Plenty to read and speculate on in this issue.
PUBLIC LANDS NEWS BULLETIN #11: November 24, 2008
This bulletin reports on the following:
* OMNIBUS BILL GOES DOWN THE TUBES, UNTIL JANUARY
* BLM MEETS DEADLINES WITH OIL SHALE REGS; LAWSUIT SURE
* MS. PICKENS MAY ADOPT 30,000 WILD HORSES
This bulletin is a supplement to your regular edition of Public Lands News. It is NOT your regular issue. The next issue will be published November 28.
CLINTON VETS PREDOMINATE AS OBAMA TRANSITION BEGINS
President-elect Barack Obama has chosen transition advisors in the public lands arena with strong affiliations with the Clinton administration.
Former Interior Department Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes is heading the Interior Department transition team. He currently works as a senior fellow for the World Wildlife Fund.
The Interior team also includes former Interior Department Solicitor John Leshy. He is presently professor of law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Both Hayes and Leshy served in the Clinton administration. Leshy in particular was the scourge of the hard rock mining industry.
It is not unheard of for transition team members to become agency heads. Thus both Hayes and Leshy are being mentioned – if not by themselves – as candidates for Secretary of Interior.
OBAMA CABINET: The competition for posts in the Obama administration has already begun in earnest, as real and imaginary candidates for administration positions circulate their names, or have their names circulated. One prominent public lands player, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), is already mentioned as Secretary of Energy or Secretary of Interior. But an aide to Bingaman told us his boss is happy where he is.
Other names being circulated as a possible Secretary of the Interior include former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles (D), Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), Leshy and Hayes.
Numerous western governors have held the Interior post over the years, so New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) and Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) by that definition top the list.
Other intriguing possibilities include Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), chairman of the House subcommittee on Interior appropriations; Dan Beard, who has a long curriculum vitae with stops at the Interior Department, the House Natural Resources Committee and the office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); and John Berry, Clinton’s assistant secretary of Interior for Policy.
HILL POSTS: In Congress the election strengthened the Democratic majority significantly but it hasn’t yet provided a super majority of 60 Senate votes that could overcome holds, i.e. filibusters. Best guesses put the Democratic edge in the Senate, when combined with two Independent senators, a couple of votes short of the magic 60. Best guesses put the Democratic edge in the House at about 80 votes. A few contests, including for Minnesota and Georgia Senate seats, are still in doubt.
As we reported in the last issue, committee and subcommittee leaders who oversee public lands programs are expected to stay pretty much the same, although some could play musical chairs. The House Democratic Caucus November 21 chose Rep. Nick Joe Rahall (D-W.Va.) to continue as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. On the Republican side Rep. Don Young (Alaska), ranking natural resources committee member, will return.
In the House subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-N.M.) was reelected, as was ranking minority member Rob Bishop (R-Utah.) In the House subcommittee on Interior appropriations Dicks is likely to remain the chair.
In the Senate Bingaman is a good bet to continue as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is expected to continue to oversee Endangered Species Act legislation as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
A major change is due on the Republican side of the energy committee where ranking Republican Pete Domenici (N.M.) did not run for re-election. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is in line to replace Domenici. In fact we understand that Murkowski has already begun lining up staff members.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) returns as chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) served as chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Interior appropriations in the last Congress and may do so again.
SENATE DOESN’T ACT ON OMNIBUS; REID PROMISES JANUARY VOTE
Faced with increasing opposition, Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) November 17 postponed Senate action on an omnibus lands bill until next year.
But Reid warned critics of the 150-bill measure that the bill (HR 5151) will be a top priority when the new Congress meets in January with a large Democratic majority.
“One of the first things we’ll do (in January) is there will be a bipartisan piece of legislation introduced that will include all the stuff that was held up these past two years, so-called lands bills,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “That would be first or second thing we do when we come back in January.”
The bill was tripped up by increasing hostility from a wide range of interests, beginning with western House Republicans and extending to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, private property rights advocates, and conservative think tanks.
Reid said he quit on HR 5151 because critic Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) would insist on a reading of the bill that could take more than 24 hours. The Senate’s time is limited because it was working on a short week and still had to address an economic stimulus bill. “But I think the discretion is the better part of valor and we will alert everyone that we will do this when we get back,” said Reid.
The Heritage Foundation led the intellectual campaign against the bill with a widely distributed position paper. “The lands bill removes public land that would be available for recreational, commercial, and private ownership use by designating such land as wilderness areas, heritage areas, conservation areas and wild and scenic rivers,” said author Nicolas Loris. “Furthermore, the bill places restrictions on existing federal property.”
Loris said the cost should also be considered. “The Congressional Budget Office places an $8 billion price tag on the omnibus lands bill: $7.1 billion in discretionary spending and over $915 million in mandatory spending,” he said.
