel Prize winning scientist, Steve brought to the Energy Department a unique understanding of both the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the tremendous opportunity that clean energy represents for our economy. And during his time as Secretary, Steve helped my Administration move America towards real energy independence," Obama said.

Other environment regulators that have announced their departures from the administration are EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, NOAA director Jane Lubchenco, and secretary of the interior Ken Salazar.

Chu is the first research scientists, let alone Nobel Prize winner. to serve at the head of the Energy Department. He will return to academic life in California, where he headed the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory before joining Obama's cabinet.