Friday, December 18, 2015

Federal lands, public dilemma (And a Big Thank You to American Lands Council)

By Karim Elsayed

Imagine owning a house, and the town mayor controls two rooms simply because he is the mayor and believes he can put them to better use than you can. Not a very pleasant thought, right?

This situation is not so different from the ongoing battle between states and the federal government over federally-controlled public lands. As Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory, president of the American Lands Council and senior policy fellow at State Budget Solutions, explains: "For decades now, Washington has been progressively commandeering from local control, matters of land access, land use and land ownership, particularly, though not exclusively, throughout the western states. States, counties, municipalities, businesses and individuals have been reeling to defend against the metastasizing maze of federal policies, regulations and edicts."

...While these agencies all control large amounts of land, what makes it more shocking is that these holdings are composed of lands from only 11 western states. Many of these states lack the necessary funds to cover expenses for education and other public services. However, vast deposits of natural resources lie within these states on federally-controlled lands that remain heavily restricted.

In attempting to manage these valuable resources, the federal government actually loses money. According to the Montana-based Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), a nonprofit focused on solutions to environmental problems, "The federal government loses money managing valuable natural resources on federal lands while states generate significant financial returns from state trust lands."

On average, the federal government gains approximately 73 cents for every dollar spent managing these lands. Overall, mismanagement of federally-owned lands costs American taxpayers nearly $2 billion a year.

State Trust Lands, by contrast, were given by the federal government to states in order to generate revenue when they first gained statehood. Revenues come from many sources, such as timber harvesting, grazing, mineral extraction, commercial development and conservation. In Montana, Idaho, New Mexico and Arizona, State Trust Lands generate around $14.51 for every dollar spent on land management.

Continued federal control of state land undermines the principle of federalism. Many western state economies are crippled by federal restrictions on access to their own natural resources. Americans nationwide are then heavily taxed in order to subsidize western states and alleviate their current economic hardship. This would be avoided, if only states had full ownership and control over their own lands.

 Karim Elsayed is a policy fellow at Federalism In Action


A candidate for President says these lands should be transferred to the states, think tanks like PERC are studying the issue and policy wonks like Elsayed are writing about it.  Why?  Because of the tireless and professional efforts of Ken Ivory and the American Lands Council to educate the public and keep the issue before our political leaders.

Every Westerner owes a big thank you to the American Lands Council and we here at The Westerner wish them continued success. 

Lyman’s predecessor says ‘an example needs to be made’ of Utah commissioner who led ATV protest

Monte Wells, Phil Lyman and their supporters will hear the pair's punishment Friday for their ATV protest ride down San Juan County's Recapture Canyon, which federal land managers closed to motorized use to protect ancient American Indian sites. Federal prosecutors are seeking an unspecified jail term for the misdemeanor convictions, while Lyman's supporters, which include prominent local and state political leaders across Utah, say the men have endured enough. Jail would make "no logical sense" for such civically engaged family men who pose no threat to society, supporters argued in letters to U.S. District Judge David Nuffer. A jury convicted the two of conspiracy, which holds them accountable for the conduct of the many protesters who drove the length of the closed portion of the canyon, over eight archaeological sites and through sensitive riparian areas. Lyman, a county commissioner and a Blanding accountant, organized the protest and led about 50 riders into the canyon, although he confined his ride to an existing road built in 1980s for servicing a pipeline below Recapture Dam. Wells, a former federal lawman and local blogger later appointed to the Monticello City Council, also drove in the canyon, but his crucial offense was promoting the ride on social media. Lyman's supporters say he has been maligned in the news media and was singled out for prosecution in an attempt by federal authorities to slap down local elected leaders who stand up to the Bureau of Land Management. Federal agencies oversee most of the land in Utah's rural counties and tensions have flared in recent years over what locals leaders complain is the BLM's undue deference to environmental groups. A prison sentence would only worsen the tensions between the feds and rural Utahns who believe the BLM ignores their concerns and interests, Lyman's lawyer Peter Stirba argued in court papers. "The court's decision will largely impact not only Mr. Lyman, but his constituents as well, at least in their perception of what is fundamentally fair in a case such as this. These citizens desperately want to believe in their government and its institutions; they already believe Mr. Lyman has been thoroughly punished and deterred," Stirba wrote in a sentencing memo. "A just, but merciful sentence by this court will be understood as a reflection of the judicial system's wisdom, and its inherent fairness and even-handedness." Lyman's critics contend the commissioner's actions were a dangerous insult to the rule of law and a stiff sentence is necessary to deter future abuses by anti-federal activists. Neither man has accepted full responsibility, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Bennett...more

Editorial - Congress must rein in rogue EPA

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, proudly announced this year that 90 percent of the nearly 1 million comments on the agency's new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule were in favor.

"The input helped us understand the genuine concerns and interests of a wide range of stakeholders and think through options to address them," McCarthy wrote at the time.

What she did not mention, naturally, is that agency staff had worked with environmental activists to manipulate the comments process to skew the result.

Using the Thunderclap social media app, EPA officials worked with activist leaders to spread the word to 1.8 million of their fellow travelers. The resulting social media bomb encouraged them to click through and write comments on the rule. As a result, the comment box was overwhelmed with support for the EPA's position.

We commented on this wrongdoing at the time, noting that this cynical distortion of the comments process renders it meaningless. It is also inconsistent with the task of regulators, who are supposed to write rules that carry out the will of Congress, not use taxpayer-provided resources to advocate for their own policies using activists for cover.

As we put it then, "Taxpayers should not have to pay ... to be propagandized about what proposals they should have to live under by the very bureaucracy that supposedly determines such things based on statutory interpretation."

As it happens, federal law agrees with us, and this week, the Government Accountability Office, a watchdog agency within the federal government, announced in a letter to Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., that it had determined the EPA violated the law.

...The WOTUS rule, currently under a court injunction, surely would have been adopted regardless of how the comments turned out. But the transgression here demonstrates specificcally that the EPA is too close to green radicals, and more generally that the agency is dishonest, like the adminstration of which it is a part. It is not concerned with the opinion of the public, except as something that should be bent to activist ends. This scheme to run up a 90 percent margin of support, an obscure issue that most people don't know much about, evinces a dictatorial desire on the part of the agency to expand its powers.

