Issues: April 2001

Notable places and policies in contention this year

Alaska is Just the Beginning

   

 
 
 

Endangered Species Act: A cornerstone of American environmental law (remember the spotted owl?), this legislation will form the crux of numerous struggles in the coming four years. Extractive industries hate the act, and it runs counter to many of Bush's campaign promises, including increased logging in the Northwest. The Clinton administration last fall put a one-year moratorium on new endangered-species listings, but Bush wants deeper, "property rights" reform. The idea: Government should paylandowners to hold off on economic exploitation of valuable habitat. Leading the charge will be James Hansen of Utah, chairman of the House Resources Committee, who promises "responsible stewardship of our public lands without the onus of overbearing rules and regulations."—M.H.

Dam Decommissioning: Enviro groups lost a battle over southeastern Washington's Snake River the day Bush was declared president: He has vowed not to breach four of the Lower Snake's dams—a move that The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition and other groups pegged as key to the survival of the river's salmon population. Dam-decommissioning advocates have since swung their political wrecking ball at the 200-foot-high Matilija Dam, located 90 minutes north of Los Angeles. The Matilija doesn't just thwart the migration of the endangered southern steelhead on California's Ventura River—it also blocks millions of tons of sugar-fine, primo sand from gushing south toward the state's chic southern beaches. The behemoth produces no electricity, and its silt-clogged reservoir provides minuscule flood protection. "The removal of the Matilija is a no-brainer, an easy first test for Bush," says Elizabeth Maclin, associate director for American Rivers, a national advocacy group. Over the coming months, American Rivers will lobby the Bush administration to cough up much of the $20 million-plus it will take to dismantle the 54-year-old dam. —Bill Donahue

Wildfire Policy: When fires scorched nearly seven million acres in the West last summer, conservative politicians blamed the feds. Forests bulged with fuel, they complained, because of Washington's logging restrictions. Enviros scoffed that the real culprit was a century's worth of industrial logging that left behind only skinny trees and highly combustible undergrowth; besides, fire was nature's way of restoring forests. While campaigning in the West, Bush blamed federal management policies for the blazes. Last October, Clinton requested $2.8 billion to render forests fire-resistant, including $400 million for "hazardous fuels reduction" (read: logging). Look for Bush to boost that budget, pleasing timber-industry campaign contributors. —M.H.

Fixing Yosemite: Interior Secretary Gale Norton has pledged to "return scientists to our parks" to address, within five years, the maintenance backlogs that have marred many of the nation's green spaces. But in the case of Yosemite, the scientists just finished up: A 2,500-page "final" Yosemite Valley Plan, 20 years in the making, is heading to Dubya's desk for review. It might even come back intact. Some conservatives support the plan, which Greg Adair, Director of Friends of Yosemite Valley, has consistently blasted as development disguised as preservation. Why? A heady chunk of the $442 million plan goes toward lodge upgrades, RV hookups, and parking-lot construction. —Carol Greenhouse

Motorized Access to Public Land: Gentlemen, start your engines! In the name of restoring "natural quiet," Congress and the Clinton administration tightened restrictions on jet skis and snowmobiles in many national parks while also pressing for limits on tour airplane flights over the Grand Canyon. House Resources Committee chairman James Hansen has urged Bush and Cheney to "redirect" such initiatives. "I don't want them running their ATVs off through the brush," says Hansen. "But they should have the right to use well-established roads." —M.H.

Grizzly Reintroduction: It's a plan that—in theory, at least—George Bush should love. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's directive for Rocky Mountain grizzly bear recovery, finalized last November, emphasizes public-private collaboration: Starting in 2002, at least 25 bears will be reintroduced into Idaho and Montana's Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness over a five-year period; in cases of conflict between the bears and humans or livestock, a citizen's committee would have a hand in deciding which grizzlies live and which don't. But Idaho governor Dirk Kempthorne, a Bush ally, regards all Ursus horribilis as "flesh-eating, antisocial animals," and promises to halt their reintroduction. His first tack may be to decry the cost of the program, about $10 million over the next 25 years. Enviros may have only one recourse left. "Whips and chains," explains Tom France, a project director with the National Wildlife Federation. "We'll fight 'em in court." —B.D.

