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Global warming
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The Bush administration's environmental record: Public land use

 
  

Project: The Bush administration's environmental record

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(Between 2001 and 2002)

       Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey's office orders employees of the Forest Service's Content Analysis Team (CAT) to downplay the public's feelings towards the Roadless Rule in a report the team is preparing for policy decision-makers. The office also instructs them not to mention how many people have sent in comments on the issue. A memo is later distributed to the team's employees setting the limits on what they are permitted to say in the report. It instructs them to “avoid any emphasis on conflict or opposition and also avoid any appearance of measuring the ‘ote’ highlighting areas of conflict [because it] serves no good purpose in dealing with the issues or interests, and may only exacerbate the problems.” The memo even provides explicit instructions on what words the CAT team can and cannot use. Among the list of banned terms are: many, most, oppose, support, impacts and clear cuts. Words that the memo suggests using instead include: some, state, comment, effects and even-aged management. [High Country News, 4/26/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Mark E. Rey, Content Analysis Team (CAT), US Forest Service (USFS)
          

November 16, 2002

       William Myers, the Interior Department's solicitor general—and a former lobbyist for ranchers—announces to members of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association (NCA) that the Bush administration intends to limit environmental reviews and make it easier for ranchers to graze livestock on public lands. He also says that the Department of Interior is seeking ways to prevent federal laws like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act from restricting grazing on public lands (see December 5, 2003). [Associated Press, 11/16/2002; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] “We should not be using the Endangered Species Act ... as a land management tool. It is not there as a tool for zoning on federal lands,” Myers says. His comments are well received by the NCA. John Falen, a former president of the organization, tells the Associated Press, “Bill's our friend. It's been a long time since we had a friend in the solicitor's office.” [Associated Press, 11/16/2002]
People and organizations involved: Nevada Cattlemen's Association (NCA), John Falen, William G. Myers III, Bush administration
          

November 27, 2002

       On the day before Thanksgiving, the Bush administration releases proposed rule changes that would lead to increased logging of federal forests for commercial or recreational activities by giving local forest managers the authority to open up the forests to development without requiring environmental impact assessments and without specific standards to maintain local fish and wildlife populations. Administration officials claim the changes are needed because existing rules—approved by the Clinton administration two months before Bush took office—are unclear, in addition to being costly and difficult to implement. Critics charge the changes are aimed at pleasing the timber industry at the expense of forest ecosystems. The proposed changes would affect roughly 192 million acres of US forests and grasslands. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/27/2002; CBS News, 11/27/2002; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] The proposal closely follows the timber industry's wish list—a “coincidence” according to the Forest Service. [Native Forest, 11/27/2002; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, US Forest Service (USFS)  Additional Info 
          

December 11, 2002

       Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairman James L. Connaughton meet with President Bush to discuss the implementation of the administration's “Healthy Forest Initiative.” After the meeting, they announce proposed changes that would expedite the approval of “fuels treatment” projects (forest thinning) by weakening the review process and restricting public input. [US Department of Interior, 12/11/2002; US Department of Agriculture, 12/11/2002; Associated Press, 12/11/2002] Critics say the changes would make it easier for the timber industry to cut the larger, more fire resistant trees, making the forests more vulnerable to wildfires. They also charge that the proposed rules would allow logging interests to override local concerns. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/11/2002; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] Mike Francis, a forest specialist with the Wilderness Society, commenting on the proposed rule changes, tells the Associated Press, “Those are nothing more than administration's typical desires to cut the public out of forest decisions. This administration doesn't like what the public wants to do with their forests.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2002]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Gale A. Norton, George W. Bush, Ann M. Veneman, James L. Connaughton  Additional Info 
          

April 11, 2003

       The Department of Interior informs Congress that it has decided to settle a lawsuit filed years ago by the state of Utah over the Bureau of Land Management's policy of rejecting drilling and mining projects in areas under review for wilderness protection. The decision withdraws protected status for 3 million acres of land in Utah. Without designation as a Wilderness Area, portions of the Red Rock Canyons in southern Utah could be open to logging, oil and gas drilling, mineral extraction, road-building and other development. A federal appeals court had previously ruled against the state on all but one count and consequently the lawsuit's status had been moribund since 1998. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] But in March, Utah made an amendment to its complaint, thus reopening the case and providing the Bush administration with an opportunity to make a “settlement.” Environmental groups say the settlement is the outcome of a deal made between Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Utah Governor Mike Leavitt behind closed-doors. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; Salt Lake City Tribune, 4/20/2003; The Wilderness Society, 4/28/2004; Salt Lake City Tribune, 5/6/2003; Salt Lake City Tribune, 6/18/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] In addition to the settlement, the Bush administration stops congressional reviews of Western lands for wilderness protection, capping wilderness designation at 22.8 million acres nationwide. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Mike Leavitt, Gale A. Norton, US Department of Interior, Bush administration
          

