Bush administration

Northwest reps in Congress call for investigation into timber "slush fund"

Suppose an industry could profit by filing a lawsuit judged to be thoroughly without merit. That’s pretty much what critics say the Bush administration let the U.S. timber industry get away with. Now eight members of Congress from the Pacific Northwest are asking Congress's investigative arm,  the Government Accountability Office, to look into the deal.

It’s an enormously complicated story that I detailed for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. But essentially it comes down to this:

The U.S. timber industry filed charges against the Canadian timber industry in international trade courts. The Americans alleged the Canadians were getting unfair government subsidies.  The Americans lost at nearly every turn. But the U.S. timber industry – as it increased costs to American consumers – was bleeding the Canadian timber-cutters dry. How? With tariffs that boosted the price of Canadian timber on this side of the border.

Then, facing the prospect of endless appeals by the Americans, the desperate Canadians -- who had seen mills go dark and were starved for cash -- agreed to a really unusual deal, as international trade pact settlements go: The Bush administration offered to send back to Canada the $5 billion in tariffs collected -- so long as the Canadians agreed to then send $1 billion back across the border, with most of it going to the U.S. timber industry or to non-profit groups with ties to the U.S. industry.

Obama administration to skeptical judge: Bush's salmon-rescue plan is A-OK

To highlight yet another example of how the Obama administration's environmental policies don't always look that different from the Bush administration's, note that today the National Marine Fisheries Service tried to assure a skeptical federal judge that a Bush-era salmon-rescue plan was just fine -- even though it ruled out disabling dams on the Snake River.

For years, U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland has been ruling that the Bush administration's blueprint to bring back struggling salmon runs on the Snake and Columbia rivers just didn't measure up. When environmentalists, tribes, sportfishing interests and the state of Oregon complained that the Obama-era Fisheries Service plan was no better than Bush's, Redden gave the agency three months to review the plan.

A pivotal question is whether four dams on the Snake River -- which produced about 5 percent of the Pacific Northwest's electricity, last I checked -- should be "breached," meaning partially removed to let the river flow more freely again. The dams and the changes they cause in the river kill some of the small salmon migrating to sea there.

After a three-month review, the Fisheries Service said the Bush-era plan needed only minor modifications. It refused to start the years-long planning process that would be required to breach the dams. It didn't even budge on a lesser step: letting more water flow through the dams without producing electricity -- "spill" -- to help the fish.

The best quote of the day -- and even this is a tired analogy, bearing witness to the tenure of this controversy -- came from Nicole Cordan, a campaigner with Save Our Wild Salmon:

Obama again looks pretty much like Bush, this time allowing mining companies to dump toxic waste on public land

In my post on the week’s biggest enviro news – Obama’s massive expansion of offshore oil drilling – I noted that increasingly, Obama's environmental decisions are indistinguishable from those made by the previous inhabitant of the White House. Nothing demonstrates that better than this week’s biggest sleeper enviro news: Obama approving dumping of small mountains of toxic waste on public land.

It’s all related to the General Mining Law of 1872, which even today gives mining companies access to gold, silver and other precious metals on public land – without asking the mining firms to pay anything to the public for the minerals taken off public land.

Obama's decision this week – which has gotten very little attention – backs the  Bush administration's stance: allow mining companies to use large amounts of land around their mines to dump mining waste laced with all kinds of nasty stuff.

To really get the picture of how industrial-scale gold mining is done in America today, you have to understand that whole hillsides are ground to dust and then doused with cyanide to extract the tiny percentages of gold contained in the ore.

After that, these whole hillsides worth of dirt have to go somewhere. Miners want to use public land for that. The Bush administration said OK. This week, so did the Obama administration, acting in a case in which enviros challenged a Bush-era decision allowing the waste dumping on so-called “millsite” land around the actual mine.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Happy eco-warriors in Colorado gird for the species and wildnerness battles

rita_hibbardweb1Advocates of wilderness and endangered species in Colorado are drawing a deep breath and preparing to do battle once again. And they're happy they have the opportunity to do so.

The Denver Post reports that dozens of Colorado species, from the wolverine to the mountain plover to the white-tailed prairie dog are being re-evaluated for possible threatened or endangered status. In some cases, these are species that the Bush administration rejected for special protected status, and the courts have ordered a second look. But cost could be the limiting factor for the state. Bringing back the endangered lynx cost $3 million.

New species under consideration for protection have "aesthetic, ecological, education, historical, recreational and scientific value," and those facing extinction "could be indicators of bigger ecosystem problems that could hurt us," said Bridget Fahey, regional director of endangered species for the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service. "Science shows that when you start removing species from our ecosystem, things can start to break down."

 For eight species nationwide, "inappropriate political meddling" by a Bush administration appointee resulted in court rulings.

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.

Obama administration to second-guess controversial Bush-era smog rule

There are a lot of folks following this more closely than I am, but make no mistake about it: The Obama administration's decision today to revisit the Bush administration's ruling on how much smog we'll tolerate in the air is a big honkin' deal.

Note that two of the best early versions of the story come from Texas, where they know from air pollution: Randy Lee Loftis's blog post for The Dallas Morning News (reader comment: "This should be front page news." We'll see...) and Matthew Tresaugue's piece in The Houston Chronicle.


-- Robert McClure

Ag Secretary in Seattle: We must make restoration # 1 priority in forests

[caption id="attachment_2670" align="alignleft" width="70" caption="Tom Vilsack"]Tom Vilsack[/caption]

For those who may have doubted that there would be much difference between a Bush administration and an Obama administration -- and we must say there's been less difference than advertised in some areas -- take a look at the speech Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is giving today in Seattle:

It is time for a change in the way we view and manage America's forest lands with an eye toward the future. This will require an unprecedented, all-lands approach that engages the American people and stakeholders. It is essential that we reconnect Americans across the nation with the natural resources and landscapes that sustain us.

Yeah, it's rhetoric, all right, but it's certainly not much like the rhetoric we heard from the former Ag secretaries Ann Veneman ("Ann Venemous" to some enviros) and Mike Johanns,  or from Mark Rey, the former timber lobbyist who headed the U.S. Forest Service under Bush.

Vilsack is unabashedly and directly committing the Forest Service to consider restoring the health of forests as its highest priority. That might seem like a no-brainer. But recall that this is an agency that's been pummeled by budget cuts after old-growth logging quit bringing in the kind of revenue it did in decades past. And marching orders had been kinda squirrelly, some in the agency say, with Rey at the helm.

What Vilsack's calling for, specifically, is by no means revolutionary. He's talking about creating "green jobs" funded by stimulus money and perhaps other funding sources to hire people to thin overstocked forests that cover most of the West.

Those forests grew in too thick and became unhealthy because of a century of fire suppression.

WOPR of a loss for timber industry

The Obama administration is tossing out a Bush administration plan governing logging across 2.6 million acres in Oregon, saying it was not legally sustainable or supported by science. The Western Oregon Plan Revision was adopted in the waning days of the Bush administration, and stemmed from lawsuits filed by the timber industry. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar repeatedly cited influence on the plan by Bush's now-disgraced deputy Interior Secretary Julie MacDonald, according to the AP story by Jeff Barnard.  Did this story break late? Neither the AP version nor the Oregonian's story has comment from the timber industry, which was a big supporter of the plan.

Update 10:53 a.m.: Kim Murphy of the LA Times has timber comment.

Update 11:57 a.m.: Whoops. Mattew Preusch, author of the Oregonian piece, points out that that story we picked up from the Oregonian's home page earlier today was an early version. The more-complete story is here.