Sunday, December 31, 2017

Abuse of tax deductions for charitable donations of conservation lands are on the rise

Editor's Note: In December 2017, the author of this paper released an updated analysis that estimates total deductions for conservation easements in 2015 and 2016. You can read the updated estimates here.

Abuse of a tax deduction intended to encourage conservation of environmentally important land and historic buildings has cheated the government out of billions of dollars of revenue while often doing little to advance environmental protection. In a new Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center analysis (PDF) of the provision and its misuse by taxpayers and real estate developers, Brookings Senior Fellow Adam Looney reveals a recent surge in abusive transactions. Total deductions for conservation easement contributions by taxpayers tripled between 2012 and 2014—rising from $971 million in 2012 to $1.1 billion in 2013 to $3.2 billion in 2014.

Created 40 years ago, the provision allows property owners to take a charitable deduction for donating qualified conservation easements—legal agreements that permanently limit the development or use of a property—to a charitable organization. But some donors are abusing the provision by applying grossly inflated appraisals to the value of the easement to increase their charitable deduction or by taking donations for easements that do not fulfill bona fide conservation purposes. Some real estate developers exploit these vulnerabilities by selling the rights to claim charitable deductions to investors and using the proceeds to finance development, which costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year and undermines the program’s conservation goals...more

New Mexico hat maker crafts authentic Billy the Kid hat

TULAROSA, N.M. (KRQE) – Billy the Kid is a tourist draw in parts of New Mexico. Now a New Mexico hat-maker is hoping to capitalize on the outlaw’s fashion sense, namely his hat. The legend of Billy the Kid dates back more than a century, and in every picture that has surfaced of the cowboy there’s been one thing in common, his hat. “A lot of people thought that the hat he was wearing was a prop that the photographer gave him,” Kenny Bratcher said, “but a guy like Billy the Kid, I think would’ve worn his own hat.” Kenny Bratcher has been making hats in Tularosa for more than two decades. Recently, he got a special request. “We are working on a Billy the Kid hat. Up until recently there was only one verified photograph of Billy the Kid and this is the hat he is wearing in the photograph,” Bratcher said. He has made a few Billy the Kid hats for movies and pageants over the years, but he doesn’t have the market cornered...more

