Eye on Washington - Aug/Sep 2015

August, 2015


Proposed Changes in Forest Management Would Limit
Public Voice

Some members of Congress are using the public’s fear and misunderstanding of fire to circumvent the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA is the foundation of our nation’s environmental laws and, most importantly, the mechanism by which federal agencies are required to inform citizens of their plans, use the best available science, and consider public input.

The NEPA process takes time, but reduces the unsustainable rate of logging within our national forest that can leave our watersheds eroded and forests uninhabitable for many rare, native species. This July, however, a bill passed the full House of Representatives with a mostly partisan vote (262 vs 167) that would make it more difficult for communities or organizations to file lawsuits when an agency neglects the law.

HR 2647, ironically titled the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, gives the U.S. Forest Service sweeping powers to log up to 5,000 acres with virtually no public input, and pushes some post-fire logging timelines up making them also nearly impossible to stop, even in the face of potentially significant environmental impact.

Many conservationists are also very concerned that Congress is using this bill as a test for destroying our other environmental laws. In the Senate, leaders of both parties have made clear that they want to apply similar changes to other Forest Service activities. Some members of Congress have been candid—they know they cannot get rid of NEPA, the Clean Air, or the Clean Water Act, but they can destroy them incrementally. 

There are also several other related bills of varying degrees of “bad for conservation.” One such  Senate bill is SB 132, supported by Oregon Democratic leaders. SB 132 would open the way for logging important spotted owl habitat in the “O&C Lands”—a checkerboard of private and public lands in southern Oregon managed for sustainable yeild.

The effects of clear-cut logging on the private lands are clearly visible from roads and from the air. This bill would allow much of the public lands to be cut in a similar fashion in spite of the potential effects to threatened species and watershed protection. A possible compromise bill would include creation of  the Wild Rogue and Devil’s Staircase wilderness areas and more than 200 miles of new wild and scenic river designations in Oregon. These elements have been applauded by some wilderness advocates. 

A final Senate version is expected to get a vote later this summer or autumn.  The resulting bill could pose a major concern for conservation organizations and communities located in or adjacent to our national forests.

The Northcoast Environmental Center was one of over 30 conservation organizations across the nation to send a letter in opposition of HR 2647.

Drought Politics—Western Style

Water has driven politics in the West since early settlement. Unlike in the eastern US where frequent rains fills rivers and reservoirs throughout the summer, Western states rely on winter rain and snowmelt to fill reservoirs for use in the summer. This cycle has guided a system of Western water rights that goes back generations, but overdevelopment and changes in weather patterns have stressed the water systems for the past several decades.

Now, with climate change, politically motivated over-allocation of limited water resources, and changes in agricultural practices that prioritize nut crops, some people are left without water. Into this continuing drama steps freshman Rep. Valadao, from California’s 21st District (southern half of the Central Valley), and others who would like to start from scratch to determine who gets water and how water will be stored and conveyed. His bill, HR 2898, not only throws uncertainty to communities, farmers and river ecosystems, but this bill could also increase the robbing of northern waters to feed rapidly growing communities and unsustainable agricultural practices in the south.

The Northcoast Environmental Center joined many other local and national conservation organizations to oppose HR 2898. Our district Congressman, Jared Huffman, authored competing legislation that would support tactics to solve the West’s water problems through more sustainable means such as reclamation, recycling and improved infrastructure.

HR 2898 passed the full House on a vote of 245 - 176.  Many conservation organizations from Trout Unlimited to the Sierra Club vigorously opposed HR 2898 and the NEC joined in writing letters opposing the bill and supporting Congressman Huffman’s bill. The Senate companion bill is sponsored by Senator Barraso (R-WY) and is equally troubling to Western conservationists.  Senator Feinstein has said she could not support HR 2898 and has been working on her own version, which has also raised concern.

Congress Gets Into the GMO Business

In late July, the House Rules Committee reviewed a bill (H.R. 1599) that was introduced “to avoid the patchwork of state laws dealing with biotech food labeling,” Some members on both sides of the aisle have expressed interest in preempting state laws aimed at labeling food that contain GMO products.  Representatives Conaway (R-Texas) and Peterson (D-Minn.) clarified that the bill does not address any areas other than labeling “…such as cultivation of crops.”

The Environmental Working Group fear this bill could “stop state and local governments from regulating any process related to production of GMO crops.”

HR 1599 would create an Agriculture Department certified “non GMO” program similar to the existing program for “organic” products.


The Big Picture

Why is so much bad legislation being pushed by Congress right now? Simple: the 2016 election cycle. Currently, the Republican Party has the majority in both chambers, meaning they occupy the chairmanships of every congressional committee and thereby determine the
legislative agenda.




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