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Bush environmental rollbacks; the first year

Earthjustice defends environment from White House attacks
January 10, 2002
San Francisco, CA — 
On January 8 nine Earthjustice attorneys joined Earthjustice executive director Buck Parker in a press conference reporting on some of the environmental rollbacks undertaken by the Bush administration during its first year. The issues covered and contact information on each follows.

Jump to an issue:

To see data on the fall-off in criminal prosecution of polluters by government, visit the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility website.

The transcript for a January 8, 2002, tele-press conference on these topics is also available in pdf format.

Undermining the snowmobile ban in Yellowstone

The Clinton administration created a law (called a rule) designed to address the noise and pollution caused by snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park. Snowmobiles are now responsible for up to 68% of Yellowstone's carbon monoxide pollution and up to 90% of its annual hydrocarbon emissions; smog and haze from snowmobiles at Yellowstone's gates is comparable to pollution in Los Angeles. The rule was the product of an intensive three-year public process and calls for a four-year snowmobile phase-out and development of a snowcoach system, which will provide access to Yellowstone with 85% fewer vehicles. Snowcoaches are quieter, pollute less, and have fewer adverse effects on wildlife.

In April, the Bush administration announced its support for the snowmobile rule and allowed it to go into effect. The International Snowmobile Manufacturers' Association filed a lawsuit to overturn the rule and instead of fighting the challenge in court, the Bush administration entered into negotiations with industry to settle the suit. Industry representatives made it clear that they want no reduction in snowmobile usage -- achieving, in effect, a complete rollback of the snowmobile ban. The negotiations led to a settlement agreement with snowmobile industry groups and the state of Wyoming, in which the Department of Interior agreed to revisit its decision on Yellowstone snowmobiles and prepare a new Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. The government and industry have insisted that another expensive round of decision-making is necessary to consider advances in "cleaner-quieter" snowmobile technology.

Under the settlement, the new environmental analysis must be complete before November 2002, when the first reductions in snowmobile use are scheduled to begin. In the meantime, the Bush administration will be laying the groundwork for a new rule to keep snowmobiles in Yellowstone. Earthjustice is prepared to challenge any new snowmobile rule that does not put protection of the Park before the special interests of the snowmobile industry.

For further information contact Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice Bozeman, 406-586-9699

Grizzly reintroduction to the Bitterroot, not

There are only about 1,100 grizzlies in five regions of the lower 48 states, where they have vanished from 98 percent of their historic range. The remaining grizzlies are mostly isolated from each other and scientists warn this isolation poses a long-term threat to the bears. To help address this problem federal and state officials and local industry and citizen groups developed a plan to reintroduce grizzlies to a huge chunk of habitat in the Bitterroot Wilderness of Idaho and Montana. Grizzly scientists said the plan would help retain healthy populations of grizzly bears in the continental US. But when the Bush administration took over, Interior Secretary Gale Norton pulled the plug on the plan saying she wanted to focus instead on protecting existing bear populations in the West. Norton's decision is a major victory for Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican who sued to stop the plan two days before President Bush took office. Two of Norton's top aides once worked for Kempthorne.

For further information contact Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice Bozeman, 406-586-9699

Bitterroot timber sale/No appeals

Over the winter holidays Bush administration official Mark Rey attempted to railroad through a major timber sale in the Bitterroot National Forest. At 176 million board feet, the timber salvage sale is the largest such project ever proposed by the Forest Service.

Despite the scale and controversial nature of this project, Rey foreclosed the public's right to appeal; a right guaranteed by federal law.

Earthjustice, on behalf of conservation groups, asked a district court to put an emergency stop to this timber sale. In response, the federal judge placed a temporary restraining order on the timber sales and wrote a scathing five-page ruling explaining how the Forest Service and Mark Rey had violated the law by locking the public out of the appeals process.

For further information contact Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice Bozeman, 406-586-9699

Roadless protections going, going...

In one of the single largest conservation measures enacted in the last 100 years, the Clinton administration took action to protect 58.5 million acres of wild national forest lands. On Inauguration Day, the Bush administration immediately froze action on this rule. But, in the face of broad public support for the roadless policy, the administration has been reluctant to openly reverse or undo it.

In March the Bush administration failed to mount a defense of the roadless rule in a legal challenge to it brought by the State of Idaho and Boise Cascade Timber Company. Federal Judge Edward Lodge stopped the rule from being implemented. The government failed to appeal and instead initiated a new rule-making process to weaken the roadless policy -- or eliminated it altogether.