Happy New Year

Resource Management

Dust to Dust
Resource Management
Ashes to Ashes
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            I remember him well.
He was a flea bitten gray with dark hooves that must have been like grinding pig iron to trim. He was in my life before I knew he was in my life. Grandpa Albert and Tom McCauley had roped him as a weanling near the potholes in the narrows in Davis Canyon before the war. His mother was a wild horse in a band that ranged west of the Gila as far as Blue Creek. The rocks and malpais they ran on made tough feet a condition of existence.
My cousins and I knew about them only by anecdotal accounts because they were all gone by the time we came along. What we saw in our lives was the genetic strings that attached them to others before them and to the domesticated offspring that they left in their wake. Choctaw was the name he was given, but we knew him as “Chalky”.
We adored him.
He was the horse on which we all learned to ride. I suspect the extent of the lessons was being thrown onto the saddle and then handed the split reins that Grandpa tied together in a knot. We were told to hold them at that knot.
As far as I remember, the other point was, “Stay up or go to the house.”
Resource Management
The last two weeks of 2017 was spent in part in managerial assessment.
            Six independent sets of eyes were on the ranch reviewing the whole herd movement that has now been in place since 2010. Two sets were from the BLM. Three more were from our state’s Range Improvement Task Force, and one was from the USDA’s APHIS crew.
            The outcome was objective as far as I am concerned. A consensus reaffirmed the need to occasionally reverse the rotation for therapeutic reasons. Fencing improvement was also an issue that has weighed heavier each year as concentrated hooves push on them. Trough space is a personal concern, but the standing feed cannot be denied even if it is an extraordinary phenomenon of 2017. The bottom line is it works for us if, for nothing else, the matter of labor is considered. I find the idea of riding every corner of every pasture every time cattle are worked unappealing. I also like to see standing feed when we leave a pasture, but that is a personal thing. The longer I live, and, the more I understand what I am looking at, the criteria that rangeland turf evolved under several conditions that included periods of full rest is only reinforced. The other factors (wind, drought, fire, soil, and other) are not complete without hooved animals. In fact, a recent year visit to Allen Savory’s ranch was witness to Savory’s belief that the animal factor is the most important of all.
            Management and reactions to changing conditions can compensate for each component except the impact of animals. It is the responsibility of the steward, therefore, to learn and understand how his own universe responds and then manage animals in a manner that contributes rather than degrades the full complex.
            Dust to Dust
            The issue of wild horses in the West is a managerial debacle and the blame should be placed squarely on the land managers that have allowed the problem to worsen. It does no good to ridicule the land management committees that are the purveyors of gross neglect because they will never be in a situation to actually fix anything. They never understood the problem and certainly have no impetus or stomach to deal with it. Their idea of fix is to avoid the most toxic hostility of their efforts by expanding the Treasury drain that is now exceeding $70M per year in band aid packages. Heaven forbid killing hundreds if not thousands of horses they are party to creating and now starving on federal lands. That wouldn’t look good, but what they are doing to a depleted grass resource doesn’t look good, either.
            Their management of the commons is a classic failure.
            What should have been done long ago, the stepwise, incremental control of feral horses by individuals who would have understood and made hard decisions that were best, was disallowed. That is the hard love of a vested land steward. Unmanaged, too many hooves without rest or offsetting mitigating management has consequential results. Indeed, it is getting gruesome.
As it is, the truism of “dust to dust and nothing but dust” is only expanding.
            Ashes to Ashes
             Depending on how the data is interpreted, comprehensive and generational California fire management is going to create multiple years of annual carbon dioxide release in 2017 all by its lonesome. The hypocrisy is stifling.
            “Get involved in the management of your forest” the forest planning directives to the public are espousing.
            With such dreadful results, the reality is their management decisions have long been made under clueless public collaboration and collectivism. The “Do Nothing” banner has severe consequences. The current example is a national burn rate of just under 10 million acres per year.
            Sadly, that factor has gained the Forest Service a hefty reward in reworking budget considerations for future timber burning. It will get even better when the conflagration rate reaches 15 million acres annually and half of the tiny green enclaves of Santa Fe, Silver City, and Aspen burn to the ground.
            The burning of California is the reverse of the wild horse extravaganzas. If it actually exists, leadership must recognize everything would have been much better off by getting long absent numbers of hooves on the ground. Every ungulate would be welcome. Complexity of grazing is supremely important (although that is a subject simply too complicated for bureaucrats to understand much less adopt).
            As it is, the truism of “ashes to ashes and nothing but ashes” is only expanding.

            Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “You understand, but they won’t.”

Baxter Black: Down On The Farm

It's Christmas time again in the city. Street lights, store windows, parties, jolly songs are being sung, tv and radio commercials are pronouncing its coming! Most of the attention centers around giving and receiving gifts, cards, trees, eggnog, turkey dressing, decorations and company coming. And in the midst of all this joyous chaos of celebration, someone is bound to remind us of the "real meaning" of Christmas; the birth of Jesus Christ.

It's understandable that we need reminding. We get so busy just being "busy" about earthly stuff that is comes between us and our Maker. It is especially true if our world circles around skyscrapers, big malls, traffic jams and 8 to 5 commitments.

Folks who live in the country have the opportunity to be a little closer to God. Not that they always take it, but the opportunity is there. We get to witness a brand new life begin. A baby calf, a litter of pigs, corn sprouting, apple blossoms, a staggering colt. Sometimes we get to help God create these miracles. He even allows us to take partial credit, but lest we get too cocky, He doesn't allow us to take it for granted. A hailstorm, a case of killer scours, or drought reminds us who's really responsible.

Because farm and ranch people have chosen to work directly with God, we get a closer look at life than most folks. We are not insulated from its precarious nature. Yet, in return we are exposed to the beautiful sunrise, the smell of rain, the quiet snow and the satisfaction of saving a life now and then.

Lee Pitts: The Absolute Worst

"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?" George Carlin

I spent 40 years of my life driving 50,000 miles per year going to and from cattle auctions. During that time I comprised my list of the world's worst drivers.

#10 The Horn Honkers- The average driver honks his or her horn 15,250 times in their life but I bet I haven't honked mine 250 times, which means someone is honking their horn over 30,000 times. Why is that person always behind me, laying on their horn while I'm stopped to let a pedestrian cross the road in a crosswalk as I am legally required to do?

#9 Motorcyclists Who Drive Between Cars- I live in the only state where lane splitting is legal. Actually, motorcyclists are generally excellent drivers, it's just very disconcerting to be stuck in a traffic jam, when out of the blue something flashes by scaring the you-know-what out of you. It's either one of three things… an Air Force fighter jet, a Kawasaki, or a lady going to a 50 percent off sale.