April 14, 2003

       The Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM ) streamlines its permitting requirements for oil and gas drilling on public lands undermining the integrity of the environmental impact review and public input process. The changes were initiated by BLM Director Kathleen Clarke who instructed the agency's staff to use new methods for reviewing applications, such as grouping applications together in bundles and performing environmental impact assessments for entire oil or gas fields instead of for individual wells. [Bureau of Land Management, 4/14/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, n.d.; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Bureau of Land Management, Kathleen Clarke
          

June 23, 2003

       The Bush administration releases its “Draft Report on the Environment,” which concludes that by many measures US air is cleaner, drinking water purer and public lands better protected than they had been thirty years ago. The document, commissioned in 2001 by the agency's administrator, Christie Whitman, is comprised of five sections: “Cleaner Air,” “Purer Water,” “Better Protected Land,” “Human Health,” and “Ecological conditions.” But it is later learned that many of its conclusions rest on questionable data. Moreover, the report leaves out essential information on global climate change and pollution sources. [New York Times, 6/19/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d. Sources: 2003 Draft Report on the Environment] In its “Purer Water” section, the report claims that “94 percent of the [US] population served by community water systems [was] served by systems that met all health-based standards.” But on August 6, The Washington Post will reveal that on June 18 (see June 18, 2003), an internal inquiry had been launched over concerns that the source data was flawed. “Internal agency documents ... show that EPA audits for at least five years have suggested that the percentage of the population with safe drinking water is much lower—79 percent to 84 percent in 2002—putting an additional 30 million Americans at potential risk,” the newspaper will report. [The Washington Post, 8/6/2003] Another troubling feature of the report is that a section on global climate change was removed from the report prior to publication because EPA officials were unhappy with changes that had been demanded by the White House. Some time during the spring, administration officials had asked the agency to delete references to a 2001 report (see June 2001) concluding that human activities contribute to global warming and information from a 1999 study indicating that global temperatures had risen significantly over the previous decade compared with the last 1,000 years. “In its place, administration officials added a reference to a new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum Institute, questioning that conclusion,” the New York Times reports. Irritated with the White House's influence on the report, EPA staffers wrote in an April 29 confidential memo that it “no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change.” Unable to reach a compromise with the White House, the EPA elected to drop the entire section. [New York Times, 6/19/2003; CBS News, 6/19/2003; Associated Press, 6/20/2003] In place of a thorough discussion of the issue, the report only says: “The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change, diagnose its causes, and develop useful projections of how natural variability and human actions may affect the global environment in the future. Because of these complexities and the potentially profound consequences of climate change and variability, climate change has become a capstone scientific and societal issue for this generation and the next, and perhaps even beyond.” [Boston Globe, 6/20/2003; The Guardian, 6/20/2003] The EPA's report also left out information on the potentially adverse effects that pesticides and industrial chemicals have on humans and wildlife. [New York Times, 6/19/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration
          

August 11, 2003

       President George Bush names Utah Governor Mike Leavitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, replacing Christie Todd Whitman who resigned in June. [White House, 8/11/2003] Leavitt was at the center of a controversy a couple of months ago for a back-room deal he made with Interior Secretary Gale Norton to suspend wilderness studies on millions of acres of Utah lands (see April 11, 2003). He supports replacing mandatory pollution controls with voluntary compliance programs for polluting industries and is a strong backer of the administration's policy of shifting environmental regulation to the states. [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Washington Times, 8/12/2003] During his term as governor, US Magnesium, a magnesium-processing company on the western side of the Great Salt Lake, earned the place as the nation's worst polluter. Leavitt says that he and Bush “have a like mind and a like heart” on environmental policy. [Salt Lake City Tribune, 8/12/2003] Environmentalists condemn the nomination noting that aside from Leavitt's strong opposition to a plan to store nuclear waste on a Utah Indian reservation, the governor has a very poor environmental record. “Mike Leavitt has no credentials, no understanding and no political willpower to protect America's clean air, clean water and clean land,” Marc Clemens, chapter coordinator for the Utah Sierra Club, tells the Salt Lake Tribune. [Salt Lake City Tribune, 8/12/2003]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush, Mike Leavitt, Environmental Protection Agency
          