How a stunning Klamath Basin water agreement has been doomed by lawmakers

The people of the Klamath Basin did everything right. After years of acrimonious lawsuits, public denunciations and millions of dollars spent fruitlessly on lobbyists, the warring sides in what had become the nation's most contentious river basin decided a decade ago to do something unexpected: They negotiated. On one side were farmers (and later ranchers) at the top of the basin, who relied on the Klamath River's water for their fields and on power generated by four dams to run their irrigation pumps. On the other side, commercial fishermen and the basin's four Native American tribes deplored the dams and water diversions for decimating the Klamath's once-abundant salmon, the source of the fishermen's livelihood and the foundation of the tribes' culture and diet. Over the next few years, negotiators met hundreds of times. They put in 80-hour weeks, driving five or six hours to attend meetings, often while struggling to run their far-from-lucrative businesses. It took them a year to build trust. What they learned, they said later, was that the presumed monsters across the negotiating table also cared about their families, the river and the land: They weren't so different after all. The negotiations were helped along by basin citizens who acted with extraordinary courage, showing the way. In 2001, when the basin was smoldering with anger and hard-hit by drought, a Klamath Tribes of Oregon leader named Jeff Mitchell braved farmers' hostility as he knocked on their doors to tell them he commiserated with their water-scarce plight. Becky and Taylor Hyde stepped across the rancher-Native American divide by turning over trusteeship of their land to the tribe that had once occupied it. Steve Kandra, a farmer who sued the federal government for cutting off his water during the drought, withdrew the suit and worked with tribal members toward an agreement, despite the outrage of his fellow farmers. The spirit of compromise ended up jumbling so many allegiances that Greg Addington, the head of the Upper Klamath Basin farmers association, told me, “My friends are my enemies and my enemies are my friends." In 2008, when the negotiators announced a stunning agreement, the congressman who represents the Upper Basin, Greg Walden, singled out the negotiators' thoughtful grass-roots process for praise. After declaring that they “deserve a medal,” he said, “I've always felt the best and longest-lasting solution would come from the various parties in the basin working out a plan that made sense for all concerned.”...more

Congress to increase funding to fight wildfires

Budget legislation headed toward approval by Congress includes an additional $610 million for the U.S. Forest Service to fight wildfires next year but no long-term fix to how the agency, year after year, has had to borrow money from other programs to keep up with the ever-growing cost of fighting fires. The Forest Service spent a record $1.7 billion fighting fires this year. Firefighting now accounts for more than half of the agency’s budget, up from 16 percent 20 years ago. The Obama administration wants to address the Forest Service’s firefighting budget shuffle by treating wildfires like other types of natural disasters for funding purposes. The proposal, however, didn’t make it into the budget legislation the House and Senate plan to vote on Friday. Paying for wildfires the same way the government responds to hurricanes and tornadoes needs more review, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. One potential problem: A destructive tornado or hurricane is a single event, while a nasty fire season is series of events, some much worse than others. The tipping point at which federal disaster relief would be warranted for wildfires in any given year could be difficult to gauge. “I believe the administration’s proposal could set a bad precedent, prove unworkable, and fall short of its own goals,” Murkowski said in a news release this week. The budget legislation would provide $1.6 billion for firefighting, up from $1 billion in a season that killed seven firefighters and burned a near-record 15,000 square miles nationwide...more

The U.S. Could Cut Water Use By 33% Using Existing Technology

Water isn’t a national security issue inside the U.S. Indeed, for most Americans, water isn’t an issue at all. Even in California, in the midst of the worst drought in settled history, you turn on the tap and the water flows. The drought hasn’t even caused a spike in water bills. But water folks have been warning for years that the U.S. water system is brittle—dependent on investments from 50 and 100 years ago. And fresh stress is coming: Most of the impact of climate change turns out to show up most dramatically and most immediately in the form of water—too much, too little, the wrong kind in the wrong place. That’s why the White House, in its first attempt to start a national discussion about how the nation uses water, may be getting ready to suggest a bold goal: Cutting the nation’s water use by 33%. That would save not just water, but all the energy used to move and treat water across the economy. On Tuesday, the White House hosted a Roundtable on Water Innovation—the first time any White House has convened such an event—and released a paper making the case that such a dramatic reduction was in reach without the need of any technological breakthroughs...more

Farm incomes drop to lowest in years

U.S. net farm incomes are expected to drop 38 percent in 2015, leaving the industry with the lowest net farm income numbers in the past 13 years, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. Frayne Olson, North Dakota State University Extension crop economist, said low commodity prices have negatively affected the farm balance sheet over the past several years and led to the drop in U.S. net farm incomes. “With what we’ve seen from historically high prices a few years ago, the cost structure for a lot of farms and ranches started to increase, land values went up, people upgraded machinery lines, and they tried to become more efficient in production, but that comes at a cost,” Olson said. He said the cost structure of agriculture has gradually risen for crop growers over the past three years, and for livestock producers, more recently over the past six months. “We’ve seen pretty rapid price drops, so gross income is dropping because prices are falling on the crop side faster and further than anyone expected,” he said. “We knew the high levels we saw in 2012 weren’t sustainable; everyone knew that – we knew they would come down. But the surprise has been how far and fast they’ve fallen. So on the production side we’ve had very good yields, which have led to low prices, putting a major squeeze on profit margins for both crops and livestock.” As in any business, tighter profit margins make it difficult to be successful, which has led to some farmers or ranchers exiting the industry...more

Bob Wills - Christmas On The Range

Today we bring you Bob Wills - Christmas On The Range.  This one goes back to December 9, 2013, not long after I first established the Ranch Radio channel on YouTube.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sage grouse, parks among omnibus winners

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

Congress' sweeping funding deal offers perks for the sage grouse and the National Park Service and contains almost no policy riders that would hamstring the Obama administration's agenda on public lands, energy and wildlife.

The $1.15 trillion spending package for fiscal 2016 contains $12 billion for the Interior Department, including substantial boosts to its three main land management agencies.

It also includes a three-year extension and a one-time funding boost for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a partial victory for conservation groups, sportsmen, the Obama administration and pro-LWCF lawmakers from both parties.