#8 Lexus Driving Executives- Your average adult driver spends 55 minutes per day in his or her car, so it's only natural that overworked executives try to get a little work done at the same time they're driving. The problem is they get so busy working they forget they're supposed to be driving, so they end up taking up their half of the road out of the middle.

#7 Make Up Artists- Why is it that people wait until they get in their car to comb their hair, adjust their earrings and apply their lipgloss. And that's just the guys. The women are even worse. Once I even saw a guy shaving! At least it was with an electric razor and not Barbasol.

 #6 Hippie VW Drivers Going 20 in a 55 mph- It's not really their fault, it's what happens when a person insists on driving a vehicle with a washing machine motor that was made during the Eisenhower administration.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The most consequential environmental stories of 2017 & links to other year end reviews

The most consequential environmental stories of 2017

The Memo: The Top 10 Trump controversies of 2017

2017 year in review: Wildfires, Ryan Zinke and police shootings dominate Montana headlines

2017 A Year of Natural Disasters

Oil, Gas Stories That Shaped Industry In 2017

Trump's top 9 accomplishments of 2017

5 major changes to US environmental policy in 2017

NV prosecutors seek new trial against Bundys, say evidence violations were 'inadvertent'

By Maxine Bernstein

Prosecutors on Friday urged a federal judge to allow them to retry Nevada cattleman Cliven Bundy, his two sons and a fourth man, arguing that any failure to provide evidence to the defense in the last trial was simply "inadvertent'' or because they reasonably believed the law didn't require them to share the material. "The Brady violations found by the court are regrettable and benefit no one,'' Nevada's Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre wrote in a 55-page legal brief. "But because the government neither flagrantly violated nor recklessly disregarded its obligations, the appropriate remedy for such violations is a new trial.'' The prosecutors claim they couldn't simply turn over all the material, citing "harassment and threats'' made to witnesses, victims and officers in the case who would be in jeopardy if personal information got out, especially on social media. They also cited the massive volume of documents, videos and emails from two federal agencies and Las Vegas and Nevada law enforcement agencies that they needed to cull, and the constraints of the U.S. attorney's "low-tech'' database. Defense lawyers said the harm caused by the violations and the prosecution's continued failure to accept responsibility demand a dismissal of all the charges against the four men. They were indicted last year on conspiracy and other allegations, accused of rallying militia members and armed supporters to stop federal agents from impounding Bundy cattle. Officers were acting on a court order filed after Cliven Bundy failed to pay grazing fees and fines for two decades. "The government's irresponsible and, at times, false proffers to this court as well as its dismissiveness toward the defense inspires no confidence in the prospect of fairness," Brenda Weksler, an assistant federal public defender representing Payne, wrote on behalf of all the defendants. "Anything short of a dismissal is tantamount of condoning the government's behavior in this case. ... Dismissal is the only way to ensure such conduct will not happen again.''...more

San Francisco Outlaws Santa’s Little Robots

by  Charles Hughes
 If busy people in San Francisco were hoping for a helping hand from delivery robots in the holiday season, they are out of luck. After a previous attempt was voted down, San Francisco city supervisor Norman Yee’s proposal to impose a virtual ban on robot delivery in the city passed unanimously.  

The city had previously served as a hub of delivery robot testing and pilot programs, but now the operations and scope of delivery robots will be severely curtailed, and Santa’s little delivery helpers will not be around for the holidays.

“Not every innovation is all that great for society,” said supervisor Yee. He described these regulations as the “first and most restrictive” of their kind. 

But the ordinance is anything but praiseworthy: it errs too much on the side of precaution and could stifle innovation and the development of new technologies that would improve people's lives. Yee stressed that sidewalks in the city were for people, not robots. Imagine the lost opportunities if years ago regulators had insisted that roads were for horses, not cars.