October 8, 2003

       Interior Secretary Gale Norton signs a legal opinion by Deputy Solicitor Roderick Walston reversing the interpretation of the agency's previous solicitor-general, John Leshy, who had ruled in 1996 that the 1872 Mining Law limits each 20-acre mining claim on federal land to a single five-acre waste site. As a result of Norton's decision, mining companies will be permitted to dump unlimited amounts of toxic waste on public lands, threatening surrounding waterways, wildlife, and the health of local human populations. The Bush administration and the mining industry have argued that the Clinton-era opinion caused a significant reduction in US minerals exploration, mine development and mining jobs since 1997. “It created an atmosphere of uncertainty and when you are making investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, uncertainty is not something you want to face,” explains Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson. “We anticipate we will now see more development and exploration for mining.” The decision was praised by the mining industry. “This is good news,” Russ Fields, executive director of the Nevada Mining Association. “The old opinion did create a lot of uncertainty for our industry.” [Associated Press, 10/10/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Gale A. Norton, Bush administration, Roderick Walston, John Leshy
          

December 5, 2003

       Interior Secretary Gale Norton announces in a speech to a convention of livestock owners in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing new rules that would reverse rangeland management reforms implemented in 1995 aimed at deterring practices that cause overgrazing of public lands. According to Norton, the new proposal—which supporters say will act as a bulwark against suburban sprawl— “recognizes that ranching is crucial not only to the economies of Western rural communities, but also to the history, social fabric and cultural identity of these communities.” [Bureau of Land Management, 12/5/2004; Denver Post, 12/10/2004; Associated Press, 12/4/2004] The proposal recommends giving the BLM two years, instead of one, to recommend changes after identifying occurrences of damaging grazing practices and another five years to implement those recommendations. But the agency would retain emergency authority to immediately suspend grazing privileges “if imminent likelihood of significant resource damage exists.” The proposal would also require the BLM to base all decisions on multiple years of monitoring data, even if the grazing damage is obvious and even though this would put a considerable strain on the agency, which oversees more than 18,000 grazing permits covering over 160 million acres nationwide. Other provisions in the proposal would make it more difficult to revoke the grazing permits of ranchers who violate the law; reduce public involvement in reviewing and commenting on decisions about grazing on public lands; and give ranchers partial ownership of any fences, water tanks, new water rights or other improvements to public rangelands. [Denver Post, 12/10/2004; Associated Press, 12/4/2004; Associated Press 1/3/2004; Natural Resources Defense Council, n.d.] The livestock industry applauds the new proposal but environmentalists warn that the recommendations would threaten wildlife, degrade water quality and quantity and damage archeological, historic and Native American sites. [Natural Resources Defense Council, n.d.; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] The Natural Resources Defense Council, commenting on the recommended changes, says that it believes the proposal will result in increased overgrazing and other unsustainable grazing practices. [Associated Press, 12/4/2004] The BLM will later draft an environmental impact study predicting short-term damage to grazing lands and wildlife (see January 2, 2004).
People and organizations involved: Gale A. Norton, Bureau of Land Management, Bush administration
          

January 21, 2004

       Interior Secretary Gale Norton says her department intends to increase the number of permits granted each year for gas drilling on public lands in Wyoming's Powder River Basin from 1,000 to 3,000 and “streamline” the permit review process. The decision is a response to complaints by energy companies that the review process for drilling permits on federal property is three times as long as that for drilling on private and state-owned lands. Critics warn that the quicker permit approval process will come at the expense of thorough environmental impact assessments. Drilling for gas wells in the northeastern Wyoming basin requires pumping groundwater to release the natural gas trapped in coal seams. This often causes the wells of local residents to run dry. [Salt Lake Tribune, 1/22/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Gale A. Norton, Bush administration, US Department of Interior
          

February 20, 2004

       The US Forest Service announces that it has modified its procedures for conducting environmental analyses on grazing allotments in national forests and grasslands. The agency is required to conduct these assessments for each of its 8,700 livestock grazing allotments under Section 504 of the 1995 Rescissions Act to provide a basis for determining whether or not changes need to be made to each of the allotment's grazing policies. The agency says that the procedures, outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), needed to be changed because NEPA “lacked specificity and clarification in describing the process.” The Forest Service also claims that the changes were necessary in order to expedite the assessment process as the agency currently has a backlog of 4,200 allotments. The new plan involves increasing the duration of the permits and limiting the number of alternatives considered. Critics argue that the changes circumvent NEPA requirements by reducing public input and weakening environmental review. [US Forest Service, 2/20/2004; Greenwire, 2/10/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: US Forest Service (USFS), Bush administration
          


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