Nine separate lawsuits have been filed to challenge the rule, including suits by powerful timber industry associations, off-road vehicle groups, livestock companies and states anxious for revenue from development on federal land. The Bush administration has failed to fight off any of them. In fact, in a critical Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing in October, Earthjustice attorneys presented arguments in defense of the roadless rule. The administration's attorneys weren't even in the courtroom, a fact noted by all three judges on the panel hearing the case. While the case works its way through the courts, the administration is removing roadless protections through directives coming from the Forest Service Chief's office.

For further information contact Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice Bozeman, 406-586-9699

Tongass National Forest, Alaska, Special Threats

The national forest most at risk for resumed logging in roadless areas is also America's largest and one of its richest ecologically. The Tongass National Forest, at 17 million acres, has about 2.5 million acres of roadless forests otherwise open to logging if the Bush administration weakens or abandons the roadless rule. Within these 2.5 million acres the Forest Service is currently planning many timber sales. The first is likely to be on Gravina Island near Ketchikan where the Forest Service continues with its plans to log roughly 37 million board feet of timber and build about 22 miles of new roads on the island.

A second Bush administration rollback affecting the Tongass occurred when the Bush administration decided not to defend against a timber industry lawsuit aimed at opening more of the Tongass to logging. Unlike the roadless rule, this lawsuit challenged the management plan each national forest is required to develop and implement. Hanging in the balance is one half million acres of old growth forest in roadless areas protected during the Clinton administration. Once again Earthjustice attorneys are the only ones defending these new protections for the Tongass.

For more information call Eric Jorgensen, Earthjustice Juneau, 907-586-2751

Rolling back Steller Sea Lion Protections

In western Alaska Steller Sea Lion numbers have plummeted since the early 1970's. Their decline coincided with the rise of large-scale industrial fishing in the north Pacific targeting the very fish that many marine mammals, birds and fish feed on. Today Steller Sea Lion populations in western Alaska are only about 10 percent of those 30 years ago. In 1990 Stellers Sea Lions throughout Alaska were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In 1997, due to their continuing decline, sea lions in western Alaska were listed as endangered. In response to an Earthjustice lawsuit, the National Marine Fisheries Service strengthened regulations governing the ground fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea in 2000. The new rules would have excluded the key fisheries from two thirds of areas designated as critical habitat for western Alaska sea lions. But when the Bush administration took over, these strengthened regulations were replaced with a weaker version that allows industrial fishing operations back into much of the sea lion's critical habitat.

For more information contact Eric Jorgensen, Earthjustice Juneau Alaska, 907-586-2751.

Offroad vehicle roads/Secret settlement talks

Earthjustice filed a lawsuit to force disclosure of information about closed-door negotiations between the federal government and the state of Utah concerning the state's claim to more than 10,000 roads and trails crossing federal lands. The roads and trails cross national parks, national monuments, national forests, wilderness areas, and other federal lands, including Utah's most pristine and environmentally sensitive areas. Recognition of the state's claims by the federal government would relinquish federal authority over these roads and trails. Conservationists are concerned because in the past the federal government has given away rights of way under similar circumstances.

The lawsuit, filed in the federal district court in Washington DC, alleges that the Department of Interior is violating the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to release documents pertaining to the negotiations. The state and federal government have been negotiating to recognize some of the claims, but have not included the public in the negotiations. The federal Bureau of Land Management, which is negotiating with Utah, responded to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Wilderness Society and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance by refusing to produce any documents pertaining to the negotiations, except for a few emails setting up meetings.

Wilderness proponents consider many of these disputed areas roadless and recognition of roads would put them out of bounds for any future inclusion in federally designated wilderness areas.

For more information call Eric Huber, Earthjustice Denver, 303-623-9466

National Marine Fisheries Service is a no show on coho salmon appeal

In September a federal judge stripped Oregon coastal coho salmon of legal protections afforded them under the Endangered Species Act because of discrepancies between how hatchery and wild fish were treated. In spite of the dire condition of wild stocks of Oregon coastal coho, the federal agency responsible for salmon survival, the National Marine Fisheries Service, announced in November that it would not appeal this ruling. Earthjustice stepped into the breach to restore protections for these salmon. "We will speak for the fish," said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice. "The National Marine Fisheries Service has written off Oregon coast coho by deciding not to appeal and leaving the fish unprotected, but we will not let that happen."

