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Defending our Wild Lands

Specific Target Areas

National Park Service
  • Snomobiles in Parks
  • Air Tour Overflights
  • Management Policy
  • Jet Skis
    Bureau of Land Management
  • National Monuments
  • Hardrock Mining
  • Millsites
    Mineral Management Service
  • Oil & Gas Valuation
    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • Refuge System
  • Marine Protected Areas
    U.S. Forest Service
  • Roadless Areas
  • Road/Transportation Policy
  • Planning Rule
  • Regional Planning
  • Committee Chairman Outlines Attack on Pro-Conservation Policies

    Jan. 2001---The following is a letter from Jim Hansen, House Resources Committee chairman, to the new Bush/Cheney Administration outlining natural resouce policy targets for the Committee in the current (107th) Congress. (Or click here to download a copy of the letter (PDF, 26 Kb).)

    ROOM 242
    WASHINGTON, DC 20510

    Congress of the United States
    House of Representatives
    Washington, DC 20515-4401

    December 27, 2000

    President-Elect George W. Bush
    Vice-President-Elect Dick Cheney
    1616 Anderson Road
    McLean, VA 22102

    Dear President-Elect Bush and Vice-President-Elect Cheney:

    First of all, please accept my heartfelt congratulations on winning the presidential election! I am extremely proud to have you serve as our chief executives for many years to come. I know that we share many common goals regarding the future of our country's natural resources and confident that we can manage our resources and public lands through good stewardship while maintaining their ecological integrity.

    After many years of being frustrated by the Clinton Administration's unreasoned and frequently absurd interpretation of law and Congressional intent, I am elated 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 natural resources. The House Committee on Resources, which I will chair, is committed to the sound and responsible stewardship of our public land without the onus of overbearing rules and regulations.

    In this light, I would appreciate your consideration and suggestions on a number of rules, regulations, and policy decisions formulated under the Clinton Administration that have caused considerable concern to me and, quite frankly, to many of our citizens. These rules, regulations, and policy decisions cover a multitude of resource issues and are in various states of completion. There is, however, one thing in common. They will have, if allowed to proceed or be implemented, a tremendous negative effect on the good stewardship of our public land along with greatly limiting access to the citizens of this country. Because of this, I and many other Members of the Committee, have well-founded concerns regarding these rules, regulations, and policy decisions. We have concluded that all of these require immediate attention and review, thus are requesting your cooperation in this regard. I look forward to working with you and your Administration to redirect these policy initiatives. Please consider the following, separated into the appropriate federal agencies, as those rules, regulations, and policy decisions that are of utmost concern.

    National Park Service (NPS):

    Snowmobile Prohibition in all National Park System Units:
    On April 27, 2000, in response to a petition by 60 preservation groups represented by the Bluewater Network, the Department of the Interior, announced that they were "to immediately begin enforcing existing NPS national regulations regarding snowmobile use in the National Park System. The net effect of this renewed enforcement effort will be the significant reduction of recreational snowmobiling in most units of the System." Although the directive from the Interior Department and the Bluewater Network petition addresses snowmobile use through the park system, the most significant controversy stems from snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park. The Interior Department's directive prohibits recreational snowmobiling from all units of the park system with limited exceptions.

    In October of 2000, the NPS approved the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Yellowstone National Park which allows complete phase-out of snowmobiles in three years. Regulations for all the other national park units have, to date, not been issued. This is an important issue to many Members of Congress and the Committee.

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    Air Tour Overflight Restrictions/Soundscape Management:
    A key and important area the Park Service has focused a major effort is "soundscape management" and the restoration of "natural quiet" to the park system. The NPS defines natural quiet as, "the natural ambient sound conditions found in the park." The NPS has also defined, "natural quiet" as a resource rather than a value. The Park Service has used "natural quiet" as the basis for severely limiting public access to a number of national parks such as Isle Royale in Michigan, Biscayne in Florida, and all the units currently allowing snowmobiles or personal water craft.

