Obama Administration

Obama's fish regulators facing challenges from both sides of debate on privatizing fisheries

Privatizing fisheries. Sounds bad, eh? And some fishermen's groups are making impassioned pleas against the idea.

On the other hand, some pretty smart people think it's the way to control overfishing and make "fisherman" an occupation that's not so way-high-up on the most-dangerous-jobs list.

This whole debate recently came home to the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle -- known by locals as "the Center of the Universe," and also the location of InvestigateWest's "World Headquarters," as I like to call our small office. Young environmental campaigners stood in front of the PCC Natural Markets co-op gathering signatures in front of signs warning of the demise of the family fisherman.

They're fighting an Obama administration push to divvy up fish catches. Under the plan, the shares of a given fish catch coming out of such a division would become a property right call an Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ. As a property right, it can be sold or traded -- flying in the face of the traditional understanding of fisheries as a common resource.

[caption id="attachment_5771" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="This yelloweye rockfish suffered "barotrauma" when it was yanked quickly from the depths. Reminiscent of how opponents feel about privatizing fisheries, eh? Photo courtesy Oregon State University via Flickr."]This yelloweye rockfish suffered "barotrauma" when it was yanked quickly from the depths. Reminiscent of how opponents feel about privatizing fisheries, eh?</p />
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EPA to redouble Clean Water Act enforcement

You wouldn't guess it from a late-Friday Google News search, but in my book, this qualifies as big news: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promised today to redouble its efforts to  enforce the Clean Water Act.

The EPA's announcement today comes in reaction to an excellent New York Times series that we've paid homage to before, and which documented how polluters have systematically violated the Clean Water Act for decades, often with little or no retribution.

What's really significant is that agency is promising to go after some of the most prolific sources of stormwater, including city streets and feedlots.  We've been harping on this topic for years now, and it's great to get the heft of the NYT into the picture. The paper reports EPA is likely to go after "mining companies, large livestock farms, municipal wastewater treatment plants and construction companies that operate sites where polluted stormwater has run into nearby lakes and rivers." About time.

Here's what EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had to say in the agency's press release:

Updating our efforts under the Clean Water Act will promote innovative solutions for 21st century water challenges, build stronger ties between EPA, state, and local actions, and provide the transparency the public rightfully expects.

It should be pointed out that reporters had documented parts of this story before the Times. Yours truly, along with Lisa Stiffler, Lise Olsen and others at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, did that in the Puget Sound region earlier this decade.

Feds get local enforcement to ID immigrants

The federal government is rapidly expanding its program to make local and state enforcement agencies its eyes, ears and cuffs on illegal immigrants.

The Los Angeles Times reports that 67 local and state law enforcement agencies are going to continue enforcing immigration law but be subject to more oversight.

Arizona Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio  -- under investigation by the Department of Justice for possible civil rights violations -- can't sweep his county for illegal immigrants.

Whether in California, Las Vegas or Arizona, local and state agents across the country have spotted more than 130,000 illegal immigrants.  About 24,000 illegal immigrants identified have been deported this year.

U.S. officials don't expect climate deal in Copenhagen

My file from the Society of Environmental Journalists conference for grist.org:

MADISON, Wisc.—President Obama’s lieutenants put on their game faces as they fielded journalists’ questions Friday, but there was a palpable sense that they know the game is already over going into the global talks on climate change in December.

I wish I could say something different, but that’s the sense I got as these key administration officials appeared here at the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Former vice president Al Gore also tried to say a deal is possible at the COP15 negotiations in Copenhagen. But read between the lines, and it’s clear that the administration is already focused on what happens after that.

Just listen to Nancy Sutley, head of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality: “I’m optimistic we’ll know what we need to do when we leave Copenhagen.”

Jim Rogers, head of Duke Energy (I guess they’re the “good guys” on climate now? Because they’re working for a climate bill…) even came out and said it: “Copenhagen has the capability to (continue) all next year.”

If there was a bright side, it was Gore’s speculation that Obama will in fact attend the Copenhagen talks. The former veepster said “I feel certain he will,” this coming on the same day Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. (The prize will be presented in Oslo on December 10, making it very easy for the president to zip down to Copenhagen.)