The delisting decision gave the green light to some timber sales on federal lands that had been stopped to protect coho salmon. Logging in these coho habitats did resume but was suspended after Earthjustice won a stay of the district court ruling, at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

For more information call Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice Seattle, 206-343-7340

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve under Bush "review"

On December 4, 2000, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve was created by Executive Order. The reserve is huge, covering an area larger than the land area of Florida and Georgia combined.

The coral reefs surround the tops of ancient volcanoes, gone except for rocky reefs and small islands poking out of the middle of the Pacific Ocean. These reefs and islands are the foundation of an incredibly rich ecosystem largely untouched by humans that is home to populations of sea turtles, birds, fish, shellfish and other marine organisms. It is also home to native species that are rare, threatened, and endangered including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and the threatened green sea turtle.

Rather than embracing the Reserve, The Bush administration has announced it will "review" its status. The administration is being fiercely lobbied by the fishing industry to gut the protections.

For more information call Paul Achitoff, managing attorney for Earthjustice Mid-Pacific, Hawaii, 808-521-2436

Rollback of Everglades protections

In 2000 President Clinton signed into law the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 which promised steps to restore the Everglades. The act provided that a plan would be implemented to achieve and maintain Everglades restoration. In the last week of December the public read reports of the Bush administration's plan to achieve this and found the proposed regulations do nothing of the sort. Instead, the draft rules attempt to fudge what the actual goals will be for measuring the project's success, fail to set timetables for those goals and do not specify the amount of water dedicated to Everglades restoration. A particularly ominous rollback was Secretary of Interior Norton's decision to shutdown the federal office of Everglades restoration. These rules and the actions of the Secretary make it obvious that the policy of the Bush administration is to rollback the commitment to Everglades restoration.

For more information call David Guest, Earthjustice Florida, 850-681-0031

Supporting the wetlands and streams protection rule -- Do they or don't they?

In what might be the most blatant example to date of the Bush administration publicly proclaiming to support an environmental regulation while privately working to weaken it under the cloak of litigation, the administration has been negotiating behind closed doors with industry groups over a new Clean Water Act regulation designed to protect streams and wetlands.

On April 16th -- just before Earth Day -- President Bush and EPA Administrator Christie Whitman attempted to rehabilitate the administration's poor track record on the environment. They announced their support for a new rule to clarify that discharges into streams and wetlands in connection with ditching, draining, gravel mining and land clearing activities are subject to the Clean Water Act. This rule, finalized during the Clinton administration, would save thousands of acres of wetlands and hundreds of miles of streams nationwide from destruction each year.

But just three days later, on April 19th, the Department of Justice asked the federal court to stay the litigation in order to provide time for the administration to discuss settlement with construction and mining industry groups that had filed suit to overturn the regulations. The Justice Department's request revealed that administration officials already had had one settlement discussion with the industry groups and anticipated further negotiations in the following weeks. On behalf of the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Earthjustice moved to intervene in the case to defend the clean water protections and has contacted the administration asking to be included in any settlement discussions. So far, these requests have been refused.

For more information call Managing Attorney Howard Fox, Earthjustice, DC, 202-667-4500 ex 203

NAFTA Environmental Oversight Commission weakened by Bush administration

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) of North America is a group comprised of the top environmental officials from the US, Canada and Mexico set up under the NAFTA environmental side agreement to ensure that each government is effectively enforcing environmental laws. During the Clinton administration, the group considered claims of widespread or systemic failures to enforce environmental laws. The Bush administration has taken the position that the CEC can only investigate failure to enforce in specific instances, but that systemic problems are off the table.

The Commission is valuable for creating a forum for citizen groups to raise concerns about ineffective enforcement of environmental laws. When the citizen submission mechanism was proposed, it was intended to be a mechanism to guarantee independent review of such claims, and the previous US Administration was a fairly strong supporter of such a process. The new administration has reversed course, demonstrating its intent to subject the complaint process to the control of the very governments whose conduct is being reviewed.

For more information call Martin Wagner, Earthjustice International Office, 415-627-6725 ex 216

The transcript for a January 8, 2002, tele-press conference on these topics is also available in pdf format.


Contact:
John McManus, Earthjustice, 415-627-6720 ex 230
Brian Smith, Earthjustice, 415-627-6720 ex 206
Ken Goldman, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500
Suzanne Carrier, Earthjustice, 202-6674500