To round out a year of rollbacks, the Trump administration just repealed key regulations on fracking

On the last business day of the year, the Interior Department rescinded a 2015 Obama administration rule that would have set new environmental limitations on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands. The regulation from the Bureau of Land Management, which had been opposed by the oil and gas industry and tied up in court, would have tightened standards for well construction and wastewater management, required the disclosure of the chemicals contained in fracking fluids, and probably driven up the cost for many fracking activities. It had been held up in litigation and had not taken effect; a Wyoming district court said it exceeded the agency’s authority. Reversing the regulation, the Interior Department says, clears up that legal question and also lifts a costly regulation for the industry, in line with President Trump’s agenda to slash regulations and advance the United States’ “energy dominance.”...more

Drought levels trend near 12-month highs

For the third week in a row, more than half of the U.S. is enveloped in drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, released Thursday morning. Nationwide, 54.69% of the country is categorized anywhere between D0 (abnormally dry) and D3 (extreme drought). That’s a hair below the past two weeks, which came in at 56.74% and 54.91%, respectively. However, drought’s pervasiveness across the U.S. is significantly higher than it has been for the rest of 2017. The amount of the country suffering drought a month ago, for example, was 42.66%. Three months ago, it was 36.93%. And six months ago, it was 21.60%. In fact, the last time more than 50% of the U.S. saw drought conditions was about a year ago, when 50.81% was categorized as such back on December 27, 2016. Fortunately, about half (51%) of this drought is categorized as the least severe – abnormally dry. But the remainder is categorized between D1 (moderate drought) and D3 (severe drought). Several areas can expect to see longer-term (6 months or more) impacts to hydrology and other areas, according to NOAA meteorologist David Miskus, who prepared the latest reports. These areas include most of southeastern Iowa, as well as a large portion of the western Dakotas and Montana, and much of the Southwest...more

Friday, December 29, 2017

US Appeals Court: Feds Erred In Hawaii Fishery Expansion

Federal agencies were wrong to allow Hawaii’s longline swordfish industry to expand fishing efforts while allowing the hooking or entangling of more endangered sea turtles, a U.S. appeals court ruled. The panel of judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to consider scientific data that showed the loggerhead turtle population would significantly decline when it set limits for the industry. The judges also said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally allowed the industry to kill protected migratory birds. Two conservation groups in a 2012 lawsuit challenged the rule that doubled limits on how many endangered sea turtles Hawaii’s longline swordfish fishery can accidentally hook. The 9th Circuit panel affirmed a separate decision saying another endangered species, leatherback turtles, wouldn’t be jeopardized. The conservation groups were disappointed by that, Achitoff said. Judge Consuelo Callahan dissented regarding migratory birds and loggerhead turtles, saying the majority’s conclusion is a “classic example of the judiciary exceeding its authority by substituting an agency’s judgments with its own.”...more

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Washington EHV: At Least 16 Horses Test Positive

Sixteen horses at one facility in King County, Washington, have now tested positive for equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1), seven of which have been euthanized. On Dec. 15, the Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC) first reported that a 13-year-old Haflinger gelding had tested positive for EHV-1. In a Dec. 26 update, the EDCC said subsequent testing had revealed additional EHV-1 positive horses. “Thirty-seven of 60 horses (at the facility) have now been tested with 16 horses confirmed positive for the equine herpesvirus-1 neurotropic strain,” the EDCC said. “Seven horses have been euthanized due to equine herpesvirus myeloencepalopathy (EHM). Clinical signs of the EHM horses included 102-105°F fevers, hind-limb ataxia, no tail tone and dribbling urine. Treatment of horses include supportive care and anti-viral therapy. “The attending veterinarian is making morning and evening rounds at the barn and evaluating fevers and clinical signs,” the statement continued. “The horse facility is still under quarantine and strict equine biosecurity in place. At this time no other horse facilities are reporting new cases in the state of Washington.”...more

Drone Collects Information to Benefit Great Lakes

The USDA Forest Service and Michigan Technological University (MTech) are using unmanned aerial systems, or drones, to advise the Hiawatha National Forest’s land management efforts. Located in Michigan’s wild and scenic Upper Peninsula, the Hiawatha National Forest’s dramatic shorelines lie nestled up to Lake Superior, Huron, and Michigan – three of the five Great Lakes. This past summer, the Federal Aviation Administration approved flights over Lake Michigan’s Stonington and Garden peninsulas to gather information that will help land managers assess the health and condition of the area’s coastal wetlands. The data will be utilized to maintain habitat for near-shore fisheries and migrating birds; monitor water quality, quantity, and flow conditions; manage non-native invasive species that threaten the health of the lakes; and monitor the impacts of topographic features such as roads, bridges, and levies. The Hiawatha is one of six national forests in the Great Lakes Basin. There is a strong connection between the health of the surrounding forests and that of the lakes, including the tributaries that drain into them. Aerial monitoring provides a critical big-picture perspective that helps inform land managers and their activities. The logistics and process from this year’s flights will be reviewed and refined. In the future, researchers hope to expand aerial monitoring to study the all Hiawatha National Forest's Great Lakes coastlines...more

