Tuesday, August 14, 2018

DuBois columnn - Federal spending is not endangered, but the ESA is

Federal spending is not endangered, but the ESA is

Bipartisan waste

If there is one thing that has bipartisan support, it is increasing federal spending. The House just passed the Interior & Related Agencies appropriations bill. Let’s look at some of the programs in the Department of Interior, and we’ll start with the BLM. Recall all the negative and embarrassing activities of BLM law enforcement. Even their own investigator found them guilty of ignoring federal and state recommendations “in order to command the most intrusive, oppressive, large scale and militaristic trespass cattle impound possible”, and BLM law enforcement  had committed “excessive use of force, civil rights and policy violations.” So how does Congress respond to this misbehavior? It rewards them with an increase in their budget. An increase of $1.4 million over last year’s budget and $4.8 million more than President Trump requested.

What about land acquisition? We often hear Congressmen speak of a bloated, inefficient and wasteful federal government. That would certainly mean we shouldn’t be increasing the size of the federal estate. But no, I must be wrong there too, as BLM’s budget for land acquisition will be $17.4 million. Less than last year but way more than requested by the President and an indication they want the federal estate expanded. The same for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who will receive $47.4 million for land acquisition. The Park Service gets a whopping $172 million and Smokey bear gets $35 million to expand the lands managed by the Forest Service.

This gives us some insight into the governing principles of the DC Deep Thinkers. First, initiate oppressive violations of people’s civil rights, and be rewarded with an increase in federal spending. Second, manage your agency to be inefficient, wasteful and damaging to natural resources, and be rewarded with continuing appropriations to expand your domain.

Endangered Species

Things are happening!

The Departments of Interior and Commerce have released their proposals to amend the federal regulations as they pertain to endangered species. Many of the proposed changes relate to Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act, which deals with procedures for listing species, recovery and designating critical habitat. The proposals seek to clarify when unoccupied territory will be designated as critical habitat. They propose to revise the procedures for designating critical habitat by reinstating the requirement that they will first evaluate areas currently occupied by the species before considering unoccupied areas. And they propose a list of circumstances when designating critical habitat for a species would be “non-prudent” (i.e., they will evaluate the economic costs). 

These and other changes were spearheaded by David L. Bernhardt, the deputy secretary of the Interior, who described the proposals as streamlining and improving the regulatory process. “Together these rules will be very protective and enhance the conservation of the species,” Mr. Bernhardt said. “At the same time we hope that they ameliorate some of the unnecessary burden, conflict and uncertainty that is within our current regulatory structure.”

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, hit the nail on the head when she said, “For too long the E.S.A. has been used as a means of controlling lands in the West rather than actually focusing on species recovery.” She said she hoped the changes would help lift restrictions on “responsible economic activities on private and public lands.”

Simultaneously, actions were happening in Congress. The Congressional Western Caucus introduced a slate of nine bills, dubbed the Endangered Species Act Modernization Package. 

The nine bills released by the Caucus on July 12 were:

H.R. 6356, the LIST Act. This legislation authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to de-list species when he receives objective, measurable scientific study demonstrating a species is recovered. It also creates a straightforward mechanism for USFWS to promptly act on information they receive that demonstrates a species was wrongfully listed in this manner, rather than letting the problem gather dust on the bureaucratic backburner as often happens now.
H.R. 6345, the EMPOWERS Act (introduced by NM Rep. Steve Pearce). This legislation 1) Ensuring that agencies making decisions about Endangered Species Act listings consult States before so doing, and; 2) Requiring decision-making agencies to provide explanation when their decisions diverge from the findings or advice of States.
H.R. 6344, the LOCAL Act. This legislation will codify several longstanding practices and regulatory language which facilitate voluntary conservation. In addition, this bill sets up another set of new incentives and opportunities for voluntary conservation by establishing a private party conservation grants program, and a habitat conservation planning loan program for state and local governments.
 H.R. 6355, the PETITION Act. The legislation allows Congress to step in and prevent illegitimate mass-listings of unqualified, understudied species as well as ensure more resources go to species that are actually threatened and endangered.
H.R. 6364, the LAMP Act. This bill would empower states with species conservation programs already in place to take the lead in managing and preserving such species when meeting certain qualifying conditions.
H.R. 6360, the PREDICTS Act. To provide certainty, this bill would codify the requirements for Habitat Conservation Plans, Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances and Safe Harbor Agreements.
H.R. 6346, the WHOLE Act. This legislation would reverse current policy that does not allow activities outside of designated critical habitat to count as federal action.
H.R. 6354, the STORAGE Act. This legislation addresses the problem of water infrastructure areas being designated as critical habitat.
H.R. 3608, the Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act. This legislation would require data used by federal agencies for ESA listing decisions to be made publicly available and accessible through the Internet, and also require the feds to disclose to affected states all data used prior to any ESA listing decisions.

In addition, there is language in the just passed Interior appropriations bill that would bar the continued listing of species that had not been reviewed in five years, delist the gray wolf, and block the listing of the preble’s meadow jumping mouse and the lesser prairie chicken. The House version of the National Defense spending bill would prevent the listing of the greater sage grouse and the lesser prairie chicken for at least ten years.

Now, how much of this will actually become law? We can only wait and watch.

Until next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.

Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner (www.thewesterner.blogspot.com) and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship and The DuBois Western Heritage Foundation

This column first appeared in the August editions of the NM Stockman and the Livestock Market Digest 

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