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House, Senate Committees Attack Environmental Laws Using Wildfires as Pretext
Two congressional committees will hold coordinated hearings Wednesday to push partisan legislation designed to weaken environmental laws on public lands.
The House Natural Resources Committee will use the pretext of "catastrophic" wildfires to build support for legislation by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) that would curtail protections for endangered species and limit science-based review of environmental harms to expedite logging projects.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will consider three bills designed to limit environmental reviews on a variety of logging and forest-management projects on public lands.
"Timber companies would be the only winners if these terrible bills pass," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director with the Center for Biological Diversity. "No matter what issue our public lands face, the knee-jerk response from congressional Republicans is an effort to gut our environmental laws. They're willing to sacrifice our wildlife, healthy streams and rivers, and vibrant public lands on the altar of private profit."
The Senate committee will consider three bills:
- S. 605 by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) would eliminate consultations required under the Endangered Species Act when a new species is added to the endangered species list or when critical habitat for a listed species is revised for Forest Service lands where a land management plan is already in place. Only when that plan is revised—usually every 15-20 years—would the Forest Service be required to review it at the landscape level.
- S. 1417 by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) would severely limit science-based review of potential harms under the National Environmental Policy Act for juniper-tree control projects on public lands if those projects are designed to benefit either mule deer or sage grouse populations. While Juniper control may be appropriate in some ecosystems, many juniper-removal projects use destructive chaining, plant non-native seeds and spray herbicides that could actually harm sage grouse and other species. That potential harm needs to be evaluated and disclosed.
- S. 1731 by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) would exempt many types of logging and forest-management activities up to 10,000 acres—approximately 15 square miles—from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. The legislation includes provisions that would also limit judicial review of Forest Service logging activities and force citizens to use binding arbitration if they want to challenge a poorly conceived logging project.
The House committee will consider Westerman's bill, which would eliminate Endangered Species Act requirements that the Forest Service ensure logging projects do not harm endangered wildlife and plants. It also would rush through large-scale logging projects—up to 46 square miles—without meaningful public involvement or scientific evaluation by excluding such projects from review under the National Environmental Policy Act.
"Republicans have repeatedly cut resources to the Forest Service, making it harder for agency workers to do their jobs," Hartl said. "Then the GOP scapegoats environmental laws for the problems that these funding cuts have caused. It's an incredibly cynical and dangerous strategy."
When properly funded, the Forest Service can meet its legal obligations and protect endangered species and natural resources. For example, in June the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service completed an important consultation process under the Endangered Species Act in just 10 days, covering nine national forests in the Sierra Nevada region, following the designation of critical habitat for the Yosemite toad and Sierra Nevada and mountain yellow-legged frogs. This type of consultation would be eliminated under the Daines-Tester legislation.
"Daines and Tester are wrong. Weakening the Endangered Species Act doesn't improve forest management—it only makes timber companies richer," said Hartl. "The main reasons forest projects are delayed is because Republicans in Congress have been starving the agencies of funding."
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Tropical forests globally are being lost at a rate of 61,000 square miles a year. And despite conservation efforts, the global rate of loss is accelerating. In 2016 it reached a 15-year high, with 114,000 square miles cleared.
At the same time, many countries are pledging to restore large swaths of forests. The Bonn Challenge, a global initiative launched in 2011, calls for national commitments to restore 580,000 square miles of the world's deforested and degraded land by 2020. In 2014 the New York Declaration on Forests increased this goal to 1.35 million square miles, an area about twice the size of Alaska, by 2030.
By Cheryl Leahy
Do you think almond milk comes from a cow named Almond? Or that almonds lactate? The dairy industry thinks you do, and that's what it's telling the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
For years, the dairy industry has been flexing its lobbying muscle, pressuring states and the federal government to restrict plant-based companies from using terms like "milk" on their labels, citing consumer confusion.
By Jeremy Deaton
A driver planning to make the trek from Denver to Salt Lake City can look forward to an eight-hour trip across some of the most beautiful parts of the country, long stretches with nary a town in sight. The fastest route would take her along I-80 through southern Wyoming. For 300 miles between Laramie and Evanston, she would see, according to a rough estimate, no fewer than 40 gas stations where she could fuel up her car. But if she were driving an electric vehicle, she would see just four charging stations where she could recharge her battery.
Fire Continues at Texas Petrochemical Plant as Company's History of Violations Gets Renewed Scrutiny
By Andrea Germanos
A petrochemical plant near Houston continued to burn for a second day on Monday, raising questions about the quality and safety of the air.
The Deer Park facility is owned by Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC), which said the fire broke out at roughly 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Seven tanks are involved, the company said, and they contain naptha, xylene, "gas blend stocks" and "base oil."
"It's going to have to burn out at the tank," Ray Russell, communications officer for Channel Industries Mutual Aid, which is aiding the response effort, said at a news conference. It could take "probably two days" for that to happen, he added.
The hillsides dyed orange with poppies may look like something out of a dream, but for the Southern California town of Lake Elsinore, that dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
The town of 66,000 people was inundated with around 50,000 tourists coming to snap pictures of the golden poppies growing in Walker Canyon as part of a superbloom of wildfires caused by an unusually wet winter, BBC News reported. The visitors trampled flowers and caused hours of traffic, The Guardian reported.
A controversial pesticide test that would have resulted in the deaths of 36 beagles has been stopped, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the company behind the test announced Monday. The announcement comes less than a week after HSUS made the test public when it released the results of an investigation into animal testing at Charles River Laboratories in Michigan.
"We have immediately ended the study that was the subject of attention last week and will make every effort to rehome the animals that were part of the study," Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of DowDupont, said in a statement announcing its decision.