The critics most object to a provision in HR 5151 (S 1139 as a stand-alone bill) that would give Congressional certification to the 26 million-acre National Landscape Conservation System managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM.) The House approved its version of the NLCS bill (HR 2016) on April 9.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and conservationists are swimming against that tide by asking the Senate to expand the NLCS by adding 6 million acres from the California Desert Conservation Area to it. The NLCS already includes 4 million acres of CDCA land, but Feinstein wants to add the whole CDCA on the Senate floor, bringing the system to 32 million acres.
Karen Schambach, California coordinator for the environmental group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, sees mischief in the exclusion of the CDCA acreage from the NLCS. “The unspoken plan is for corporate conversion of large parts of the CDCA into giant energy farms and transmission corridor superhighways,” she said.
The Senate Energy Committee developed the omnibus lands package based on committee-passed bills. However, not all committee bills made the cut because both Democratic and Republican committee leaders enjoy a veto.
The idea was to produce a bill that would provide something for everyone on both sides of the aisle. However, one key senator, Coburn, objected to the cost and possible land use restrictions. When we asked a Republican Senate Energy Committee staff member if he knew of any other Senate Republicans who publicly opposed the measure besides Coburn, he said, “No.”
Indeed, there is considerable support for HR 5151. Twenty-four Democratic House members wrote Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) October 30 and asked her to schedule a vote on HR 5151, if the Senate acted on it.
But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, western House Republicans and their allies won the day, for now. Their main objection is to the NLCS provision. Back on August 4 27 House Republicans had asked President Bush to veto HR 2016 if it came to him by itself. However, they did not mention a recommended veto of an omnibus bill.
In addition to the NLCS measure, HR 5151, as amended by Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) from committee passed bills, would:
* WYOMING RANGE: The omnibus includes a bill (S 2229) from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) that would authorize non-federal interests to buy out oil and gas leases on 1.2 million acres of the Wyoming Range of the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
BLM and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have offered different estimates of the amount of oil and gas the range contains. BLM said on Feb. 27, 2008, that the area may contain 331 million barrels of oil. But on June 19 the USGS estimated only 5 million barrels of oil. Similarly, BLM estimated the area may contain 8.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and USGS estimated 1.5 trillion cubic feet.
* OWYHEE LANDS (IDAHO): The omnibus includes this bill (S 2833) from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) that would designate 517,000 acres of BLM-managed wilderness. An alliance of retired BLM employees, the Public Lands Foundation, objected recently to the bill and said that before designating wilderness sponsors should work with BLM to identify precise boundaries. The retirees also objected to a grazing permit buy-out provision. The administration supports.
* WILDERNESS (NINE OTHER BILLS): The omnibus includes several individual wilderness bills that would protect up to 2 million acres, including: Wild Monongahela Wilderness (West Va.), Virginia Ridge and Valley Wilderness (Va.), Mt. Hood Wilderness (Ore.), Copper Salmon Wilderness (Ore.), Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (Ore.), Owyhee (Idaho), Sabinoso Wilderness (N.M.), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Wilderness (Mich.), Oregon Badlands Wilderness (Ore.), Spring Basin Wilderness (Ore.), Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wilderness (Calif.), Riverside County Wilderness (Calif.), Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Wilderness (Calif.), and Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness (Colo.)
In addition, the amendment includes individual bills that would designate two new National Park System units, authorize additions to nine existing National Park System units; authorize by our count a dozen land exchanges and conveyances; designate four national trails; authorize studies of additions to four National Historic Trails (all in the West: Oregon National Historic Trail, Pony Express National Historic Trail, California National Historic Trail, and The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail); add three wild and scenic rivers including the Snake River Headwaters in Wyoming; and designate a Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area of about 3.5 miles of cave passages in Lincoln County, N.M.
OIL SHALE REGS WILL GO INTO EFFECT BEFORE OBAMA MOVES IN, COURTS WILLING
BLM issued final commercial development oil shale regulations November 18 in time for the rules to go into effect before President-elect Barack Obama takes over on January 20. If the regs are in effect when Obama becomes President, his administration would be hard-pressed to reverse them.
However. A federal court could issue an injunction stopping the rules and directing BLM to begin over. In fact a coalition of six environmental groups virtually promised a lawsuit the day before the rules were published in the Federal Register.