Prisoners grow thousands of sagebrush plants for vulnerable grouse

Participants in a four-year-old program where inmates across the West cultivate sagebrush plants describe their prison yard gardening project as therapeutic, a sanctuary, good for their soul. They’re tending to seedlings that will eventually be the main winter sustenance for the sage grouse, form cover for nests and help restore some of the vulnerable bird’s fast-shrinking habitat, which has been ravaged by wildfires, mining and invasive cheatgrass. Federal officials say the bird’s range has declined by 56 percent from historical levels, and the number of birds is down an estimated 30 percent since 1985. The plants that the inmates cultivate are usually sent to the Bureau of Land Management offices in Elko, Winnemucca and Susanville, CA, where they are planted in clusters usually after wildfires have destroyed existing foliage. Compared with raw seed, which has a 5 percent chance of growing to maturity, months-old “plugs” of sagebrush have a far better chance of survival because they have a more-developed root structure....more

San Diego border crossings overwhelmed by asylum seekers: 'We can’t give up'

Kate Morrissey
So many people fleeing persecution in their home countries have asked for help in San Ysidro in recent weeks that federal officials have not been able to process all of them, leaving some stranded and running out of money while they wait in Tijuana.U.S. border officials are trying to work through the backlog, but they can go only as fast as migrants can be processed and moved from temporary holding cells to immigration detention. When someone arrives at a port without documents for entry, CBP officials interview that person, take photographs and fingerprints and check law enforcement databases for records. If the person reports being afraid to go back to his or her home country, CBP is required by law to transfer that migrant to other federal agencies for a potential asylum case. Most of the asylum process happens once the person has been transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, and back-ups in that transfer system can leave CBP with limited space in its temporary holding cells at the border. Large groups of migrants arriving at once can also clog the system. In the fall of 2016, San Diego’s ports were overwhelmed by thousands of Haitian migrants. In partnership with Mexican officials, CBP established a ticketing system that scheduled appointments for migrants to be processed. As of November, the most recent data available from CBP, arrivals hadn’t reached the levels of the wave of arriving Haitians. In October 2016, more than 6,000 people came to San Diego’s ports of entry asking to come in despite not having documents permitting entry to the U.S. That number included asylum seekers — CBP does not distinguish between those seeking asylum and other “inadmissibles” in its data collection. (In addition to asylum seekers, inadmissibles are those looking for better economic opportunities or anyone else who has asked to enter the U.S. at a port without the proper documents.) In November 2017, the number of people deemed inadmissible was 2,824, more than double the low of 1,313 reached in March of this year...more

The Hard Truth About the West’s Wild Horse Problem

by Chris Stewart

The federal government’s Wild Horse and Burro Program is broken, leaving thousands of animals to starve. The Bureau of Land Management says that the nearly 27 million acres it manages for wild horses and burros can sustain only about 27,000 animals. This year, the bureau estimates that there were more than 72,000 wild horses on the land, almost 50,000 too many and all fighting to survive. Making matters worse, wild horses are very fertile; their population increases 20 percent a year, meaning the number of wild horses will double in the next four years. Overgrazing by these horses has also hurt local deer and elk populations. The range could take a generation to recover. This isn’t just a horse management disaster, it’s a financial disaster too. In addition to the 72,000 horses it oversees on the range, the B.L.M. keeps about 45,000 horses that it has removed from the wild in corrals, off-range pastures and in sanctuaries. Over their lifetime, these horses will cost taxpayers roughly $1 billion overall, according to the B.L.M. That’s $1 billion we could otherwise spend on defense, education, job training or any other worthy cause. But the alternative for these horses is starving in the wild. For example, in 2015, the B.L.M. employees were dispatched to a desert in Nevada outside of Las Vegas to round up about 200 wild horses that were reported to be starving to death. Federal land managers had determined that the 100,000-acre expanse where these horses were grazing produced only enough grasses and water to sustain 70 horses. Bureau employees discovered nearly 500 horses. They had pounded their range to powder; the desert grasses that remained had been eaten to the nubs. Nearly 30 were in such poor condition they had to be euthanized, and many others were on the brink of death. How can anyone consider this acceptable? Although the finger is routinely pointed at the B.L.M. for mismanagement, the bulk of the blame lies with shortsighted decision-making by misinformed but well-meaning members of Congress. Congress had once supported laws that allowed for proper management of these animals. Horses in excess of what the land could sustain were to be captured, put up for adoption, sold without restriction — including to slaughterhouses, which the B.L.M. does not do as a matter of policy — and as a last resort, humanely euthanized. The program wasn’t perfect, but the B.L.M. was able to keep the herds’ numbers in check while ensuring that the ranges were viable and healthy year after year. But since 2010, Congress has used annual appropriations acts to significantly restrict the ability of the B.L.M. to sell or euthanize horses. And while in the early 2000s people were willing to adopt 8,000 horses a year, more recently that number has dropped to 2,500, possibly because of the economy...more