...But the bill still provides $450 million for LWCF, a near 50 percent increase over current levels, and still allocates about half of the funding to federal land acquisitions that reform proponents have sought to curb.

...The omnibus does include a one-year prohibition on Fish and Wildlife Service listing the greater sage grouse or Columbia Basin sage grouse as a threatened or endangered species, though it will have little practical effect. FWS decided in September that birds in Washington state's Columbia River Basin were not a separate listable species and that the broader, 11-state population does not warrant Endangered Species Act protections.

...In a surprise to many, the omnibus also did not contain a rider mandating that FWS delist the gray wolf in Wyoming and the Great Lakes.

While the rider was strongly opposed by environmentalists, it carried bipartisan support and was similar to a rider in 2011 that delisted wolves in Montana and Idaho. Capitol Hill insiders believed the Obama administration would have quietly supported it, or at least not opposed it, given that Fish and Wildlife had previously delisted wolves in those regions.

...BLM and FWS also saw large overall boosts, thanks in large part to the bipartisan budget deal struck earlier this year to raise overall discretionary spending caps.

BLM would receive $1.2 billion, a $117 million increase over current levels. FWS would get $1.5 billion, a $69 million boost.

As far as The West is concerned, the new Republican "leadership" is a disaster. Consider the following: 

○ Instead of reforming the Endangered Species Act, they are throwing more money at it.

○ Increased funding for the land management agencies.  Just what we need, more employees in more trucks running around and messing things up.

○ EPA initiates a huge land grab by promulgating the Waters Of The United States (wotus) rule, and the Republicans do nothing about it.  In effect they are funding the agency to continue on.  That's from a policy perspective.  Further, EPA violates the law in lobbying for their new rule and the Republicans still leave the rule untouched.  So much for accountability. Give more control to the EPA? No Problem.  The EPA is in violation of federal law?  No problem.

○ A 50% increase in federal land acquisition!!  Owning one out of every three acres is apparently not enough for Ryan and his bunch. 

Bottom line:  More power to the feds, more money wasted and less private property. That's what the "new" Republican leadership is bringing to the West.

Bureau of Land Management shows contempt for property rights

By Chance Weldon 

Since 2008, the Bureau of Land Management has claimed up to 90,000 acres of private property inside Texas along the Red River as federal land. For nearly seven years, affected property owners along the river tried to settle these disputed titles with BLM. And for nearly seven years (and counting), BLM failed to come to the table.

Last month, those property owners — represented by the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Center for the American Future — filed the federal lawsuit of Aderholt v. BLM to end BLM's arbitrary seizure of their homes. In the past two weeks, the state of Texas and the Texas General Land Office have joined this lawsuit.

In response to this lawsuit, the resulting opposition and a growing barrage of bad press, BLM released statements claiming the lawsuit is premature but that "BLM remains committed to working with adjacent landowners, counties and other stakeholders through our ongoing planning process to properly identify the extent of federal holdings in the Red River."

Really? BLM has been making the same promises since 2008 — all the while grabbing more property and stonewalling anyone who dissents. Those empty promises have done nothing to help countless property owners who now have a cloud on their title.

...BLM's version of working with the property owners turned out to be nothing more than holding a few public meetings to ask for their input in determining how the newly seized property would be managed as public lands. The property owners attended and asked a BLM representative how BLM could manage land that it did not own. BLM's response made its position on the matter perfectly clear: It was going forward with the management plan anyway, and if you don't like it, "You'll have to talk to a lawyer."

Pay attention Texans, the members of your Congressional Delegation, led by the Republicans therein, are getting ready to give BLM more money for doing just this kind of thing.  They are REWARDING THE BLM for this kind of behavior.

New Mexico regulators OK plan to shutter coal power plant

State regulators on Wednesday adopted a plan to shutter part of a coal-fired power plant that serves customers across the Southwest, bringing to a close years of wrangling over the best way to curb pollution while limiting the effects on utility bills and northwest New Mexico's economy. The 4-1 vote came as environmentalists, consumer advocates, state lawmakers and lawyers for the utility that runs the San Juan Generating Station packed a hearing before the Public Regulation Commission. The plan, based on a settlement reached after months of negotiations, had the support of the commission staff, state attorney general's office and a coalition of environmental groups. Questions about the future of the San Juan plant began to percolate about a decade ago as the federal government began talking about reducing emissions. In the Four Corners region — where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah meet — environmentalists had been complaining about poor visibility caused by San Juan and other coal-fired plants...more

...environmentalists had been complaining about poor visibility caused by San Juan and other coal-fired plants

Please note this was not your regular Clean Air regs that were being enforced.  This strictly has to do with "visibility".  As the this site explains:

The Clean Air Act requires BART (Best Available Retrofit Technology) review when any source that “emits any air pollutant which may reasonably be anticipated to cause or contribute to any impairment of visibility” in any 156 Federal Class I area. The Regional Haze Rule (RHR) and Section 169A of the Clean Air Act have as their goal the restoration of visibility in mandatory Federal Class I areas, including national parks and monuments, to pristine conditions by 2064.

Federal Class 1 areas are National Parks, National Monuments and Wilderness Areas. All such areas in existence as of August, 1977 are now in "Mandatory Class 1 Areas" including those in NM (see this map).  New Class I areas can be added by the state at any time.

Once the enviros get the number of Monuments and Wilderness areas they want, I expect them to start petitioning the state to designate additional Class I areas in NM.

Think of our clean air problems here in Dona Ana County, with all the pollution floating in from Juarez and El Paso.  We have a huge new National Monument.  Now think of what stringent requirements would be imposed to reach "pristine conditions" of visibility.  The National Monument designation wasn't just about land.  It was about land and air and development in general.