    Air tours of the national parks, most notably Grand Canyon, is another form of access being severely restricted by the NPS. In 1988, Special Federal Aviation Regulation 50-2 (SFAR 50-2) was issued, establishing minimum altitudes and flight-free zones over portions of the Grand Canyon. SFAR 50-2 was highly successful in reducing visitor complaints about noise from tour aircraft. Even though natural quiet was restored, President Clinton again directed the agencies to "restore" natural quiet in the Grand Canyon by 2008. Thus, on March 28, 2000, the FAA issued a new set of rules concerning overflights. These rules included the modifications of the air tour routes, and expansion of Flight Free Zones, and a limitation of the total number of commercial air tours in the Flight Area. However, by implementing these regulations the air tour industry will be severely restricted and may not be able to provide this form of access to over 800,000 park visitors.

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    Management Policy of "resource preservation" over "visitor enjoyment"/Interpretive NPS Organic Act:
    The National Park Service was created by the 1916 Organic Act, with the primary mission to "promote and regulate the use of Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations . . . by such means and measures as to confirm to the fundamental purpose . . . which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historical objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same . . ." Although the dual mission of the Park Service seems abundantly clear, the law is being divided by the NPS which is promoting the "conservation of the resource" over and above "for the enjoyment of the same" by the public. The NPS, in their recently released draft Management Policies - 2000, states unequivocally that the parts of this provision of law are not equal. The NPS asserts that "[t]here are dual elements to the Organic Act's single fundamental purpose, but those elements are not equal. Rather, the Act is explicit that enjoyment of park resources and values is to be allowed only to the extent that can be done without impairing those resources and values." Moreover, a letter to all Park Service employees crafted by the NPS Environment Leadership coordinator, stated that "[p]reserving and maintaining our previous resources for future generations is the most important part of our mission." As shown in the original intent of the Organic Act, however, conservation is intrinsically tied and cannot be separated with user enjoyment. These policy statements clearly show that the NPS has been moving to restrict and otherwise limit public access to our national parks for a number of years especially under the Clinton Administration.

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    Personal Water Craft (PWC) Prohibition:
    The use of personal water craft (PWCs) is also being restricted by the Park Service. Once again, citing noise intrusion as the primary basis of new regulations, the Park Service points out that PWCs have a negative effect on the park environment. According to a report by the Park Service, these noise problems are compounded by several other characteristics of PWCs. The NPS issued final regulations on March 21, 2000 which effectively closed PWC use in 22 of the 32 park units which had authorized PWC use. The 10 remaining units may also be closed to cut a deal, in the form of an out of court settlement, with the Bluewater Network, an environmental activist group, which expedites the rule making process to ban PWCs in all the park units. It is worth noting that the ban includes park units which are national recreation areas specifically designated for recreational use.

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    Bureau of Land Management

    National Monuments on Public Lands:
    Beginning in September of 1996, President Clinton began the legacy of designating millions of acres of public lands as National Monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The Resources Committee demonstrated through numerous investigations that these designations have all been completed without any public input and indeed over the strenuous objections of local and federal elected officials. The most recent designations which occurred in 2000 are currently in the planning process and slowing those planning efforts will give Congress an opportunity to review these designations in details and make decisions accordingly. Vice President Elect Cheney and I have had a conversation about how to deal with these millions of acres of new designations which circumvented the public process and the legislative process. I look forward to working with you, your Secretary of Interior and those who are most affected by these designations to make sure each designation is warranted, completed in an open and fair manner, and has the approval of Congress.

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    Surface Management Rules Concerning "Hardrock" Mining:
    The so-called 3809 regulations (found in Title 43, Part 3809 of the Code of Federal Regulations), first promulgated at the very end of the Carter Administration, were rewritten by the Clinton Administration and published as a final rule on November 21, 2000 with an effective date 60-days later, i.e., Inauguration Day, 2001. This rulemaking process was the subject of several moratoria and other legislative directives to require the Secretary of the Interior to abide by the recommendations of the National Research Council panel from which Congress sought advice, for itself and the executive branch, as to the need for substantial revisions in the context of the panoply of state and federal laws governing mining impacts. Unfortunately, Secretary Babbitt chose to virtually ignore this guidance and has finalized a rule which would thwart investment in mining ventures on the public lands of the West, and likely adjacent private lands as well. Most egregious is a new provision, not properly noticed in draft rules for public comment, giving the BLM "mine veto" authority on public lands the Congress has not seen fit to close to mineral development - a clear usurpation of the property clause of the Constitution. On Dec. 15, 2000 litigation was filed by the mining industry seeking to enjoin the new rules while BLM reconsiders its flawed economic analysis of the impact of the 3809 revisions on our economy.

