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April 18, 2016

Glassing the Hill: April 18 – 22

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

Both chambers are in session this week, and there’s a lot going on.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

The energy bill has been jolted back to life. Last week, several Senators released any hold on that big, sweeping energy bill that we keep talking about, so the bill can finally move forward to the Senate floor. Senator Stabenow (D-Mich.) decided to find another vehicle to address the Flint, Michigan water contamination crisis, and Senator Cassidy (R-La.) also dropped his amendment that would have allowed a greater share of federal revenues from offshore energy production to go to Gulf Coast states. “The Energy Policy Modernization Act” could be considered on the Senate floor as early as this week. The resurfacing of the energy package is a win for hunters and anglers, because several provisions from “The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act” have been included in an amendment offered by Senator Murkowski (R-Alaska).  These provisions include reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, and the establishment of “The National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act,” all of which help implement conservation projects that benefit fish and wildlife habitat.

The news on spending levels isn’t all bad. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) is optimistic that individual spending bills will soon be ready for floor consideration, and he continues to schedule mark-ups on the appropriations committees and subcommittess. On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee will mark up the spending bill for agriculture, rural development, the FDA, and related agencies, plus the “The Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.”

Last Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled their 302(b) allocations, leaving the Interior-Environment spending bill with $134 million less than what was appropriated for fiscal year 2016. Cuts weren’t as deep as expected, though, since there is a $4.6-billion hole to fill in order to boost veteran’s programs.

But there is one major threat to clean water. Senators will now turn their attention to the Energy and Water Development Appropriations package on the floor this week. Sen. Hoeven (R-N.D.) is expected to offer an amendment to this bill that would defund the administration’s Clean Water Rule—this would be a blow to sportsmen who celebrated the rule’s improved protections for headwater streams, wetlands, fish, and waterfowl.

And that all-too-familiar threat to sage grouse still looms large. We’re learning that the Senate Armed Services Committee will begin a three-day mark-up of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on May 11. As we reported last week, the House version (scheduled for mark-up on Wednesday, April 27) is expected to include Rep. Bishop’s (R-Utah) “The Greater Sage Grouse Protection and Recovery Act of 2016,” which would prevent implementation of federal conservation plans for the bird and create an unprecedented shift in management authority of America’s public lands. More on that here. The TRCP is working hard with partner organizations to keep greater sage-grouse provisions out of any final NDAA package.

House Republicans punt Puerto Rico bill mark-up. Further discussion of “The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act” (PROMESA) was postponed, because of disagreements on the debt-related provisions of the bill. (GOP members want the bill to make investors the top priority over public pensions and unions.) We have a bone to pick, too: It’s the part where Congress would transfer the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which would then be clear to sell off public lands. Look for a mark-up on PROMESA in the House Natural Resources Committee next week.

Here’s what else we’re tracking:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe headlines the list of witnesses for a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the “Recent Changes to Endangered Species Critical Habitat Designation and Implementation”

Spending bills for the Environmental Protection Agency and agriculture-, energy-, and water-related agencies

Oil and gas development in different price environments, to be discussed in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing

Mineral leasing in the Alleghany National Forest will be the subject of a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Water conservation compliance and funding, plus a salmon conservation bill in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans hearing

Using innovative technology to improve the water supply, to be explored in a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing

The process for delisting endangered and threatened species (of which there are 2,258) will be discussed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior in a hearing

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Greater sage grouse conservation could be in the mix when the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness meets to mark-up the National Defense Authorization Act (see above)

Legislation impacting public lands in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Utah, and Virginia, to be examined in a jam-packed Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining hearing

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Kristyn Brady

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April 14, 2016

This Threat to Sage Grouse Conservation is Giving Us Déjà Vu

One lawmaker has gathered up the remnants of a very bad idea and could try to make them stick to must-pass national defense legislation

Have you ever binged too many episodes of The Walking Dead and later woke up from a nightmare about trying to kill the same zombie over and over? Well, then you have an idea of what it feels like to work in Washington. Here, it seems, all victories are short-lived, because bad ideas, horrific talking points, and dangerous legislation just keep getting revived.

You may recall that in the summer of 2015—the year of the goat according to the Chinese Zodiac and the year of the greater sage grouse in our circles—Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would do all sorts of bad things for the imperiled grouse. The amendment would halt sage-grouse conservation measures already in progress, undermine ongoing collaborative efforts to protect the species, waste millions of taxpayer dollars invested in planning and management of federal public lands, force federal agencies to adopt state conservation plans, and delay a listing decision from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 10 years.

Image courtesy of Jeannie Stafford/USFWS.