Land Trust Alliance Praises Congressional Deal Breaking Conservation Legislation

The Land Trust Alliance Wednesday praised a bipartisan congressional agreement that would make permanent a tax incentive supporting land conservation. “This could be the most important conservation legislation in 20 years,” said Rand Wentworth, the Alliance’s president. “It will result in the conservation of millions of acres of America’s most important natural areas, farms and ranches. This agreement demonstrates that we as a nation treasure our lands and must conserve their many benefits for all future generations.” The incentive grants certain tax benefits to landowners who sign a conservation easement. Such private, voluntary agreements with local land trusts permanently limit uses of the land in order to protect its conservation value. The incentive advanced through Congress as part of the America Gives More Act, a package of tax incentives to encourage charitable giving. It passed the House earlier this year, 279-137. A standalone version of the incentive, the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, had 52 Senate sponsors this year. The agreement announced Wednesday additionally encourages donations to food banks and facilitates charitable deductions from IRAs...more

NM Landowners testify against elk-hunting tax

On the heels of the Taxation and Revenue Department’s efforts to collect back taxes on the sale of elk-hunting authorizations, landowners are asking legislators to exempt such sales from gross receipts taxes. Ranchers contend that the authorizations issued by the Department of Game and Fish – which can then be sold to hunters or outfitters or brokers – are intended as compensation for damage done to their private land by elk herds. “It makes absolutely no sense that the state gives this compensation for damages and then demands part of it back as gross receipts tax,” Gerald Chacon told the interim Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee on Wednesday. Chacon, of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, said most landowners were shocked to be notified recently by the tax department that they owed up to seven years’ back taxes on the authorizations they sold. The proposed tax exemption would apply to future transactions but not the back-taxes collection. The New Mexico Wildlife Federation opposes the tax exemption, saying elk are a public resource and the tax is appropriate...more

Tennessee Ernie Ford - A Rootin' Tootin' Santa Claus

We'll continue our Christmas Season with Tennessee Ernie Ford - A Rootin' Tootin' Santa Claus

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The unusual story of how EPA broke the law using Twitter

One could be forgiven for thinking the Environmental Protection Agency might be staffed by a bunch of do-gooder policy wonks with little time for tweets, tags, shares, or the like. But in 2015, not to post is not to be heard, and even EPA has doubled-down on social media when it comes to spreading the word. This approach has escalated to such a degree that on Monday the agency was found guilty by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of engaging in “covert propaganda” on social platforms. In an effort to build momentum behind the Clean Water Rule—a new policy that the Obama administration sees as necessary to protect the country’s waterways, wetlands and drinking water—EPA was found to have twice overstepped a federal law prohibiting federal agencies from promoting or lobbying for their own actions. While government agencies like EPA are allowed to promote policies, they cannot do so in a “covert” fashion. They are also not allowed to use federal resources to conduct grassroots-style lobbying that urges the public to contact Congress regarding legislation.  The finding, which is being disputed by EPA, asserts in one case that the agency used a social media-amplifying network called Thunderclap to get its message in support of the CWR out to some 1.8 million people without always making it clear where the message originated. The Thunderclap message said, “Clean water is important to me. I support E.P.A.’s efforts to protect it for my health, my family and my community.” While on the Thunderclap page it says the message is “by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency” this was not always conveyed upon dissemination, which included platforms like Twitter. “Covert propaganda refers to communications that fail to disclose the agency’s role as the source of information,” states the GAO report, which goes on to explain that on some occasions when shared by Thunderclap, EPA was not identified as the author. Thus, covert propaganda. The second instance of legal overstep concerns a blog post by one of EPA’s public affairs officers. The post, in which Travis Loop says he wants clean water for his children as well as for his beer, contained a link button to advocacy groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Surfrider Foundation, that called on people to contact members of congress in support of the CWR. The GAO found that by “hyperlinking to these webpages, EPA appealed to the public to contact Congress in opposition to pending legislation in violation of the grassroots lobbying prohibition.”...more

A Vote for Green Climate Fund in Speaker Ryan's Omnibus Spending Bill Is a Vote for Paris Agreement

What better time than Christmas to spend other people’s money and give presents to the environmental activists? In addition to the other generous handouts renewable companies would receive in the omnibus spending bill, backroom negotiators are also pushing for President Barack Obama’s $3-billion pledge for the Green Climate Fund, a key component of the Paris climate change talks. Agreeing to allocate taxpayer dollars for the Green Climate Fund is effectively giving a congressional stamp of approval to the Paris Protocol. Congress should this reject this funding entirely.  According to Bloomberg, the trade-off for lifting the decades-old ban on crude oil exports would be authorizing $3 billion for the Green Climate Fund. The Green Climate Fund is nothing more than a taxpayer-funded wealth transfer from developed countries to developing ones. Lifting the ban on crude oil is good policy. Allowing U.S. energy exports would provide a boon to the American economy, creating jobs, expanding the economy, and strengthening relationships with global trading partners. Removing restrictions on energy exports would improve national security and geopolitical conditions around the world by reducing any one nation’s ability to manipulate energy supplies for political or economic influence.  But, as my colleague Rachel Bovard noted, lifting the ban on crude oil already has bipartisan support, and “extortion should not be the standard we set for implementing internationally strategic, broadly supported, job-creating policies.” In other words, this in an unfair trade-off: A bipartisan-backed policy is being traded for a liberal policy...more

Omnibus spending bill would repeal COOL, no WOTUS language

House and Senate Appropriations committees have agreed on a $1.15 trillion federal spending bill that includes potential “fixes” to SOME agricultural issues. The spending measure, released early Wednesday morning, would repeal mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) in hopes of preventing retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico. COOL repeal would come just in time as the World Trade Organization (WTO) is scheduled this Friday to approve Canada and Mexico’s $1 billion in tariffs on U.S. products. National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson says NFU is frustrated by the language because it would repeal labeling for not only muscle cuts of beef and pork but also for ground beef and ground pork – which were found to be trade-compliant. The spending measure also includes language that would try to limit the impact of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines and reinstates the expired biodiesel tax incentive. However, the bill abandons several controversial policy riders that would have rolled back the EPA’s clean water rule (formerly known as Waters of the US, WOTUS); it also does not contain language that would pre-empt state GMO-labeling laws...more

Key Evidence in Arizona's Yarnell Hill Fire Tragedy Never Provided to Official Investigators

Key evidence that could explain why the Granite Mountain Hotshots moved from a safe location into a treacherous box canyon where 19 men died on June 30, 2013, was in the Office of the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's possession but was not provided to a contracted state investigation into the disaster, autopsy records obtained by New Times show.