 

Meet Your Policy Makers

Get acquainted with those who will duke it out over the laws of nature during the Bush administration

   
 
 
 
 

Bob Smith (R-New Hampshire) Senator Robert C. "Bob" Smith describes himself as a nature lover, and he appears to have a soft spot for animals (he's passed anti-cruelty bills). While a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Smith, 60, voted for legislation that would have strengthened the Endangered Species Act, and he pushed through a bill that would restore the Florida Everglades as part of the Water Resources and Development Act signed into law by Clinton in December—pleasing the state's Audubon Society and the Everglades Coalition. Less impressed: the Sierra Club, which charged that while Smith voted to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling, he's also awarded tax breaks to the oil industry.

Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) As the battle over Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge increases to a fever pitch in the coming months, watch Republican Senator Frank Murkowski work the hardest to get the drills spinning. A pro-business Reagan-era politico, Murkowski, 67, has supported logging in spotted-owl habitat and property-rights theory—a cornerstone of the new administration's environmental policy—and voted against increases in EPA funding. Whatever the outcome of the refuge fracas, the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has already set his sights on a new project: Using this past winter's absurdly high natural gas prices as ammunition, he'll likely push for a new $10 billion pipeline through his home state to bring to market what he says is 36 trillion cubic feet of untapped gas locked under Prudhoe Bay. Buuurrrrrrp!

James Hansen (R-Utah) Avid hiker, hunter, and fisherman James V. Hansen—68-year-old former land developer and chairman of the House Resources Committee—aims to abolish or redraw the boundaries of recently declared national monuments, block regulations limiting hard-rock mining, increase snowmobile access to national parks, and rewrite the Endangered Species Act. "I am elated," the Utah Republican stated in a letter last December to then President-Elect Bush, "at finally having the opportunity to work with your administration to correct the misguided direction the Clinton administration has taken in their attempt to manage our national resources."

Tom DeLay (R-Texas) Former pest exterminator Thomas Dale "Tom" DeLay, 54, advocates for children and the right to bear arms, but the environment isn't high on the Texas Republican's action-item list. In 1995, along with Newt Gingrich, DeLay sought to roll back the Clean Water Act, and a bill he introduced in 1995 would have repealed the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990. The Republican majority whip and House Appropriations Committee member has called the EPA the "gestapo of government" and once stated that a Nobel prize awarded for research linking chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to ozone depletion was "nothing more than the Nobel appeasement prize."

Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) The Senate Democratic minority leader from South Dakota straddles the fence on many environmental issues facing Western states. While he supported last year's Water Resources Development Act and several other bills designed to restore the Missouri River corridor in his home state, the 53-year-old also led efforts to suspend implementation of snowmobile bans in national parks. Daschle's support for ethanol, a fuel additive derived from corn, is often couched in clean-air lingo, but ethanol production props up South Dakota's ailing agricultural economy. And even though the third-term Democrat did vote against language opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, don't expect him to be an environmental stalwart: In the Senate, a successful leader is a successful compromiser.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) The enviro movement's new poster girl lacks a legislative track record, but Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has promised to carve out a green legacy of her own. Clinton worked on the National Millennium Trails project and spearheaded a White House scheme that she claims slashed annual carbon emissions from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue's buildings and facilities by 845 metric tons. She's promised to curb New York's rampant industrial pollution, work to reduce acid rain and ozone smog, protect forests, and increase mass-transit funding. Specifically, she aims to rally Congress around the Acid Deposition and Ozone Control Act and implement tax incentives to encourage green business practices. The 53-year-old scored brownie points with greens at new EPA administrator Christine Whitman's largely amicable confirmation hearing, by grilling Whitman on her plans to clean up the Hudson.

George Miller (D-California) As a longtime leader in the House Resources Committee, George Miller, 55, has had a hand in almost every environmental advance in the last decade, including the California Desert Protection Act, The Conservation & Reinvestment Act, efforts to reduce overfishing, and tightening of logging restrictions. The attorney has also railed against ANWR drilling. Although he's given up his position as ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee for the 107th Congress, he's still a moral force. He'll likely give his Democratic colleagues a swift kick in the pants if they compromise too much on enviro issues.

Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) Since joining Congress in 1976, Massachusetts Democratic Representative Ed Markey has kept his environmental bona fides on constant display. In 1980, he helped push through the Superfund Act, which provides money to clean up polluted industrial sites throughout the country. Then in 1982, he released a report detailing underpayments of coal-mining royalties on federal lands, which indirectly led to the resignation of conservative Interior Secretary James Watt. In 1997, he authored legislation setting minimum energy-efficiency standards for household appliances. In the coming years, expect the 54-year-old congressman to go to the mat for his pet projects—toxic waste cleanup, nuclear disarmament, and alternative energy.

 
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