Eyes on Washington week ending 03.31.17

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An Executive Order signed by Trump last week lifted the moratorium of federal coal leases that will allow the excavation of a fossil fuel on public lands that ironically few mining companies apparently want. Irrespective of campaign promises to bring back thousands of lost mining jobs, industry experts say coal mining jobs will continue to be lost not because of blocked access to coal but because power plant owners are turning to natural gas and the coal industry’s ability to produce more coal with fewer workers.

Meanwhile the Endangered Species Act was under attack during the House Natural Resources Committee’s oversight hearing on “ESA Consultation Impediments to Economic and Infrastructure Development.”

According to the Committee’s Memorandum the purpose of the hearing was to inform the Committee about challenges created by section 7 consultation processes under the Endangered Species Act.

Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act requires all federal agencies to “insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by such agency . . . is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species, or result in the destruction or adverse modification of [critical] habitat of such species.”

As a result, literally any federal action, or private action with a federal nexus (such as permits or funding), must “consult” with either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services) about the impact that the project or activity might have upon endangered or threatened species, and/or critical habitat.

Though the law requires the Services to adhere to a strict timeline (90 days to complete formal consultation and 45 days to complete a biological opinion), often they protract the consultation process for years. Such delays drive up costs, create uncertainty, and impede projects vital to our national interest, to our economy, and to public health and safety. In addition, often unrealistic and unattainable mitigation measures are dictated by the Services in biological opinions that often are not proven to benefit ESA-listed species.

Delays can be initiated by Service employees at local and regional levels. More oversight at all levels is required to ensure that the Services adhere to timelines as required by law. Delays in the consultation process must not be used to indefinitely prevent projects from moving forward.”

The “ESA” is only one of the many federal, state and local regulations that require consultation. And as it turns out many projects are delayed not because of the ESA but because the project failed to meet the requirements under state or local regulations or other federal regulations.

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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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A new federal bill H.R. 1759 was introduced in Congress last week that would ban wild or exotic animals in traveling acts. Many states and cities have enacted laws banning circuses or traveling acts but there is no federal law that prohibits these activities.

Early this year Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey Circus announced it will be ending all performances in May citing a dramatic decline in ticket sales.

Similar federal bills to ban circuses and traveling acts were previously introduced and failed to pass.

In other related news, Nevada introduced new legislation (AB238) that if enacted would impose stricter provisions relating to the importation, possession, sale, transfer and breeding of dangerous wild animals.

Meanwhile, a county measure in Arlington, Virginia that would ban residents from owning certain exotic animals including lions was deferred until June. County board members stated the proposal is not ready for consideration.

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