A cell phone belonging to Granite Mountain superintendent Eric Marsh and a functioning camera belonging to hotshot Christopher MacKenzie were with the men's bodies when they arrived at the Medical Examiner's Office on July 1, 2013, but were not listed as evidence turned over later to the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office.

...The Maricopa County medical examiner conducted autopsies on the bodies of all 19 hotshots for Yavapai County on July 2, 2013. The names of representatives from YCSO and the Arizona Forestry Division appear on the autopsy reports as in attendance on 10 of the 19 autopsies that were conducted by four different doctors.

The YCSO has no record of Marsh’s cell phone or of MacKenzie’s camera as official evidence collected from the medical examiner, according to a YCSO police report. Marsh’s cell phone and MacKenzie’s camera ended up with family members outside the formal chain of custody.

...Marsh’s cell phone could have provided evidence of who he was in communication with in the moments before and while the crew moved from its safety zone in a burned-over area on the eastern ridge of the Weaver Mountains west of Yarnell into a chaparral-choked box canyon where the men were trapped by a wall of flames.

MacKenzie’s camera included video clips of a crucial discussion between Marsh and Granite Mountain Captain Jesse Steed that suggests disagreement over tactics before the crew left the “black” burned-over area.

The reports only were recently released. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk refused repeated media requests under the Arizona Public Records Law for them in the months immediately after the fire. Polk argued in August 2013 that the privacy of families of the fallen firefighters exceeded the public's right to examine the documents.

New Times obtained the reports in October. They were released four months after all litigation filed by the families of hotshots seeking $237 million in damages from the state Forestry Division and Yavapai County had been settled. The settlement also included dropping the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s wrongful-death case against the Forestry Division for allegedly mishandling fire-suppression efforts during the Yarnell Hill Fire.

Another good example of how far the government will go to protect itself from public scrutiny and from accountability for their actions.

Federal agency stakes a claim to ranchers’ Red River land

States, Counties Fight Feds Over Sage Grouse

Bonner R. Cohen

The Obama administration’s plan to impose strict land-use restrictions on 167 million acres in 11 Western states to protect the habitat of the greater sage grouse is being challenged in court by state and local governments and businesses in the region.

Kicking off a wave of lawsuits rolling across the West, two northeastern Nevada counties, Elko and Eureka, along with mining companies Western Exploration LLC and Quantum Minerals LLC, filed suit on September 25 against the Obama administration’s plan. They were joined on October 22 by seven more Nevada counties, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R), and Paragon Precious Metals LLC and Ninety-Six Ranch. Subsequently, the State of Idaho and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association filed separate suits against the administration’s sage grouse plan.

...Brian Seasholes, director of the Endangered Species Project at the Reason Foundation, says DOI’s plan is likely to harm the sage grouse.

“The federal plan is another manifestation of the top-down, penalty-based approach to conservation that has proven counterproductive,” said Seasholes. “Successful conservation depends on creating incentives for the thousands of private landowners, most of them ranchers, scattered throughout the sage grouse’s range.

“They are ideally positioned to implement conservation actions for the grouse because they are on the land 24/7 and have a strong attachment to the land and its health,” Seasholes said.

State Management Plans Ignored

Fearing listing the bird under ESA would lead to economically devastating land-use restrictions, state and local leaders, businesses, scientists, and conservationists spent years developing state management plans to protect the grouse while minimizing economic disruption. 

DOI ignored the state management plans, sparking the numerous lawsuits.

...In the 90-page complaint from Nevada’s Humboldt County, one of the plaintiffs suing DOI, the county points out 80 percent of its 6.2 million acres are federally owned, with 40 percent of the county’s tax base coming from gold mining and livestock production being the primary agricultural pursuit. The county claims the federal plan poses a significant threat to mining and ranching.
“Normally, residents would be jubilant they have dodged the ESA bullet,” said Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. “But what the administration is imposing on the region is every bit as bad as a listing under the ESA.


Law West of the Pecos

Jay Meehan, Park Record columnist

Philosophically, I don't see where the judiciary of the West has changed all that much since Judge Roy Bean spent his free time slugging down Red Eye and fantasizing about Lillie Langtry.

...It's just that when it comes to climate justice and environmental concerns, the scales often seem "tipped" in favor of those deep-pocketed individuals Ed Abbey once referred to as "diggers, drillers, borers, grubbers, asphalt spreaders, dam builders, overgrazers, clear cutters, and strip miners."

To check the validity of my theory, I'll be keeping close tabs on the sentencing of San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and Monticello City Councilman Monte Wells this Friday following their misdemeanor trespassing convictions for ramrodding the May 2014 Recapture Canyon ATV protest ride in Southeast Utah.

I mean if Tim DeChristopher served two years for disrupting a bogus oil and gas lease auction, the willful and unlawful desecration of archeologically-rich ancestral lands should be met with at least sufficient jail time and fines to not only fit the crime, but also serve as a deterrent.

Of course, we have yet to mention the elephant in the room, the biggest problem confronting Western justice.

That would be the Cliven Bundy "standoff" outside Mesquite, Nevada against Bureau of Land Management law enforcement during the spring of 2014. 

...Will history look back at this as a time when the "Sagebrush Rebellion" exploded or imploded? Will bands of militias roam the west taking back what is "theirs?" The public lands debate certainly separates those on each side of the issue. Myself, I could never trust western state governments to be proper stewards of public lands.  

                                                      READ ENTIRE COLUMN   

For some reason he's left out the Hammond's case, where two ranchers received 5-year sentences as "terrorists".


Centuries-old juniper tree stolen from Badlands Wilderness

BEND, Ore. - Federal officials say whoever cut down and hauled off a large old-growth juniper tree at a popular wilderness trailhead east of Bend may have committed a federal crime, and they are seeking tips to find the culprit. The tree was taken earlier this month from the Flatiron Rock Trailhead in the 30,000-acre Badlands Wilderness Area, about 16 miles east of Bend off U.S. Highway 20. So far, Bureau of Land Management officials have not turned up any leads as to who took the tree. BLM spokeswoman Lisa Clark said the tree was still standing the evening of Dec. 4, but was gone the next day. Someone apparently backed a truck up to the tree, cut it down and hauled it away, leaving the stump, Clark said...more

Let's see, driving a vehicle is a violation of the Wilderness Act.  Clearly, that tree wasn't cut with an axe, and using a power saw is a violation of the Wilderness Act.