Of course, sportsmen and other groups were vocal in their opposition, the amendment was withdrawn, and a few months later the greater sage grouse was not listed for Endangered Species Act protection, as long as the feds, states, and private stakeholders followed through with implementing conservation plans that everyone worked overtime to create.

Still, that doesn’t mean happily-ever-after for sage grouse or sportsmen. On March 15, 2016, Utah Representative Rob Bishop introduced “The Greater Sage Grouse Protection and Recovery Act of 2016” (H.R. 4739), which would allow Western states containing sage-grouse habitat to enact state management plans on the federal public lands within their borders, negating many key conservation measures and creating a recipe for potential range-wide failure of the bird. Success of this bill would also represent an unprecedented shift in management authority on America’s public lands, and it could be offered as an amendment to this year’s NDAA in just a few weeks.

Around the same time that Bishop resurrected this bad idea, the threat of which is no specter but very full-bodied indeed, lobbyists were sowing the seeds of some old, discredited rhetoric: That an endangered or threatened species listing would have been better than living with the constraints of the federal conservation plans. Here’s how bogus that line really is.

This is not a bad dream—it’s a serious affront. We’ll be working diligently with our partners to make sure that all the collaboration and investment in creating a three-part recovery effort—one that will take federal, state, and private-land conservation efforts in order to pull off actual, legally-defensible results for these birds and all sagebrush species—was not wasted. But we need sportsmen and women like you to be just as unrelenting. Your voices helped to hold lawmakers accountable less than a year ago, and you’ll be our most effective messengers once again. Don’t wake up in a cold sweat years from now wondering what might have been.

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Proposed Sale of National Wildlife Refuge Could Set a Very Dangerous Precedent

This bill would allow thousands of acres of the popular Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to be sold by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

Image courtesy of Maritza Vargas/USFWS.

You don’t hear us talk much about conservation in the Caribbean, but a bill that’s being marked up this week in Congress deals with the economic stability of Puerto Rico in a way that could set a very dangerous precedent for all of America’s public lands. Section 405 of “The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act” (PROMESA) would transfer thousands of acres of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, voted fourth best in the entire refuge system in 2015, to the commonwealth as a bargaining chip to help address Puerto Rico’s financial crisis.

This portion of the refuge could be sold off to private interests, while Puerto Ricans could soon be saying goodbye to a chunk of fish and wildlife habitat that was painstakingly conserved from a former superfund site. Not only is this bad news for sportsmen and women who rely on access to the refuge on an increasingly urban island, but it could clear the way for Congress to take similar steps right here at home. But selling a treasured resource for short-term financial gain fails all tests of economic sensibility, and is akin to burning down your house to stay warm.

Help Us Make Some Noise

Does this fight sound familiar? It should. There are other Congressional attempts to get a foot in the door and open up public lands to being sold off or closed off forever. Here’s one way you can help: Sign the petition at sportsmensaccess.org. We will literally drop it on the desks of lawmakers to show them that hunters and anglers like YOU are opposed to this very bad idea—and at 25,000+ names, it makes some noise

Chris Macaluso

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April 13, 2016

Official Status of BP Settlement Means Conservation Can Finally Roll On

A few signatures kick off the next phase of oil spill recovery that could revive long-term habitat health in the Gulf

Image courtesy of Louisiana GOHSEP.

BP and a federal judge have finally made it official—the historic settlement between the states, the federal government, and BP has been signed. Now, the Gulf of Mexico’s fish, wildlife, and habitat—not to mention the communities that depend on outdoor recreation dollars—can move forward in the ongoing process of repairing damage caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

The details of the settlement weren’t breaking news by the time U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier made the consent decree official with the stroke of a pen on April 4. In fact, many of the particulars, including the $20.8-billion total penalty, were released to the public after all parties agreed in principle last October.

This doesn’t mean that we’ll be breaking ground on ecosystem-scale restoration projects tomorrow. After all, BP has more than 15 years to pay in full. It does, however, mark another important milestone in a recovery effort large enough in scale that it could repair the damage caused by the spill as well as ongoing habitat losses and water quality impairments that threaten the long-term health of the Gulf.

The agreement also means that the veil can be lifted on the volumes of data collected by state and federal agencies intensively studying the adverse effects of the oil on fish, birds, turtles, marine mammals, and thousands of plants, crustaceans, insects, and other invertebrates that play a crucial role in the intricate Gulf ecosystem. Gag orders during ongoing negotiations prevented the sharing of most of that information with the public, which frustrated journalists, conservationists, sportsmen, and anyone else wondering about the true toll of the nation’s worst environmental disaster. Once that information is made public, we can better engage in and advocate for the projects that best address the damages.