For the record, from Gore as keynoter and all the members of the opening plenary panel, the order of the day was cheerleading for U.S. climate-change legislation and a successful meeting in Copenhagen. (Well, there was one exception: climate change denier and GOP Rep.

Improving U.S. treatment of immigrant detainees

Every day, about 32,000 illegal immigrant detainees -- including women and children -- are kept in conditions criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union as overcrowded, inhumane and unsafe.

Now, the Department of Homeland Security is reforming its illegal immigrant detention policies for nonviolent detainees awaiting their day in court -- such as those who just arrived, seeking asylum from their home countries' conflicts and persecution. 

In addition to centralizing its scattered, fractured oversight, the U.S.

EPA will go after climate change polluters through Clean Air Act

 

[caption id="attachment_4612" align="alignleft" width="100" caption="EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson"]EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson[/caption]

In an effort to goose Congress into moving on climate-change legislation, the Obama administration this afternoon announced it would use the Clean Air Act to crack down on coal-fired power plants, refineries and other big producers of greenhouse gases.

I just got off a telepresser with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Adminstrator Lisa Jackson. She repeatedly emphasized that President Obama sees this as part and parcel of his plan to rescue the economy with a green-jobs program:

We will not have a solution that doesn' to work for the economy.

She held the press conference after making a speech in Los Angeles, citing California's green-energy jobs:

Gov. Schwarzenegger just said the clean energy econony has grown at 10 times the rate of other jobs (in California.) This state is actually an example of what innovation in the clean energy economy can bring. ... We believe this will actually be a jobs revolution.

The idea of using the Clean Air Act to require greenhouse gas polluters to use the "best available control technology" is far from new. The Bush administration lost a court case that set this all up, but Obama's held back on pushing forward for several reasons.

One is that the Clean Air Act really wasn't designed to deal with greenhouse gases. Jackson put on her game face today and said the moves the agency is proposing are just like all the other times it has used the Clean Air Act to regulate pollutants.

But she also repeatedly said she and the president want Congress to act.

Northwest orcas more dependent on salmon than we thought, say scientists

New findings, which mirror what environmentalists have been saying for years, have concluded that the Northwest's prized resident orcas rely more heavily on chinook salmon than previously thought, reports Joe Rojas-Burke of The Oregonian.

Researchers have found direct parallels between plummeting chinook salmon counts and declining killer whale numbers as far back as the 1990s, despite relatively abundant populations of other whale cuisine. And perhaps not coincidentally, the whales prospects improved significantly in years when chinook salmon returns were faring better.

Scientists believe the new evidence may make a case for limiting salmon fishing to safeguard the future of the San Juan's killer whales, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. This is sure to make interesting reading for U.S. District Court Judge James Redden, who is currently mulling over the Obama administration's recently released Columbia and Snake River salmon plan -- which some say downplays the risk of declining chinook populations on resident orcas.

-- Natasha Walker

Summer job program for youth gets mixed reviews

In an interesting twist on how unemployment is plaguing the West, the Associated Press took a look how the Obama administration's economic stimulus program has affected a younger demographic: teenagers.

As more laid-off professionals seek work, the low-wage job market has grown atypically slanted towards adults, writes AP's Garance Burke from Fresno, Calif.

The Obama administration set up a $1.2 billion federal summer job program for those ages 14 to 24 living below the poverty line, but AP results show it didn't really achieve much -- despite what the administration has said. Almost one-quarter of all enrolled teens didn't receive jobs, and in California, fewer than half the participants got work. It also didn't seem to tamp down youth unemployment rates, which reached peaks in July not seen since the Great Depression, with Oregon bearing some of the highest teen unemployment figures.

Some say bureaucratic holdups, missing paperwork or snags in eligibility rules are to blame for the program's shortfall. Said Rachel Gragg of the Workforce Alliance, a job training fund advocatcy group:

Things are still totally chaotic with this program... In many communities they will tell you that they are still struggling to understand where the money is and where it is coming from.

One problem may reside in misconceptions of program's mission: that participants be "workforce ready," not actually employed. It's a term states get to define, and measure, for themselves.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress's non-partisan auditing arm, said administration plans to measure the program's success are faulty and "may reveal little about what the program achieved."

-- Natasha Walker