Wow, somebody either a) wanted to enjoy their wilderness experience at home, b) wanted a 150-year old Christmas tree, or c) wanted a huge and historic fire going in the fireplace when ole Santa showed up.

Besides, does that look like a Wilderness Area to you?  Appears as pretty plain old country to me.  Now that the "imprint of man" is definitely there, someone should introduce legislation to de-designate an area which shouldn't have been designated as Wilderness in the first place.  The purpose would be to correct the Bad Mistake Bisti Badlands Act.

New DOI Initiative Will Spur Investments In Water Conservation And Sage Grouse Habitat

This morning, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that her department will establish a Natural Resource Investment Center, an initiative meant to spur public-private partnerships that will help increase investments in water conservation, habitat improvements, and critical water infrastructure. One of the Center’s primary objectives will be to facilitate water exchange in the Western U.S. in partnership with local, state, and tribal governments—an idea championed by sportsmen and women in recommendations to federal agencies following the White House Drought Symposium in July. “I commend Sec. Jewell for creating the Natural Resource Investment Center to bring about more collaboration and identify new, non-federal funding sources that make existing investments in conservation go even further,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, one of the organizations responsible for this summer’s White House Drought Symposium and a set of drought recommendations endorsed by hunting and angling groups. “Clearly, the administration is taking the concerns of hunters and anglers seriously and responding to the increasing threat of drought in the United States. I’d urge decision-makers to continue working with sportsmen and women, the original conservationists, on the drought solutions we’ve proposed, which are aimed at providing water to cities and farms without sacrificing the needs of fish and wildlife.” Scott Yates, director of Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat program, issued the following statement in response to Jewell’s announcement: “We are pleased that the administration is giving water stakeholders in the West more tools for creatively responding to the challenges of drought and a changing climate. These challenges present tremendous opportunities to modernize our infrastructure and manage demand in ways that add flexibility to our water systems while promoting healthy river flows and fish habitat."...more

Rancher Lucero enters race for U.S. House

Jemez Pueblo rancher Michael Lucero, whose family has fought with federal land-use agencies for more than a year over the fencing off of a creek where his cattle graze, is running for Congress. If he wins the Republican primary, Lucero likely would face Democratic incumbent Ben Ray Luján for the 3rd Congressional District seat. Luján is serving his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Lucero, 39, is the only Republican so far to formally announce plans to seek election as the representative for most of the northern half of New Mexico. Running in that district is a challenge for any Republican. According to the Secretary of State Office’s website, as of Nov. 30, 51 percent of registered voters in the district are Democrats. Only 28 percent are Republicans. Lucero’s family owns an allotment in the the Santa Fe National Forest. The allotment originally was part of the San Diego Land Grant. Last year, Lucero became a spokesman for the San Diego Cattlemen’s Association after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse as an endangered species and the U.S. Forest Service started talking about protecting the mouse’s habitat by fencing off the Rio Cebolla, where Lucero grazes cattle twice a year...more

Counting Collared Cows...

Gilat Satcom today announced that it is providing a satellite solution with connectivity over the Iridium network to Cattle-Watch, a new location, behavior monitoring and tracking service for the cattle industry that is being deployed around the world.  Reliable broadband is vital to the success of Cattle-Watch which provides herd owners with real-time reports about the location, walking, grazing and resting time, water consumption, reproductive condition and other health issues of individual cows, sheep and goats, as well warnings about possible thefts. Every animal is fitted with an Ear Tag device that feeds information wirelessly to the 4-5 percent of the herd which have solar-powered collars containing the Gilat Satcom M2M satellite solution. Gilat Satcom transmits information from the collar to a web-based and mobile platform developed by Cattle-Watch.  From here, information is sent—again using Gilat Satcom’s satellite service—immediately to the rancher’s computer or smartphone...more

From bronc busters to horse whisperers...and now to computer jockeys.

Cliffie Stone - The Christmas Waltz

Ranch Radio's tune today is Cliffie Stone's 1947 recording of The Christmas Waltz.   Artist Biography by Jana Pendragon  A native of California, Cliffie Stone was born Clifford Gilpin Snyder in Burbank on March 1, 1917. The son of entertainer, comedy star, and banjo picker Herman the Hermit, Stone was known for his struggle to bring California's country & western music into favor in post-World War II America. He began playing bass in big bands with Freddie Slack and Anson Weeks as well as with other bands around Hollywood and Pasadena, but it was his work on radio stations KFUD and KFWB that brought him respect. Shows such as Covered Wagon Jubilee and Lucky Stars, broadcast out of Los Angeles, allowed him to show off his numerous skills. Working as a DJ, comedian, performer, and host, Stone won fame doing 28 radio shows a week between 1943 and 1947. As a featured performer on the Hollywood Barn Dance, he made a place for himself in country music history. In 1946 he accepted a position with Capitol Records, who were gearing up for the still as yet undefined Bakersfield movement. An A&R executive with Capitol for 20 years, Stone discovered Tennessee Ernie Ford, whom he managed from 1947 to 1957, Molly Bee, Hank Thompson, and others who were flocking to L.A. to record.

In spite of his success at Capitol, Stone was best remembered for his radio work. His show on Pasadena radio station KXLA, Dinner Bell Roundup, was a daily variety presentation that brought large numbers of country & western entertainers into the homes of his listeners. In 1944 the show picked up and moved to El Monte. The new location brought with it a new name, Hometown Jamboree. Recording six albums of his own he earned co-writing credits on hits "Divorce Me C.O.D.," "So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed," and in 1947, "Silver Stars, Purple Sage, Eyes of Blue." He recorded with various versions of his own band, including Cliffie Stone & His Orchestra, Cliffie Stone & His Barn Dance Band, as well as Cliffie Stone's Country Hombres.