Image courtesy of State of Louisiana.

If you’re interested in the nitty gritty details, BP will pay $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act penalties, 80 percent of which will go to economic and ecosystem restoration projects across the Gulf, thanks to the Restore Act signed into law in 2012. More than $8 billion will be paid in Natural Resource Damage Assessment fines to be used on projects that directly address the damage to creatures, habitats, and the users whose access to the resources was, and in some cases continues to be, disrupted by the spill. And, BP also owes states and local governments nearly $6 billion to make up for lost revenues.

The TRCP and its sportfishing and habitat conservation partners have been working diligently with hunters, anglers, policy-makers, the media, and elected officials across the region for the last five years to help ensure that Gulf fish and fishermen are made a priority throughout the restoration effort. This group has formally recommended projects and initiatives that improve habitat, increase and improve fisheries research and data collection, and improve access for anglers. Many of those recommendations have been incorporated into projects already selected to receive funding.

Image courtesy of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Considering that recreational fishing contributes more than $10 billion annually to the region’s economy and supports nearly 100,000 jobs in Gulf states, investing in projects that improve angling opportunities ensures the viability of coastal communities from Brownsville, Texas, to Key West, Fla. But, the only way those investments are made wisely is if anglers across the Gulf and throughout the nation continue to insist that restoration dollars make it to the habitat and fish. We can’t let this game-changing settlement get eaten up by legislative pet-projects, state budget band-aids, and bureaucratic boondoggles.

Anglers also need to keep a close eye on projects and initiatives that aim to limit or prevent fishing opportunities. The net result of this lengthy restoration and recovery effort should be more quality chances to hunt and fish, not fewer.

As the sixth anniversary of the spill approaches, the settlement’s approval is reason to be thankful that the funds needed to address damages and make the Gulf a better place won’t be tied up in a decade-long legal battle. However, the difficult task of ensuring that penalties have lasting, positive effects on the region’s natural resources and communities is just beginning.

If you want to make sure we continue this important work in the Gulf, consider donating to the TRCP.

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April 11, 2016

Glassing the Hill: April 11 – 15

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

The Senate and House are both in session this week.

Is this regular order or out of order? Even though Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has preached a return to regular order, this week the House Appropriations Committee will continue to mark up individual spending bills, despite having no House budget or 302(b) allocations set. They’re currently using top-line allocations from the 2015 budget agreement to move forward.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Spending bills for Agriculture and Energy and Water Development will be marked up on Wednesday by the relevant Senate and House Appropriation subcommittees. The Agriculture mark-up could possibly target federal crop insurance and conservation programs for cuts, while the House Energy and Water Development bill may include language to block funding for the administration’s Clean Water Rule.

The Senate doesn’t have its budget together either, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his goal to tackle spending bills beginning in mid-May using top-line allocations from the 2015 budget agreement. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development will hold a mark-up on Wednesday and a full committee mark-up on Thursday. This subcommittee faces similar issues with riders to block Obama administration policies, including the Clean Water Rule.

This Puerto Rican wildlife refuge could get voted off the island.The House Natural Resources Committee drafted a bill that would address Puerto Rico’s financial instability partly by selling off public land. Section 411 of “The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act” would transfer thousands of acres of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, clearing the way for these public lands to be sold off to private interests. The committee will hold a hearing on the legislation on Tuesday and mark it up on Wednesday and Thursday.

Defense for sage grouse (again). Congressman Bishop, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and a member of the Armed Services Committee, has been persistent in requesting that his legislation, “The Greater Sage Grouse Protection and Recovery Act” (H.R. 4739), or a similar provision, be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The House version of the NDAA will be marked up in the Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, April 27, and is scheduled to be considered on the House floor the week of May 16.

And both parties are actually on board with this water legislation. The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which provides funds for Army Corps of Engineers’ projects, may become the vehicle for Senator Cardin (D-Md.) to promote his legislation that would more than triple funds for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. “The Firm, Unwavering National Dedication to Water Act” (S. 2583), is a positive piece of legislation that would provide consistent funding for the enhancement of water quality essential to hunters and anglers. Talks continue this week, but the earliest chance for a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee mark-up would be in May.

Here’s what else we’re tracking:

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Small businesses and EPA regulations will be examined in a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Waste, Superfund and Oversight Management hearing

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The President’s climate policies, to be discussed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

Impacts of oil and gas production on rural economies will be discussed in a House Agriculture Committee hearing

Water in the West, in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans hearing

Appropriations bills for energy and water development in the House and Senate and U.S. Department of Agriculture spending

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Waste prevention, production royalties, and resource conservation, to be discussed in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining hearing regarding the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rule

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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