“(W)e herby inform you that unless you respond to this letter immediately and inform us that BLM is withdrawing the ROD and reinstating the public protest period, we will have no choice but to consider initiation of litigation in federal court to protect our rights,” said the environmentalists, led by Melissa Thrailkill, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The environmentalists share the concern of Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) that BLM doesn’t know what the environmental impacts of commercial shale development will be. They say BLM should review the results of research and development projects before writing regulations. Salazar, who is being mentioned as a candidate for the next Secretary of Interior, said at a November 19 press conference:
“For all the people of Colorado I would simply ask the question: Where are we going to get what could be as much one billion acre-feet of water to move forward with oil shale development? Where are we going to get multiple coal-fired power plants probably that will create the power that makes the technology function if it can be proven technologically feasible? The fact of the matter is there are many unanswered questions, so in my view it is foolhardy to create the regulatory regime for development of oil shale when we don’t know the facts.”
The lead oil shale development company in the three-state oil shale country (Colorado, Utah and Wyoming), Shell Exploration& Production Co. – Unconventional Oil, has told us the company wants BLM to complete commercial development regs as soon as possible to provide formal guidance.
In January 2007 BLM issued five, 160-acre R&D leases in Colorado (Shell holds three) and in May 2007 issued one R&D lease in Utah. The R&D leases constitute the first step in what could be a major new energy industry in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The Green River Formation of Colorado alone could produce an estimated 800 billion barrels of oil, or 100 years worth of the nation’s annual consumption of 8 billion barrels.
On its behalf BLM said completion of the regulations (along with a programmatic EIS and record of decision) doesn’t automatically commit the bureau to approve any oil shale development project. The bureau said, “Before any oil shale leases are issued, additional site-specific National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis would be completed on the proposed development. Once a lease is issued, the lessee will also have to obtain all required permits from state and local authorities, under their respective permitting processes, before any operations can begin. Another round of NEPA analysis would be conducted before any site-specific plans of development are approved.”
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), ranking minority member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said, “With this positive step, Americans have hope for vast supplies of clean synthetic oil and natural gas to fuel our homes and businesses for decades. If American innovation succeeds with the technology to develop this resource, it could supply America’s oil needs for more than a century.”
BLM chose a sliding scale for royalties that would begin at 5 percent during the first five years of production, and then increase 1 percent each year after that until reaching 12.5 percent. The standard oil and gas royalty is 12.5 percent.
Salazar said the BLM formula could cost taxpayers billions of dollars in lost revenue.” “I will study these regulations closely, but I am immediately concerned about the royalty rates that it has established. A royalty rate of 5 percent, of which Colorado would receive half, is a pittance,” he said. “The Administration is setting up Colorado to be sold short.”
The 160-acre research and development leases entitle a lessee to a preference right (but not a guarantee) to a commercial lease of 4,960 contiguous acres, subject to further environmental analysis. Regular commercial leases would be for 5,760 acres and a company could hold up to 50,000 acres in any one state.
MS. PICKENS SAYS SHE WANTS TO ADOPT ALL STORED WILD HORSES
There is nothing in writing yet, but the wife of famed oilman T. Boone Pickens says she is willing to adopt more than 30,000 excess wild horses and burros that BLM can no longer afford to store.
Madeline Pickens has told BLM she would like to establish a 1 million-acre range in the West – perhaps with leased federal land – to store the animals. She reportedly is willing to spend between $10 million and $50 million. As part of the plan (1) the animals would be sterilized and (2) donors to her operation would receive tax credits.
For now BLM is intrigued. “We welcome her interest,” said Tom Gorey, BLM spokesman. “We welcome anything she can do. It would be a great step forward in reducing our holding costs.”
As PLN reported in the last issue, BLM’s wild horse and burro program is facing an imminent crisis from an overpopulation in holding facilities. The bureau doesn’t have enough money to expand holding facilities. But if it returns the animals to the range, it may create an environmental disaster. And if it euthanizes the animals or sells them without limitations (i.e. to slaughterhouses) animal rights groups and their Congressional allies will hit the roof.
At a regularly scheduled public hearing in Reno, Nev., November 17 of BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board Pickens expressed her interest in adopting all 30,000 excess animals and placing them on a range in the West. Pickens reportedly envisions the wild horse ranch as a tourist destination.
With Congress facing a $1 trillion deficit in fiscal 2009 the outlook is dim for increased appropriations above the fiscal 2008 appropriation of $37 million for the program. (A temporary fiscal 2009 money bill extends the 2008 level until March 6.)
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a recent report praised BLM for making progress toward meeting an appropriate management level of wild horses and burros on the public range of 27,200. But to do that BLM has had to put 74,000 animals in holding facilities since 2001, far more than it can put out for adoption or euthanized under strict limits. The number of animals in storage has climbed from 9,807 in 2001 to 30,088 as of June 30.
The price of managing the holding facilities has increased concomitantly. In 2000 total storage costs were $7 million. In fiscal 2008 holding costs exceeded $27 million, or three-quarters of the annual program appropriation.
The GAO report, Effective Long-Term Options Needed to Manage Unadoptable Wild Horses, is available at: http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-09-77.
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