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    Millsites to Mining Claims Ration Issue:
    Solicitor Leashy quietly issued an opinion in November 1997, concurred in by Secretary Babbitt, which established a novel interpretation of the mining laws granting rights to citizens for the use of public lands for purposes ancillary to "hardrock" mining, such as milling of ores and placement of tailings. This opinion states that a miner may have no more than one five-acre sized millsite per each twenty-acre sized lode mining claim, despite the fact that no previous Secretary or court has reached such conclusion. Modern-day disseminated gold mining operations often require millsites in order to place waste rock and tailing as well as milling equipment, leach piles and the like. Congress debated the application of the millsite opinion to current operations, choosing to exempt then existing operations, but newly staked claims and older operations seeking permit expansions are inhibited by this unfounded policy. This is another example of the Clinton Administration's cynical use of unilateral edicts to achieve a result unwinnable in Congress - a wholesome revision of the general mining laws.

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    Minerals Management Service

    Valuation of Oil & Gas for Royalty Purposes:
    The rules governing the valuation methodology for oil and gas produced on federal onshore and offshore leases, last revised in 1988, have been rewritten in the Clinton Administration to effect a change not endorsed by Congress in the mineral leasing laws. Specifically, MMS insists lessees have a "duty to market" crude oil and gas produced and thusly does not allow a deduction of costs attributable to marketing efforts when the product is sold away from the lease. The industry has won at the district court level on the natural gas valuation but the Administration has appealed. Similar litigation on the new oil valuation rule is pending. We view a royalty-in-kind (R-I-K) program as a means to avoiding such disputes because the federal government would get exactly its share (generally one-eighth for on-shore lease and one-sixth for offshore) in volumes of oil and gas which when aggregated would give it significant market power. Federal royalty gas is already used in a pilot program to heat certain federal buildings and could be expanded further to provide savings to military installations and the like. Federal royalty oil was used to begin to "top off" the strategic petroleum reserve when prices were low in 1999 but has been suspended since.

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    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS)

    FWS Wildlife Refuge System:
    On October 17, 2000, the FWS issued a draft policy on maintaining the "ecological integrity of the National Wildlife Refuge System". The public comment period on this policy closed on December 15th and the Service is intent on promulgating this policy prior to January 20, 2001. This policy is being written in response to the enactment of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act (P.L. 105-57). However, the policy is fatally flawed and must not be implemented. Among other problems, this policy would create a new term "ecological integrity" that has no basis in law. Nor did this term appear in the statute, committee reports or floor debate. Furthermore, the FWS uses, without the benefit of supporting scientific data, the time frame 800 AD to 1800 AD as a baseline for future refuge systems and places its overriding emphasis on "restoring" the "natural conditions" of the system to the determent of all other uses. The FWS has arbitrarily chosen 4 of the 14 directives on how the Secretary of the Interior shall administer the system. Lastly, and importantly, this policy extends the jurisdiction of an individual refuge manager outside of the boundaries of the unit and it tells private landowners that if they are unable to work cooperatively with the Service then they should seek legal remedies. This policy is strongly opposed by the leadership of both the House Resources and the Senate Environment and Public Words Committees, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America, the Wildlife Management Institute and many other conservation groups.

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    Marine Protected Areas (MPA):
    On May 26, 2000, President Clinton issued an Executive Order requiring the Departments of the Interior and Commerce in consultation with the Departments of the Defense, State, Transportation, and other agencies to develop a national system of Marine Protected Areas. The Executive Order also lists a number of broad items for assessment to be conducted prior to the development of this national system.