California ranchers will need vet's prescription to use livestock antibiotics

Starting in January, California ranchers will need a prescription from a veterinarian to administer antibiotics to cattle, sheep and other livestock. University of California farm advisor Dan Macon works with ranchers on livestock production in the Sierra foothills. He notes the law doesn't require a vet to be on site for each animal that needs treatment. But there will need to be a "veterinary-client-patient relationship." "Where the vet knows the operation, knows the rancher and has some idea of the types of animals and types of issues the rancher may be dealing with," Macon said. "And so it does require some semi-annual check in with the vet at the ranch." Macon says food animal vets are increasingly rare. He says the new law could pose a challenge for California livestock ranchers in places where vets are few and far between. link

Dead cougar found in man’s luggage at Las Vegas airport

One traveler’s holiday plans hit a snag after airport officials found a dead cougar in his luggage. A Transportation Security Administration agent at McCarran International Airport discovered the carcass just before 10 p.m. Tuesday, Metropolitan Police Lt. David Gordon said. The cougar appeared to have a Utah State Fish and Game tag, he said, but TSA agents held the man at the airport while they tried to confirm the validity of the tag. The man ended up shipping the cougar home, but not on the airplane, airport spokeswoman Melissa Nunnery said. Nunnery did not know where the carcass was being shipped to. “It is not a crime to transport game that is legal to possess via airlines,” Gordon said. “However, airlines reserve the right to tell passengers they do not want to transport certain items.” Nevada Division of Wildlife spokesman Doug Nielsen said the organization wasn’t notified of the incident, and therefore he had no further information on it. Speaking generally, Nielsen said the organization is supposed to be notified if there’s any evidence of wrongdoing. He said it’s fairly common for hunted animals to travel through the airport. It’s legal to transport them through the airport if the hunter abides state laws, gaming guidelines and TSA protocol, Nielsen said...more

Accidentally Killing Birds Isn't A Crime, Says Trump Administration

The Trump administration says it will no longer criminally prosecute companies that accidentally kill migratory birds. The decision reverses a rule made in the last weeks of the Obama administration. A legal memo from the Department of the Interior posted Friday declares that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act applies only to purposeful actions that kill migratory birds, and not to energy companies and other businesses that kill birds incidentally. "Interpreting the MBTA to apply to incidental or accidental actions hangs the sword of Damocles over a host of otherwise lawful and productive actions, threatening up to six months in jail and a $15,000 penalty for each and every bird injured or killed," the memo says. In its final weeks, the Obama administration issued a legal opinion stating that the law does include the incidental killing of birds, but in February, the Trump administration suspended that opinion pending review...more

View the legal memo here.

Unsealed motions in NV Bundy case detail prosecution's violations

By Maxine Bernstein

In a July 5 email, Ryan Payne's lawyers asked prosecutors for copies of all threat assessments prepared before the April 2014 standoff between Cliven Bundy's supporters and federal officers trying to impound Bundy's cattle for years of failing to pay grazing fees and fines. Prosecutors characterized the defendants' continued push for the assessments as another in their "long list of frivolous and vexatious pleadings.'' Prosecutors didn't turn over the assessments to Payne, Bundy and Bundy's two sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, until the four were in the midst of a trial last month and a government witness under cross-examination acknowledged familiarity with one of the reports. The threat assessments by the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit, the Southern Nevada Counterterrorism Task Force, FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and Gold Butte Cattle Impound Risk Assessment found the Bundys weren't likely to use violence. They were just one example of the prosecution team's callous disregard of its constitutional obligations to share with the defense any potentially favorable evidence, according to Payne's lawyers, assistant federal public defenders Brenda Weksler and Ryan Norwood. The date of the defense attorneys' initial request for the crucial threat reports and their late disclosure is among the information revealed in newly unsealed motions by Payne's lawyers to dismiss the case...more