Concentrating on the business side of things, the 1960s saw Stone's publishing company, Central Songs, flourish. He even headed up a label, Granite, for a time. The father of Curtis Stone, one of the founding members of Highway 101, Stone wrote several books, including Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Songwriting but Didn't Know Who to Ask, published in 1991. He died of a heart attack on January 17, 1998.  The Westerner

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Cruz favors returning federal land to states — VIDEO

Republican candidate Ted Cruz said Monday that if elected president, he would fight to transfer federal land in Nevada and elsewhere into the states' hands. Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, made his comments to the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board, a day before he debates other GOP candidates at The Venetian in a nationally televised event on CNN. More than 80 percent of Nevada is in federal hands, much of it through agencies that include the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service. "I think it is completely indefensible that the federal government is America's largest landlord," Cruz said. "... I believe we should transfer as much federal land as possible back to the states and ideally back to the people." Exceptions that should stay in federal hands include national parks and federal military bases, he said. "If I am elected president, we have never had a president who is as vigorously committed to transferring as much federal land as humanely possible back to the states and back to the people," said Cruz...more

Watch the video below and you'll see his position is stated clearly and with conviction.

An Environmental Policy Primer for the Next President

By Diane Katz

The nation’s environment has dramatically improved in the four decades since adoption of America’s foundational environmental statutes.[1] It is also true that there could have been even greater improvement at far less cost—economic and social—had lawmakers forgone centralized government control in favor of the transformative powers of market incentives and private property rights.[2] But it is not too late for change. This primer presents alternatives to the regulatory status quo that would enhance the environment and economic growth, and preserve Americans’ freedoms.
Conventional wisdom has long held that government controls of industry are the best and only way to protect flora and fauna. We now know better. Forty years of command-and-control regimes have led to massive, ineffective, and unaccountable bureaucracies. And the bigger the federal government has grown, the more essential political influence has become, leading to corruption in the regulatory realm. All of this has weakened property rights, inhibited innovation, and increased the prices of food, fuel, fiber, and minerals.[3]
In many respects, the need for reform of environmental regulation has never been greater. The nation’s primary environmental statutes are woefully outdated, and do not reflect current conditions. The White House, Congress, and federal agencies routinely ignore regulatory costs, exaggerate benefits, and breach legislative and constitutional boundaries. They also increasingly dictate lifestyle choices instead of focusing on public health and safety.
Conservatives rarely shape the debate on environmental policy. Too often they focus solely on regulatory costs rather than on an alternative agenda. But green eyeshades simply cannot compete for public support against the seemingly selfless agenda of green activists. Americans care deeply about the environment and expect public officials to act. Therefore, conservatives must put forth their own platform for responsible stewardship and not merely oppose the green lobby’s agenda. As noted in an earlier Heritage study, “While the conservative critique is well known, the conservative agenda is not.”[4]
To that end, this primer recommends reforms based on conservative principles and fundamentals of good governance: Market incentives are more effective than government diktats; sound science fosters sound policy; and, most important, citizens are far better stewards of the environment than the government will ever be.

How world leaders came to agree on a landmark climate deal

...One of the major reasons negotiators were able to reach a deal was that much of the work had been done in advance. By the time Paris rolled around, more than 150 countries had promised to change the way they use energy, detailing those changes in the form of individual commitments. Known as INDCs, these pledges formed the basis of Saturday’s deal. Of course, the INDCs won’t be legally binding, and even if most countries do manage to live up to their promises, they aren’t yet ambitious enough to prevent dangerous levels of warming...The Paris summit began as the largest meeting of government leaders in history (outside the U.N. building in New York) just two weeks after ISIS-affiliated terrorists killed 130 people across the city. While French officials immediately promised the talks would continue, they soon banned long-planned, massive climate protests, citing security concerns...But the climate talks themselves went ahead as planned. Some 40,000 heads of state, diplomats, scientists, activists, policy experts, and journalists descended on the French capital for the event. Perhaps the biggest factor driving the negotiators’ unprecedented optimism was the fact that the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters, and the world’s two biggest economies — the United States and China — had made a public show of working together to get an agreement. A landmark climate deal between the two countries in November 2014 built critical momentum. China later promised to create a national cap-and-trade program to augment a suite of emissions control policies. The Obama administration, meanwhile, pushed through its Clean Power Plan regulations, despite aggressive resistance from Republicans. Still, as the talks neared their conclusion on Friday, tensions were rising between the so-called “High Ambition Coalition” — a negotiating bloc including the United States, the European Union, and dozens of developing countries — and China and India. Nevertheless, a rare alliance between world leaders ultimately prevailed: Pope Francis, for one, campaigned tirelessly for a climate deal ahead of the talks, decrying the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem.” All of this cleared the way for large groups of developed and developing countries to cooperate at the talks. Bigger countries appeared ready to work with the 43-country-strong negotiating bloc of highly vulnerable developing nations. Recent changes of leadership in Canada and Australia, notable adversaries of climate action in recent years, switched these mid-sized players into fans of a deal before the talks. Even Russia’s Vladimir Putin seemed to have an 11th-hour change of heart — or, at least, of rhetoric — and called for action...more

PLF effort pays off in announced removal of ESA protections for Modoc Sucker

On December 7, 2015, with much self-congratulatory horn-tooting, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would issuing a final rule removing the Modoc sucker from the list of threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The Service’s press release describes the action as a success for the Service’s program of species recovery. One would not even guess, from reading what the Service says about it, that the only reason the Service did this was years of litigation by Pacific Legal Foundation. PLF is pleased that this long overdue action is finally to be taken, and congratulates its client, the California Cattlemen’s Association, for its dogged pursuit of this delisting. But the real story is rather more tawdry than the Service’s victory lap would indicate. You can read the whole story here, but the short version is that it is likely that this species should not have been listed in the first place, and then should and would have been delisted years ago but for bureaucratic inertia. In a final show of bureaucratic flourish, the delisting would have been finalized months ago if the Service had not forgotten to publish a notice in a local release

Wild Horses Are Terrible for the West

By and

North America’s wild horses are the feral descendants of animals brought by Europeans in the past few hundred years. Biologically speaking, this is the blink of an eye, far too short a time for horses to be considered native. More importantly, that’s much too short for native North American plants and animals to adapt to the pressures of coexistence.

