Eyes on Washington week ending 02.17.17

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Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is in the hot-seat. On Thursday, February 16th, the Republican-controlled Senate was poised to confirm the controversial choice to lead the EPA cleared a key hurdle.

The Senate gave an initial green light to the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt on a 54-46 vote. Pruitt won unanimous GOP support on Thursday’s procedural tally, but Maine Republican Susan Collins said she’ll oppose him in the final confirmation vote.
Pruitt is strongly opposed by environmental activists and by almost every Democrat. Collins says she doesn’t trust him to protect human health and the environment.

Pruitt has sued the EPA numerous times to try to overturn Obama administration regulations. Delaware Democratic Senator Tom Carper gave an uncharacteristically impassioned speech lambasting Pruitt, saying he is a threat to the environment and a global warming skeptic.

Senate Democrats planned an all-night talkathon Thursday. Asked whether Democrats are planning to hold the floor all night, a spokeswoman for Senator Carper— the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee —confirmed that “that’s the plan.”

Democrats blasted McConnell on Thursday for refusing to delay a vote on Pruitt. They wanted more time to wait for records from his time as Oklahoma attorney general.

The Center for Media and Democracy sought, under Oklahoma’s state records law, copies of emails between Pruitt’s staff and representatives of various fossil fuel and conservative interests.

Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons ruling on Thursday afternoon stated the Oklahoma attorney general’s office will have until Tuesday, February 21st to turn over as many as 3,000 documents related to Pruitt’s communications with oil, gas and coal groups, to the Center for Media and Democracy or provide them to the court.

Despite the court’s ruling Republican Senators refused to delay the vote for Pruitt. The Senate floor vote took place on Friday afternoon. Pruitt was confirmed as the Administrator for the EPA 52-46; two Senators did not cast a vote.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke’s nomination for Secretary of the Department of Interior remains pending a full Senate floor final vote. Zinke was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on January 31st.

And Sonny Perdue, Trump’s pick for the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture remains pending a Senate committee hearing.

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In response to the The United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announcement on, February 3, 2017, regarding the removal from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records, several animal welfare NGOs filed a lawsuit against the USDA and the Department of Justice in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The plaintiffs invoke a section of FOIA that requires agencies to make publicly available electronically all records that it has released under FOIA which “because of the nature of the subject matter, the agency determines have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records.”

The groups are the first among many vocal critics of USDA’s action to file suit. On February 7th, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) threatened to reopen an older lawsuit against USDA-APHIS. HSUS invoked both the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act and a settlement of the earlier suit that it reached with the agency in 2009, under which USDA agreed to promptly and publicly post a number of the reports that it has now removed from the website.

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The Endangered Species Act in need of protection from extinction
The Washington Post reports a Senate hearing to “modernize the Endangered Species Act” unfolded last Wednesday just as supporters of the law feared: with round after round of criticism from Republican lawmakers who said the federal effort to keep species from going extinct encroaches on states’ rights, is unfair to landowners and stymies efforts by mining companies to extract resources and create jobs.

The two-hour meeting of the Environment and Public Works Committee led by Republican Senator John Barrasso, Wyoming said last month that his focus in a bid to change the act would be “eliminating a lot of the red tape and the bureaucratic burdens that have been impacting our ability to create jobs,” according to a report in Energy and Environment News.

Barrasso declared that the act “is not working today,” that “states, counties, wildlife managers, home builders, construction companies, farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders” have made that clear in complaints about how it impedes land management plans, housing development and cattle grazing, particularly in western states, such as Wyoming.

Republican Rob Bishop (Utah) House Natural Resources Committee Chairman has vowed to wage an effort to repeal the Endangered Species Act. According to an AP report, Bishop said, “It has never been used for the rehabilitation of species. It’s been used to control the land. We’ve missed the entire purpose of the Endangered Species Act. It has been hijacked.”

The Endangered Species Act is a 43-year-old law enacted under the Nixon administration at a time when people were beginning to understand how dramatically chemical use and human development were devastating species. It has since saved the bald eagle, California condor, gray wolves, black-footed ferret, American alligator and Florida manatee from likely extinction.

But members of the hearing said its regulations prevented people from doing business and making a living. There was no discussion on the committee about the stability of species that were listed and recovered as a result of the act, and no discussion of continued human expansion into the habitats of hundreds of species as their numbers dwindle.

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March for Science

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The March for Science is scheduled to take place in Washington, DC on “Earth Day,” Saturday, April 22, 2017.

Jonathan Berman, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Health and Science Center in San Antonio and lead organizer of the March said, “Yes this is a protest but it’s not a political protest. The people making decisions are in Washington and they are the people we are trying to reach with the message: You should listen to the evidence.”

WildCat Conservation Legal Aid Society will be participating in the March for Science. If you would like to join our pride on April 22nd, please visit our On the Prowl or Lionesses for Wildness pages for meet up location and times.

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