Environmentalists reeling from stunning reversals under US President Trump

The Donald Trump administration is reportedly set to rescind rules put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, meant to prevent a repetition of the largest oil spill in American waters. It will be only the latest in what may be one of Mr Trump's most far reaching legacies and one that he has achieved very quickly - the dismantling of federal environmental regulations. Some of this has been in the name of states' rights, and for the primary benefit of the fossil fuel industry, with the aim of transforming America into a global energy powerhouse. "Trump has rolled out the most corporatist… administration since at least the age of the robber barons," Mr Bob Deans, author and director of strategic engagement at the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), wrote in a memo last week. "He has raided, or signaled plans to raid, public waters and lands - from the oceans and coasts of the Eastern Seaboard to the teeming Arctic wilds of Alaska - and exposed them to industrial ruin for the sake of big oil, coal and gas," he wrote. "This has happened at lightning speed, with powerful input from lobbies and corporate interests," Ms Sharon Guynup, a Global Fellow at the Wilson Centre in Washington told The Straits Times. Within days of taking office in January 2017, Mr Trump signed off on two multibillion dollar oil pipelines, Keystone XL and Dakota Access, which had been stalled on environmental concerns and objections from Native American tribes...more

Udall, Heinrich, other Dem Senators question USFS role in sage grouse review


Thirteen Democratic senators, including Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, are questioning what role the U.S. Forest Service played in the Trump administration’s recent decision to review protections for the greater sage grouse. In a letter sent Dec. 20 to USFS Chief Tony Tooke, the senators pose a list of 10 questions stemming from federal orders to review the 2015 sage grouse plans, which sought to keep the peculiar bird off the Endangered Species List. Those plans, the senators argue, were the hard-won results of negotiations between farmers, ranchers, sportsmen, conservationists and government officials to preserve sage grouse habitat while balancing rural economies. On June 7, however, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke issued an order to re-examine the plans to see if any provisions might hinder job creation and energy development. Since then, the Forest Service has also announced its intent to prepare an environmental impact statement for multiple national forests and grasslands in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, which the agency says may warrant changes in land management for the sage grouse. In addition to Wyden and Merkley, the Dec. 20 letter was signed by Washington Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray; New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich; Montana Sen. Jon Tester; Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet; Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto; California Sen. Dianne Feinstein; Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow; Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen; and Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed. All are Democrats...more

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Border Patrol Agent Shot in Texas by Gunman in Mexico, Say Feds

Federal authorities confirmed the shooting of a U.S. Border Patrol agent patrolling the waters of the Rio Grande. The shot came from the Mexican side of the river. The shooting took place near Brownsville, Texas, when an agent patrolling the river on a boat was shot with a “small caliber” weapon that came from the river banks on the Mexican side, information released to Breitbart Texas by the U.S. Border Patrol RGV Sector revealed. The name of the agent and additional details were not released, however, USBP officials confirmed the injuries were not life-threatening. It remains unclear if the shooting suspect was apprehended. Mexico’s strict gun laws prohibit or make it very difficult for average citizens to possess most handguns, rifles or shotguns. The shooting comes a little more than a year after, in a similar situation, Gulf Cartel gunmen shot a U.S. Border Patrol agent and a Texas State Trooper near Roma, Texas, in November 2016, Breitbart Texas reported. Brownsville is immediately north of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, a city that is the birthplace and a stronghold for Mexico’s Gulf Cartel, a criminal organization that profits from smuggling drugs and illegal aliens through Texas into several states including Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, and others...more

Could Texas' Big Bend be the border's weakest link? Smuggling of drugs and immigrants is on the rise