Grasslands are protected by “biotic crusts” that consist of loose soil held together by tiny cyanobacteria, lichens, mosses, and green algae. They serve as a fragile glue that keeps desert soils from being washed or blown away. But these crusts are pulverized by horses, leading to poor water absorption, reduced fertility, and long-lasting environmental damage. Grasslands are disappearing as wild horse hooves crush biotic crusts, encouraging erosion that leaves wide swaths permanently degraded, replaced with barren rock.

Furthermore, wild horses compete with native grazers (as well as cattle) for limited forage and water. As wild horse populations surge past the 47,000 now thundering across 31.6 million acres of public land, they threaten the survival of native species, exacerbating the impacts of climate change and habitat fragmentation.

Because our culture values them, wild horses have benefited from protection and reprieves from culling that would have been employed for virtually any other destructive animal, native or introduced. Because the U.S. Forest Service’s proposal to capture some of the Salt River herd was met with public outcry, plans were scrapped—even though the herd is degrading a fragile and rare desert oasis. The protesters, unsatisfied visiting the 9.2 million domestic horses across the United States, insisted that retaining this wild herd at full strength in a wildlife refuge was ethically and aesthetically justified, simply based on their love of horses, despite the environmental costs.

In just the past four years, wild horse and burro management has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $291 million, including $49 million annually to care for 46,000 captured feral horses in off-range corals. This annual budget is almost 10 times bigger than budgets allotted to save many endangered species; managing wild horses is sapping agency resources, directly and indirectly driving native species to extinction.

Oil Is Crashing to its Lowest Price in Over a Decade

Oil prices tumbled 4% on Monday, coming close to their 11-year low, on growing fears that the global oil glut would worsen in the months to come in a pricing war between leading OPEC and non-OPEC producers. Brent crude fell by 4% to below $36.40 a barrel for the first time since December 2008 and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) sank almost 3% below $34.60 a barrel. Brent traded only 14 cents above the lows last seen during the 2008 financial crisis of $36.20 a barrel...more

Paper Tiger: US govt agency stopped 0 of 88,000 projects posing potential risk to endangered species

A new study carried out by Defenders for Wildlife has found that the US Fish and Wildlife Service did not stop any of the 88,000 development projects that could have posed potential risks to endangered species. The study’s authors say it should dispel claims that the Endangered Species Act threatens projects such as logging old growth forests, dams or bridges. There are opposing views about the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act. Conservationists often argue that federal agencies fail to strictly apply the act and allow massive infrastructure projects to go ahead without adequate conservation controls. They also say agencies approve smaller projects that erode habitat, something that is rarely tracked. Developers and lawmakers argue the act hampers projects, thus threatening the economy and jobs...more

They limited their study to Sec. 7 consultations, which means it doesn't even come close to measuring the full impact of the ESA. 

More than 11,000 Norwegians line up to shoot 16 wolves

Wolves have emerged as the most sought-after animal for Norwegian hunters this season, with 11,571 people registering for licences to shoot 16 animals – a ratio of 723 hunters per wolf. The animals – of which Norway may have as few as 30 living in the wild – top the league in new figures that reveal a trigger-happy community of hunters. The Norwegian brown bear comes in a close second with 10,930 registered licence holders keen to hunt down 18 individuals, followed by 10,820 licence holders interested in 141 wolverines, according to the country’s register for hunters. In Norway, the wolf-hunting season begins on 1 October and ends on 31 March...more

Video: Giant 200-year-old Salamander Found in Chinese Cave

Most amphibians never grow over a foot long, but the Chinese giant salamander anything but normal.
This nearly five-foot-long salamander was found inside of a cave near the city of Chongqing. According to official estimates, the amphibian weighs 52 kilograms, or 114 pounds. This particular salamander is also estimated to be up to 200 years old.


Wheat growers say GMO wheat trial permits unnecessary

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) says that by the first of the year, it will require permits to conduct field trials on GMO wheat. The USDA says the move will make it less likely that volunteer offspring of genetically engineered wheat would remain following field trials. APHIS says detection of GM wheat where it’s not authorized has the potential to disrupt U.S. wheat export markets, but the National Association of Wheat Growers has concerns about the rule change. NAWG President Brett Blankenship wonders what impact the permit requirement will have on research and production. “As we indicated to USDA during the comment period, we are concerned that the new rules will increase the cost of compliance and potentially impede wheat research programs, especially among small, private companies and public institutions whose resources for wheat research are already stretched,” said Blankenship, in a written statement. In 2013 and 2014, APHIS investigated genetically engineered wheat detected in Oregon and Montana wheat fields where it hadn’t been authorized. The source of the Oregon wheat wasn’t determined. The GMO wheat in Montana, however, was found to be from a previous GMO field trial conducted 10 years earlier with regulatory oversight. In both cases the wheat contained the identical Monsanto Roundup Ready trait, MON71800, for glyphosate resistance, but both were genetically different. Montana wheat grower Gordon Stoner, who is also the vice-president of NAWG, says that given the safety track record of GE crops, the added regulation is unnecessary. “There is no commercially available GE wheat in production, no GE wheat in any export channels, and no GE wheat varieties currently awaiting APHIS deregulation,” said Stoner, also in a written statement, “so having USDA-APHIS categorize future GE wheat research field trials for added scrutiny is both puzzling and potentially inhibiting for those seeking much needed public and private research investments.”  Link

Jimmy Wakely - It's Christmas

Jimmy Wakely - It's Christmas is a repeat of Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1335.

Monday, December 14, 2015

E.P.A. Broke the Law by Using Social Media toPush Water Rule, Auditor Finds


E.P.A. Broke the Law by Using Social Media to Push Water Rule, Auditor Finds

    WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency engaged in “covert propaganda” in violation of federal law when it blitzed social media to urge the general public to support President Obama’s controversial rule intended to better protect the nation’s streams and surface waters, congressional auditors have concluded.
    The ruling by the Government Accountability Office, which opened its investigation after a report in The New York Times on the agency’s practices, served as a cautionary tale to federal agencies about the perils of getting too active in using social media to push a cause. Federal laws prohibit agencies from engaging in lobbying and propaganda.
    It also emerged as Republican leaders moved to block the so-called Waters of the United States clean-water rule through an amendment to the enormous spending bill expected to pass in Congress this week.