    On December 4, 2000, President Clinton designated the first of these Marine Protected Areas. This 84,000 square mile designation is the second largest marine reserve in the world. The designation has been hurried through during the waning days of the Administration and public comment on the proposal has been short circuited (the notice for the public meetings was published in the Federal Register on December 8, 2000 for meetings to be held on December 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th. This is very little notice during the holiday season for people to comment on such a sweeping designation.

    While MPAs can certainly be a useful tool in setting aside productive or fragile habitat, it must be done in a scientifically-defensible manner and in a way that can be monitored and enforced and the reasons for designation as well as the goals of the designation must be clear. The Committee on Resources is concerned about these broad executive decisions for a number of reasons: no criteria has been established for the creation of these Marine Protected Areas; no goals or purposes of this system of MPAs has been identified; no research has been identified to determine whether the goals of the MPAs are being achieved; it is unclear what authority has been used to designate these MPAs; it is unclear whether public participation will be allowed; and it is unclear whether these designations and the goals of the MPA can be enforced. IT appears that this Administration is using this questionable executive authority to circumvent the existing procedures established under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

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    U.S. Forest Service (FS)

    Forest Service Roadless Areas:
    One of the most egregious abuses by the Clinton Administration of its legal authority through ruling is the new Forest Service roadless area policy. The practical effect of implementing this unreasonable policy is tantamount to designating approximately 60 million acres of wilderness through administrative fiat, thereby circumventing the Wilderness Act of 1964. The Forest Service released its Final Environmental Impact Statement for roadless areas on November 17, 2000, and the agency expects to issue the Record of Decision on roadless areas soon after December 17, 2000. This policy, developed with the benefit of sound scientific support, will highly restrict public and agency access to approximately 60 million acres of national forest land, or one-third of the National Forest System. When combined with lands already designated as wilderness (nearly 35 million acres), access for recreation and forest protection will be prohibited on fully one-half of all National Forest System lands.

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    National Forest System Road Management and Transportation System Policy:
    A proposed rulemaking and administrative policy on National Forest road management and transportation was published March 3, 2000, with a final policy due in early September. Closely tied to the roadless area rule, and Administration-imposed 18-month moratorium on road building in roadless areas was due to expire in August 2000 or upon cancellation of the transportation policy, whichever was sooner. The moratorium remains in place despite the Administration's failure to complete the transportation policy. The final transportation policy is expected to further limit access to national forest lands.

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    Land and Resource Management Planning Rule:
    The Forest Service published its final rule revising the procedures for land and resource management planning on November 9, 2000. Highly criticized by the public and agency professional and scientists alike, the rule is likely to result in extensive litigation over every future agency planning decision. Containing standards that will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to meet, the rule will increase the complexity, cost, and time needed for making future forest plan decisions.

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    Regional Planning Decisions with National Implications:
    The Forest Service is on the verge of completing several regional planning efforts, including a "survey and manage" requirement amending the President's Northwest Forest Plan; the broad-scale Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project (ICBEMP); and the Sierra Nevada Framework for Conservation and Collaboration. The Survey and Manage final EIS was released in late November and a record of decision is expected on January 5, 2001. The ICBEMP final EIS and proposed decision were released in early December, with a record of decision expected in mid-January 2001. The Sierra Nevada Framework final EIS and decision are expected in mid-January, 2001. Each of these three documents will alter management on millions of acres of national forest land and amend, without full disclosure of the effects, multiple national forest management plans. Highly complex, controversial and costly, while providing questionable benefits, these decisions are being rushed for completion just before the change in Administration.

    Without question, the rules, regulations, and policy decisions described above are an important part of issues that need immediate review and reevaluation. However, they do not represent all of these need to be addressed. It is important to note that many of these, maybe most, are being "fast tracked" by this Administration as they are targeting their final promulgation before January 20, 2001. Any assistance the new Administration can provide in stopping or slowing the implementation of these initiatives would be greatly appreciated by many Members of Congress, states and citizens. Thank you for your prompt attention to these very important issues.

    In closing, please again accept my enthusiastic congratulations to you both. I, along with the other Members on the Committee on Resources, look forward to working with you and your new Administration. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.


    James V. Hansen
    Member of Congress

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