Two Border Patrol agents bent to study the sandy dirt like animal trackers — what they call “cutting for sign.” They didn’t have to look far. Just yards from the Rio Grande, Agent Lee Smith pointed to footprints and scraps of carpet. Smugglers tie carpet to their shoes in hopes of covering their tracks, he said. Smith followed the rough trail through thick brush, his fellow agent close behind, wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a long gun. They saw no one. But the agents sensed smugglers watching, waiting.“They come right across. What’s here to stop them?” Smith said. In the late 1990s, border traffic moved from Southern California to remote desert stretches of Arizona; by 2013, it moved east again to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the epicenter of migration and enforcement ever since. Now, one of the things driving the Trump administration’s push for millions of dollars in new border security measures is a troubling new reality: New smuggling routes are opening up, and some of them are even further west, in Texas’ Big Bend region. The river here, about 60 miles east of El Paso, is just a few yards wide, one of the reasons Border Patrol agents in Big Bend have seen worrying increases in smuggling, attacks on agents and immigrant deaths. “There’s hundreds of these crossings just in our area of operation,” Smith said. “The drug cartels, they own this part of the land. We have conceded large swaths of the border. There are areas where there are not agents for days.” The vast Big Bend, he said, is “the absolute weakest link on the southern border.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection divides the southern border into nine sectors. Big Bend is the largest: 135,000 square miles, 510 miles of river, a quarter of the entire southern border. The sector stretches north to include 118 counties in Texas and all of Oklahoma. Yet it has the smallest staff of any southern border sector, about 500 agents assigned to a dozen stations and several highway checkpoints including one in Sierra Blanca, notorious for large drug busts. That’s fewer agents than have been assigned to a single station in the Tucson sector, Smith said. Since the summer, Big Bend saw the biggest increase in unaccompanied youth caught on the border, mostly Central Americans: 278 since the federal fiscal year that began in October, up 74% from last year. By contrast, the number of youths caught in the Rio Grande area dropped 64% during the same period...more

How Scott Pruitt turned the EPA into one of Trump’s most powerful tools

By Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin

Since 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency has been embroiled in an enforcement battle with a Michigan-based company accused of modifying the state’s largest coal-fired power plant without getting federal permits for a projected rise in pollution. On Dec. 7, as the Supreme Court was considering whether to hear the case, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a memo that single-handedly reversed the agency’s position. No longer would the EPA be “second-guessing” DTE Energy’s emission projections. Rather, it would accept the firm’s “intent” to manage its pollution without requiring an enforceable agreement — part of President Trump’s broader push to reduce the “burden” on companies, he wrote. The little-noticed episode offers a glimpse into how Pruitt has spent his first year running the EPA. In legal maneuvers and executive actions, in public speeches and closed-door meetings with industry groups, he has moved to shrink the agency’s reach, alter its focus and pause or reverse numerous environmental rules. The effect has been to steer the EPA in the direction sought by those being regulated. Along the way, Pruitt has begun to dismantle former president Barack Obama’s environmental legacy, halting the agency’s efforts to combat climate change and shift the nation away from its reliance on fossil fuels. Such aggressiveness on issues from coal waste to vehicle emissions has made Pruitt one of President Trump’s most high-profile and consequential Cabinet members. It also has made him one of the most controversial. Critics describe his short tenure as an assault on the agency’s mission, its science and its employees. “We’ve spent 40 years putting together an apparatus to protect public health and the environment from a lot of different pollutants,” said William Ruckleshaus, the EPA’s first administrator, who led the agency under both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. “He’s pulling that whole apparatus down.” Yet, allies praise Pruitt for returning more power to individual states while scaling back what they see as the previous administration’s regulatory excesses...more

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Trump Should Order Sessions to Drop Bundy Prosecution

...Trump should immediately direct Attorney General Jeff Sessions to halt the lengthy and unfair prosecution of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. The nearly four-year old prosecution of Bundy, his sons, and a number of their many supporters, has been more than a prosecution. It has been a crusade; begun under former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2014, continued all this past year by an interim career prosecutor in Las Vegas, and abetted by a federal judge appointed by Obama and whose animus toward Bundy is palpable.

...The latest chapter in the government’s crusade against Bundy ended just last week in a mistrial, following a disclosure that the government deliberately had withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from the defense lawyers. The startling evidence surfaced only thanks to the actions of a BLM whistleblower who previously was involved in the Bundy investigation.

The just-revealed evidence paints a chilling picture of government agents running amok in their zeal to attack Bundy and others who shared his belief that the federal government was overstepping its powers.  According to the allegations outlined by the whistleblower, government agents exhibited a “widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct, as well as likely policy, ethical and legal violations among senior and supervisory staff.”  The standoff that ensued from such behavior easily could have resulted in deaths or serious injuries.

That the government insisted – and continues to this day to do so -- on pressing forward with prosecutions in the face of that peaceful resolution, and even knowing of the internal misconduct by its investigators, constitutes a blatant disregard for fairness, sound judgment, and respect for the law and the Bill of Rights. Although this latest egg on the face of the Department of Justice appears to have prompted Session to order an internal investigation – an investigation that ought to encompass not only the BLM and any other federal law enforcement agency involved, but the U.S. Attorney’s office itself – an immediate halt to the entire Bundy prosecution clearly is called for.


 Bob Barr represented the 7th District of Georgia in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003, serving as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, as Vice-Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, and as a member of the Committee on Financial Services.